Category archives: Entertainment

The Unintentionally Powerful Pro-Life Message of One Child Nation

by Laura Grossberndt

August 30, 2019

One Child Nation co-director Nanfu Wang stands with her son in front of a Chinese propaganda mural.

Faced with a national population approaching one billion, the People’s Republic of China instituted a one-child-per-family policy in 1979. This policy was in effect until 2015, when the government expanded the birth limit to two children per family. While the policy may have “succeeded” at slowing the national birthrate, it also forcibly violated the bodies of millions of women and resulted in the death or disappearance of millions of pre or post-born children, most of them female.

One Child Nation, winner of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize, is a heart-rending, eye-opening account of China’s one-child policy and the human rights violations that ensued. The documentary is narrated and co-directed by Nanfu Wang, a Chinese-American immigrant who was born in China while the policy was in effect. In the film, she conducts a series of interviews with victims of the one-child policy, former government officials and midwives entrusted with enforcing the policy, citizens who defied the policy, and members of her own family (some of whom supported the policy and others who opposed it). The result is a vivid portrayal of Chinese life and a compelling critique of government authoritarianism. Because of this, the documentary One Child Nation is the rightful recipient of much critical acclaim and deserves a wide viewership. However, a surprising moral inconsistency and a false comparison in the closing minutes of the film prevents this otherwise superb documentary from having its fullest impact.

A Heartbreaking Account of State-Enforced Brutality

Aspects of the film worth commending include Wang’s compelling first-hand experiences about the one-child policy. She explains that propaganda supporting the policy was woven into virtually every facet of life while she was growing up: from murals and advertisements to entertainment and music. She recalls feeling shame for having a sibling (some rural families were allowed to have two children). Her family felt immense relief when her younger brother was born—if he had been a girl, the family most likely would not have kept the baby.

Wang expresses frustration that her family and the Chinese people did little to stop the practices that she believes are morally reprehensible. In terms of presentation, little of the documentary’s runtime is dedicated to expressing her own feelings. Instead, she and her co-director Jialing Zhang allow the interviews to speak for themselves, without inserting commentary.

The people Wang interviews have varying attitudes towards the one-child policy. Some, like Wang’s mother, maintain that the Chinese government was right and that the policy was necessary to prevent wide-scale starvation. Others, like the village midwife, deeply regret the policy and their participation in its enforcement. This particular midwife performed an estimated 60,000 abortions in her career. Now she tries to atone for her past by offering medical care for infertile couples and delivering babies.

The first-person accounts of One Child Nation appeal to the viewer’s humanity again and again. The documentary successfully communicates an important moral point: What may have begun as a government’s sincere attempt to raise a nation’s standard of living has resulted in a human rights crisis. The blood of discarded children practically cries out from the ground. During one interview, Wang talks with an artist committed to documenting the horror of infant bodies left to rot under bridges and on top of trash heaps. The artist shows the camera one such body he has managed to preserve in a glass jar and marvels about how the baby resembles his young son.

An Incoherent Conclusion

As the documentary draws to a close, Nanfu Wang reflects on her journey, including the shocking brutality and human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of the one-child policy. However, as she discusses everything she’s learned about China, her family, and the one-child policy, she arrives at a surprising conclusion: the horrors of the one-child policy are parallel to abortion restrictions in the United States.

Despite over an hour carefully describing the horrors of forced abortions, sterilizations, and the horror associated with abandoning one’s child, Wang argues that both countries are guilty of policing a woman’s sovereignty over her body, albeit in different ways. In an interview with Vox, she expressed much the same sentiment:

I remember when I first came to the US and learned about the restriction on abortions in the US. I was very shocked. It wasn’t the free America that I had thought it would be. I was surprised by the government control on reproductive rights and the access to reproductive health care.

Making this film, I also had a lot of conversations with people about the topic, and I was surprised. Sometimes people couldn’t see how forced state abortions and the state limiting access to abortions are quite similar; they are both the government trying to control women’s bodies and trying to control women’s reproductive rights.

I hope that the film reminds people what would happen if their government takes away women’s choice, or any individual’s choice. And sadly I think it’s happening in China, it’s happening in the US, and it’s happening in a lot of countries throughout the world, where women do not have the freedom to make their own reproductive decisions.

These statements are stunning because of the inconsistency with the moral appeals for the humanity of the pre and post-born throughout the documentary. After seeing footage of babies preserved in jars and thrown onto trash heaps, is the viewer supposed to believe that the sole atrocity of the one-child policy is the violation of reproductive choice?

The policy’s crimes against adult women—such as forced abortions and sterilizations—are horrific, and Wang is right to expose and censure them. But as One Child Nation clearly depicts, adult women were not the policy’s only victims. The countless children killed in the womb or immediately after birth, as well as the children abandoned in marketplaces, on roadsides, or in dumps were also victims. Furthermore, the Chinese government’s one-child policy, paired with the culture’s preference for male children, practically guaranteed that most of the slaughtered or discarded children were girls. Women—both adult women and infant girls—were the victims most deeply harmed by the policy.

It is worth noting that sex-selective abortions are a type of misogyny that is often ignored by the pro- “reproductive rights” wing of feminism because it doesn’t neatly fit their narrative of abortion-on-demand. But as long as some cultures value male children over female, sex-selective abortions and other crimes against female children will continue to be a problem.

An Inadvertently Pro-Life Message

While One Child Nation adeptly exposes the tragedy of China’s one-child policy to a wide audience, a moral inconsistency and a false comparison in the closing minutes prevents this otherwise superb documentary from having its fullest impact. Both children and adults are clearly victims of China’s government-imposed birth restrictions. Furthermore, China’s birth restrictions and America’s abortion restrictions are far from parallel policies. The former kills children, while the latter seeks to prevent the killing of children. The Chinese policy violates women’s bodies with forced sterilization, while abortion restrictions seek to protect the bodies of all women: adult women from risky abortion procedures and pre and post-born girls from being aborted.

Harrowing and poignant, One Child Nation illuminates the problems with China’s one-child policy while making a strong pro-life case that perhaps its own directors do not even fully understand.

One Child Nation is rated R for some disturbing content/images and brief language (via subtitles).

Hollywood, The Hunt, and the Need for Self-Restraint

by Daniel Hart

August 16, 2019

Does Hollywood actually possess some amount of self-restraint? In the wake of the horrifying mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, Universal Pictures announced that it would “cancel” the release of The Hunt, a movie about people who are politically liberal hunting down and killing other people who are politically conservative (who later get revenge by killing the liberals in return). The film’s original title was Red State Vs. Blue State.

But wait. Universal is actually reserving the right to release the film at a later date, presumably when the public outcry over the film has subsided. So much for self-restraint.

Artistry Flourishes Within Boundaries

It would be very interesting to be a fly on the wall in the room where executives at Universal decided to go ahead and finance a movie like The Hunt. Out of all the movie scripts to choose from, out of all the historical and creative subject matter that could have been crafted into a compelling film, Universal decided that a movie about people murdering other people for sport based on their political views was the one to make.

It appears that the general principle that guides Hollywood these days is that if a movie script is predicted to make money at the box office, it should be made, no matter what the actual content of the movie is. The excuse that Hollywood often uses is “creative license,” where any idea—no matter how twisted and debased—can be made into a movie. This is not only deeply disturbing, morally offensive, and degrading to society, it’s also not a good recipe for a well-crafted movie with any redeemable merit.

During most of Hollywood’s Golden Age (1920 – 1960), there was a code of guidelines (called the “Motion Picture Production Code”) that filmmakers followed regarding the content of their movies, which included rules for how sensitive subject matters like sex or murder could be portrayed. The code included a number of antiquated rules such as a prohibition against scenes of childbirth, but for the most part, the rules merely guarded against the positive portrayal of gratuitous sex, violence, drug use, and other obvious societal evils.

Did this code end up suppressing the creativity and artistry of Hollywood? Quite the contrary. During this period, Hollywood produced what are considered to be some of the greatest and most iconic films of all time, including Citizen Kane, Sunset Boulevard, On the Waterfront, It Happened One Night, From Here to Eternity, Double Indemnity, Vertigo, Ben-Hur, and It’s a Wonderful Life, to name just a few.

I’m not suggesting that we should return to this kind of official content censorship being enforced on all films. I’m merely pointing out that filmmakers can make great movies while still practicing self-restraint in what they choose to put on film.

Evil is the Result of Unrestrained “Freedom”

Somewhere along the line, probably in the late 60’s, many filmmakers stopped believing that they had any responsibility for what they exposed the public to. In times past, particularly during the aforementioned Golden Age of Hollywood, there was an understood expectation that a movie would always have some kind of redeeming value for society. In other words, a film could deal with extremely serious and even disturbing subject matter, but in the end, there was always some kind of insight gained about the human condition that was edifying for the audience. There was an implicit understanding that the whole point of art itself is to portray inherent truths about the nature of humanity and existence in new, imaginative, and enriching ways.

This is in stark contrast to what many movies and TV shows do today. In the name of “realism” and “free expression,” murders are shown in full and unnecessary gratuitous detail, sex scenes and nudity are clearly used for titillation instead of suggestion, and vile profanity and blasphemy is spewed unflinchingly and continuously without a second thought. All of this is often included in modern films and shows without any thought to how it might negatively affect the minds and behaviors of the viewing public.

But something much more insidious and disturbing is now happening. With movies like The Hunt, we are seeing humanity’s darkest and most evil tendencies being dredged up from the depths of our basest subconscious imaginings and being made into a movie. In other words, our darkest and most evil human instincts are being expertly filmed and acted out by Hollywood’s professional directors, cinematographers, and actors and being presented to society for public consumption.

When creative license is left to its own totally unrestrained devices, this is often the result. In a society where mass shootings happen with disturbing regularity and where the coarsening of our public discourse and behavior continues unabated, making major motion pictures like The Hunt for wide release is, in a psychological sense, akin to dumping a bucket of red meat next to a pasture of sheep in the countryside where wolves are known to prowl. While I’m sure that the filmmakers of The Hunt didn’t make the movie to intentionally incite violence, do they not care about the movie contributing to a coarsening of our culture toward increased hatred and violence? Did they not think of its potential danger to inspire deranged individuals to commit violence and murder?

3 Steps to Take for Believing Viewers

As believers, we should pray often for the filmmaking and television industry, that all filmmakers, actors, and writers be given a basic sense of self-restraint. These people know in their heart of hearts that it is wrong to make movies like The Hunt, but they do it anyways to get a cheap thrill or to concede to financial and societal pressures. We must pray that their consciences guide them to make movies and TV shows that have redeemable value for society.

Second, we must put our resources where our own hearts are by supporting the aspiring artists in our own believing communities to enter the film and television industries and make a difference for true artistry that celebrates the true, the good, and the beautiful.

Third, we must carefully discern which movies we go to see at the theater and which movies and TV shows we choose to watch on platforms like Netflix and Amazon. These companies are carefully analyzing which kinds of movies and shows are the most popular so that they can make more content like them and consequently make more money. Our decisions to only watch movies and shows that have redeemable value are important in showing the industry that people actually want to see movies that have something valuable to say about the human condition instead of being mindlessly entertained by gratuitously graphic garbage.

Speaking the Truth in Love: How The Bachelorette Got It Both Wrong and Right

by Laura Grossberndt

August 8, 2019

Is it ever okay for a Christian to question or “judge” the behavior of another person, particularly if that person also professes to be a Christian? ABC’s wildly popular reality dating show The Bachelorette, which wrapped up its 15th season last week, served as an unconventional and unexpected proving ground for this deeply theological question.

This season’s star of The Bachelorette, Hannah Brown, openly describes herself as a follower of Jesus and a woman of faith. One of her suitors, Luke Parker, is also a professing Christian. In the season premiere, Luke described the moment he decided to put his faith in Jesus and make a lifestyle change which included abstaining from sex until marriage. Luke quickly emerged as a frontrunner for the coveted “final rose” and Hannah’s love—and their seemingly shared faith was a primary reason.

The would-be couple’s budding relationship quickly turned turbulent, however, as Luke was constantly at odds with the other men seeking Hannah’s favor. But Luke’s sometimes imprudent behavior and immature reactions to interpersonal conflict were just precursors to the season’s most explosive drama: a highly-charged conversation concerning premarital sex.

We Can’t Have Grace Without Repentance

Luke wanted a verbal confirmation from Hannah that they were on the same page about saving sex for marriage. He tells Hannah that he would remove himself from the competition if she (hypothetically) were to reveal to him that she had been sexually intimate with another man on the show. Hannah then says that she has had sex with another one of her suitors, and while “sex might be a sin out of marriage,” she is confident Jesus loves her despite it.

Hannah compares Luke’s desire to end their relationship to the famous John 8 account of the woman caught in adultery. Hannah views Luke’s disapproval of her actions as him holding a metaphorical stone in front of her face. In her opinion, Luke’s sin of pride precludes him from objecting to her behavior.

Is Hannah right?

For context’s sake, here are some key takeaways from John’s account of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11):

  • Jesus shone a light on the sinful nature of all those involved.
  • Jesus is the only one without sin.
  • Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery.
  • Jesus forgave the woman and instructed her to go and sin no more.

The woman caught in adultery committed sexual sin; and yes, Jesus still loved her. While Jesus, by virtue of his sinlessness, had the right to condemn sin, He does something unexpected, yet in keeping with His mission to fulfill the law. He extends grace (“neither do I condemn you”) while also instructing her to repent and change (“go and sin no more”).

Many want the grace Jesus offers without the repentance. But we cannot have one without the other. Receiving God’s grace is inextricably tied to repentance.

Avoiding Hypocritical Judgment

Can a Christian call another Christian to account for their sin? Was Luke wrong to find fault in Hannah’s actions?

In Matthew 7, Jesus warns his followers against judging others while simultaneously ignoring their own sin, because “with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

Does that mean Christians can never judge the actions and behavior of others? No. The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians to judge those within the church and refuse them the status of “brother” if they continue in patterns of unrepentant sin:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

Speaking the Truth in Love

The act of a Christian calling another Christian to account for their sin can be a loving one, provided it is done out of a desire to help the other Christian toward righteousness, and that it is done with tenderness and humility, recognizing one’s own sinfulness and need for God’s forgiveness.

Christians (“little Christs”) get our name because we are called to follow the example of Jesus. We are called to forgive one another and pursue holiness in our personal and corporate life. It is easy to emphasize one to the neglect of the other. However, to faithfully follow Christ, we need to be walking in both forgiveness and repentance. Extending forgiveness without requiring repentance leaves someone still under the curse of sin, while repentance that is not accompanied by forgiveness is antithetical to the gospel’s offer of reconciliation with God.

Hannah and Luke’s conversation in the late stages of the show reveals they were not as likeminded on sex and theology as they initially thought. A lot of pain and heartache could have been avoided if this conversation had taken place much earlier in their relationship. Whether one is a professing Christian or not, if you have radically different opinions on sex than the person you are dating, you should not be dating them. Those irreconcilable differences will inevitably cause problems down the road.

However, in addition to their disagreements about sexual intimacy, Hannah and Luke also displayed different, improper, and inadequate reactions to sin. Hannah demonstrated lack of remorse for the actions Jesus tenderly warns against. While Luke is justified for wanting to be on the same page about sexual intimacy as his potential future spouse, his manner of approaching the topic needed more Christ-like humility and discernment. Scripture speaks to both improper perspectives:

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2)

[S]peaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ … [L]let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. … Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:15, 25-27, 31-32)

Wisdom says a reality dating show such as The Bachelor or The Bachelorette is not the ideal environment for Christians to find a spouse. The concept of dating multiple people at one time, while being cut off from the fellowship and counsel of friends, family, and church community for several weeks, is not a recipe for righteous living or lasting love (Proverbs 18:1, Hebrews 10:24-25).

But while it may be unwise, that does not mean that those appearing on the show who profess to be Christians are not sincere in their profession. While I do not know either Hannah or Luke personally, I wish nothing but the best for them and hope this experience will drive them closer to God and to a better understanding of sin, the gospel, true love, and compassion in Jesus Christ.

This season’s viewers of The Bachelorette probably did not expect to encounter conversations about sin and the nature of God’s forgiveness. However, the contestants are real-life people wrestling with real-life problems, and it is only natural for two people contemplating marriage to want to agree on matters as weighty as theology and sex. Unfortunately, the seriousness of sin and its consequences was minimized, while the love and forgiveness of the gospel was inadequately conveyed. Despite what The Bachelorette may have led its audience to believe, Christians are right to judge the behavior of other Christians, provided we do so out of Christ-like compassion, speaking the truth in love.

Laura Grossberndt is on staff at Family Research Council.

The Influence of Social Media on Politics

by Peyton Holliday

February 22, 2019

For most of us, social media has become a routine part of our day-to-day lives here in America. This reality is now taking hold in politics as well. Scrolling through social media pages such as Twitter and Instagram, I have seen videos of candidates and elected officials dancing in their offices, visiting the dentist, drinking beer, and all manner of day-to-day life being shared with the public. With videos posted by Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and others, the political spectrum is changing.

I personally don’t want to see a video of a politician going to the dentist—I would rather see a video of them explaining their stance on abortion or border control. I want to know what the candidate stands for on policy instead of how cool of a dance move they can do. We are losing professionalism in the political world. It seems that we are now electing people because they have nice dance moves or seem relatable on an Instagram video. This makes me wonder—how will our future elections be shaped through social media?

In the 1960 election cycle, well before the era of social media, the debates between JFK and Richard Nixon were televised for the first time in American history. The looks, poise, and smooth actions of JFK helped him to win the votes of millions of Americans. The medium of television set a new precedent for an era in which politicians worried about their image as much as their messaging. These televised debates marked the beginning of a new type of political media that would shape the outcome of elections for years to come.

Now, we are in a new era where the political scene is changing again. Americans can now stay up to date on the day-to-day thoughts and actions of political figures through videos, pictures, and posts on social media. The political landscape is becoming more and more based on marketing and image rather than actual policy positions. If you can market yourself better than your opponent, you have a better chance at winning. If your social media page has millions of followers, you can get more attention than appearing on national television. Candidates don’t even have to set up an interview with a television station to get media coverage anymore—if a social media post goes “viral,” it will be all over both television and the internet.

Social media is clearly a useful way to make candidates more visible to the world. Social media is already shaping the outcome of elections. In future elections, social media will undoubtedly begin to play an even bigger role. Similar to what happened in the 1960 election, the actions, online presence, and relatable image of a candidate can hold more sway than their policy positions in the minds of many social media-addicted voters.

Future elections will be shaped by the online presence of the candidates. As for me, I would rather see candidates use social media to present thoughtful positions on policy issues rather than try to be hip.

Peyton Holliday is an intern at Family Research Council.

Speaking the Truth in Love: Lauren Daigle and the Reality of Being a Christian in Modern America

by David Closson

December 6, 2018

Last week, Dove Award-winning Christian artist Lauren Daigle was asked about her view on the morality of homosexuality. Her response and the controversy it has generated provide an opportunity for Christians to reflect on how to approach today’s hot-button issues related to marriage and human sexuality.

Asked directly by a radio host if she “feels that homosexuality is a sin,” Daigle answered: “I can’t honestly answer on that, in the sense of I have too many people that I love and they are homosexuals.”

I can’t say one way or the other; I’m not God. When people ask questions like that, I just say, ‘Read the Bible and find out for yourself. And when you find out let me know because I’m learning too,’” she added.

Daigle, a Grammy nominated artist whose music has garnered cross-over appeal, appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” on October 24. Following the appearance, Daigle received criticism from some supporters for her appearance with DeGeneres who identifies as a lesbian.

In early November, Daigle responded to these critics, saying, “I don’t have all the answers in life and I’m definitely not gonna act like I do, but the one thing that I know for sure is I can’t choose who I’m supposed to be kind to and who I’m supposed to show love to and who I’m not, because that’s the mission, right? Be who Christ was to everyone.”

Her recent comments on the morality of homosexuality again have critics upset.

There are two lessons to learn from this cultural moment. The first lesson is that all Christians, especially those in positions of influence, must be ready to answer questions related to marriage and human sexuality. To her credit, Daigle has leveraged her platform before to bring the positive message of God’s love to secular audiences across the country. Her recent appearances on the “Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” are examples. However, as the recent controversy demonstrates, a vague message on love is not a sufficient apologetic for the Christian faith. In 2018, Christians, including Daigle, must be prepared to answer what could be seen as “gotcha questions” concerning the Bible’s teaching on contentious moral issues including marriage and sexuality.

While the Apostle Peter’s admonition to always be prepared to give a reason for Christian belief and behavior is a timely warning, we should apply this truth graciously. While Daigle could have handled this better, there is no reason to question her sincerity at this point.

Second, this incident also reminds us that Christians must be willing to speak the truth in love. Loving people and acknowledging biblical truth are not incompatible. In fact, the highest expression of love is to speak the truth even when it bears a cost.

On the nature of marriage, the Bible is clear: Marriage is a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman (Gen. 2:24, Mat. 19:5, Mark 10:6-9, Eph. 5:22-23). Scripture is also unambiguous regarding the moral status of homosexuality (1 Cor. 6:9-11, Rom. 1:26-28, 1 Tim. 1:10-11, Lev. 18:22, 20:13, Gen. 19:1-5). On these issues the Bible is unmistakable; there is a clear “Thus saith the Lord.”

Therefore, Christians must decide whether they accept or reject the Bible’s authority on these issues. Christians must choose whether to yield to the truth of Scripture or not. This trust in the Bible’s authority extends beyond issues related to sexuality. In fact, the exclusivity of the gospel is even more offensive than the Bible’s view on marriage. It was Jesus who said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

What the secular world doesn’t understand is that Christians don’t believe homosexuality is wrong because they dislike gay people. Similarly, Christians don’t believe a relationship with Christ is the only way to heaven out of animus toward other religions. Rather, Christians hold convictions on these issues out of a commitment to the authority of the Bible. In our culture, this commitment to biblical truth is confusing to many and may even seem subversive.

However, commitment to the truthfulness of God’s Word is a nonnegotiable truth of the Christian faith. Christians who believe the Bible must be willing to defend it. But it’s important to remember that there is no one right way to go about this. Depending on the relationship one has with the person who is being witnessed to, and depending on the context of the conversation, there are different ways of conveying the truth to someone while still staying true to biblical truth. Meeting people where they are at can make all the difference in being effective witnesses for the gospel.

This is an important moment for millennial Christians. Daigle is a role model and highly respected Christian artist. Her Instagram account has over one million followers. She is instructing the next generations. By representing herself as a Bible-believing Christian artist, she has a great responsibility.

Daigle admitted she is learning. Christians should believe her and lovingly point her to what Scripture teaches.

This episode is instructive because it shows how important it is for Christians to be ready to answer the questions our culture is asking. Further, it demonstrates how our answers must be full of both grace and biblical truth.

Daigle is right when she sings about God’s tender words of healing for those who are weak and hurting. Her most popular song titled You Say includes the lyrics: “You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing/You say I am strong when I think I am weak/You say I am held when I am falling short.”

In response to what God says about His children, Daigle sings, “When I don’t belong, You say that I am Yours, And I believe… What you say of me, I believe.”

She beautifully captures the appropriate response of a Christian to God when he speaks: “I believe.”

Not only must we believe what God says about us, we must also believe what He says about Himself—His love of people and hatred of sin. We must also believe what He says about marriage, sexuality, and what makes for a flourishing society and culture. Whenever God speaks, a Christian’s duty is to respond in faith and obedience, even when it goes against the grain of a post-Christian culture.

Daigle is right. When God speaks, we must believe. No matter what the cost.

Truth Obscured by Hollywood Take on Sexual Orientation Therapy

by Peter Sprigg

November 13, 2018

LGBT activists are pushing for an end to sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE)—the various forms of voluntary religious or secular counseling or therapy (referred to by critics and the media as “conversion therapy”) intended to help people with unwanted same-sex attractions to overcome those feelings or not act upon them. That campaign suffered a setback in August 2018 when an extreme version of a SOCE therapy ban, AB 2943, was withdrawn by its sponsor after strong resistance, especially from the religious community.

However, critics of SOCE are now hoping for a boost from the release of a new movie, Boy Erased, intended to dramatize the problems they associate with “conversion therapy.” The movie, starring Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman as the parents of the college student sent to counseling, premiered in limited release on November 1, and is gradually being rolled out around the country.

The movie is based on a 2016 memoir with the same title by Garrard Conley. Conley was a 19-year-old Arkansas college student in 2004, when he attended one-on-one counseling and then an intensive two-week group program offered by Love in Action (LIA), a Memphis ex-gay ministry run by John Smid, a man who had testified to his own transformation from gay to ex-gay.

In anticipation of the movie’s release, I recently read the book on which it is based. On November 8, the first day the film was screened in the D.C. area, I went to see it. The first screening in downtown Washington was sold out, but I was able to catch a later screening in a nearly empty theatre in Bethesda, Maryland. What follows will address both the book and the movie, but I will focus primarily on the book.

Conley and Love in Action

I will say one thing in the book’s favor—it does not appear to be a complete fabrication. That is more than I can say for some testimony given in favor of state therapy bans—accounts which have either been proven false or are highly suspect. Love in Action was a real organization, and the approach Conley describes in the book is roughly consistent with group therapy used by some (not all) such ministries. According to Conley, his personal memories were augmented by LIA’s 274-page handbook—which he still has.

This means that in Conley’s account, there is no electric shock therapy; no application of heat or ice to create an aversion to homosexual stimuli; no deliberate exposure to heterosexual or homosexual pornography; in short, none of the horror stories one usually hears about outdated treatments that were abandoned 40 or 50 years ago. Although often raised in critiques of SOCE, no one has been able to prove that any of these methods have been used in this century.

Another common charge is that minors are coerced into therapy by their parents. Therefore, it’s important to note that Conley was not a minor when he went to LIA, and he states explicitly, “I was here by my own choice.” Despite its short term of two weeks, Conley’s program was not even a residential one—he spent evenings in a motel room with his mother. This was no “conversion therapy camp” as they are sometimes depicted.

What the book, and at least the first part of the movie, feature instead is lots of talking and lots of writing. This makes the book and first half of the movie, frankly, rather boring.

Smid (depicted in the film as “Victor Sykes”) and LIA approached homosexuality using an addiction model, and many of their techniques were borrowed directly from the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Different programs and different therapists use different methodologies—what unites SOCE is only the goal, not any particular technique. While AA and other twelve-step programs have their critics, as far as I know no one has ever tried to outlaw them.

For example, one exercise drawn directly from AA was the “Moral Inventory”—an effort to account in writing for as many past sins as the participant could recall. Another exercise was drawing a “genogram”—essentially a family tree noting patterns of sinful behavior by various forebears and relatives. These techniques may be questioned by some—but hardly constitute “torture,” or even stirring drama.

The Real Trauma

That’s not to say there are no traumatic events in Boy Erased—it’s just that most of them predate or are unrelated to the LIA program. In the book, Conley admits that in early puberty, he was so addicted to video games he would urinate on his bedroom carpet, rather than walk to the bathroom. (Later, in college, he would urinate in empty water bottles in his dorm, putting them under his bed to be discovered later.) In high school, he would “crouch on the toilet seat to hide from overcrowded lunch tables.” Conley, a runner, admits that in the summer before he started college, “my weight loss took an angry, masochistic turn that verged on anorexic”—something even a gay-friendly family doctor would call him on. Conley also admits several times to having suicidal thoughts. Note that almost all of these things happened before he went to LIA—and all were omitted from the movie.

If Conley had chosen to re-frame his story, it could have put an important male twist on the #MeToo movement. The worst thing that happened to Conley, and to the lead character in the film (renamed “Jared”), was that he was raped by a fellow male college student in a dorm room. (The under-a-blanket rape scene, as well as some strong language, are the main reasons for the film’s R rating.) The rapist then confessed to having done the same thing to a younger teen in the youth group at his church.

Conley told a pastor at his Presbyterian college about the latter crime—and was told “to stay quiet” because “there was nothing to be done.” However, he told no one—not the pastor, his parents, nor Love in Action counselors—about the assault he had suffered. He remained silent on this point even after the rapist was the one who “outed” him as “gay” to his parents. One is left to wonder whether his counseling might have had a different outcome if he had been more honest with the people who wanted to help him.

Family Dynamics

Family dynamics play an important role in Boy Erased—but this is one of several areas in which Conley appears to have misunderstood the theory behind some SOCE. It is true that many counselors have identified a pattern which is common (but not universal) among men with same-sex attractions, in which these men had strained relations with their fathers and male peers and unusually close relationships with their mothers.

This is the exact pattern evident in Conley’s description of his own life. With his father, a Christian car dealer who experienced a mid-life call to pastoral ministry, Conley had “moments of misunderstanding” that were “often damaging.” Sports is a common way for a boy to bond with his father or peers, but Conley admits, “It’s true that I was never any good at sports… I never liked to toss the ball with my father in the front yard.” (The film, however, makes “Jared” a high school basketball player.) With his mother, a glamorous Southern belle who married “in her sixteenth year,” he would go “to Memphis for weekends of shopping and movie binging.” In fact, when client Conley tells a counselor, “Yes, my mother and I were too close,” author Conley calls it his “first ex-gay utterance.”

The climax of both the book and the movie—and the incident that led to Conley walking out of LIA before the program was over—was an exercise called “the Lie Chair” (the name is puzzling, since it involves telling the truth). Conley was instructed to sit across from an empty chair “and imagine your father sitting across from you and you saying everything you’ve always wanted to tell him but couldn’t.” Conley says, “I tried working myself up into an angry fit,” but finally declared, “I’m not angry”—and walked out, never to return.

Conley seems convinced that the family dynamics theory did not apply to him, because his parents were not actually abusive—just once, “my father had raised his fist to strike me,” but thought better of it—and because he loves them. He does not seem to understand that there can be a deficit in meeting the developmental need for warm, non-sexual affection from the same-sex parent, even in the absence of any overt abuse.

Distorted Theology

Conley also seems to have a distorted view of Christian theology. For one thing, he (like many LGBT activists) seems obsessed with “Hell”—far more than any Christians I know, or any pastors I’ve ever heard preach. Even after having his horizons broadened by going to college, Conley declares, “I still believed that I would feel its fire licking my skin for all eternity if I continued on this path.” As an evangelical Christian myself, I also believe in hell (capitalizing the word, as Conley does, is unnecessary). Yet I’ve never believed—and know no one who teaches—that merely being (or becoming) straight is the key to avoiding it.

Critics of SOCE, including Conley, are also obsessed with “shame,” and a belief that such counseling operates by instilling a sense of shame over the client’s homosexuality. Yet every sexual reorientation therapist I have met has said the exact opposite—that one of the primary goals of such therapy is to overcome the shame that clients already feel when they begin therapy.

In fact, despite Conley repeatedly associating LIA and its teachings with terms like “self-loathing” and even “self-annihilation,” the actual quotations from LIA’s handbook and other materials express the opposite:

  • I believed many lies that I was worthless, hopeless, and had no future.”
  • I’ve learned that I am loved and accepted even though I have been involved in sexual addiction.”
  • I have worth. I am intelligent, funny, caring and strong.”

Film Fabrications

Because “moral inventories” and “genograms” don’t exactly make for compelling cinema, the filmmakers spiced up the last half of the film—by adding scenes that didn’t actually happen. The most dramatic—and most outrageous for its absurdity—is one in which an uncooperative LIA client is literally, physically beaten with a Bible (by family members including, apparently, his own little sister). Perhaps this is meant to be a metaphor for spiritual abuse, but some gullible viewers are likely to take it literally.

The character Jared’s “escape” from LIA is exaggerated in the film. Apart from having to ask a second time before his cell phone was returned, the book recounts no effort to physically prevent him from leaving or his mother from reaching him, the way the movie does. And the film’s biggest emotional gut punch is when we learn that the fictional victim of the fictional “Bible-beating” has committed suicide. (In his book, Conley reports no such event, but writes, “Various bloggers” have estimated that “twenty to thirty” suicides resulted from LIA, “though figures like these are impossible to pin down.” That’s probably because they are made up.)

One thing the film does somewhat better than the book is address the character Jared’s nuanced relationship with his parents after he left Love in Action. However, we have no way of knowing if the portrayal is a truthful one reflecting Conley’s actual experience, or merely a dramatic one serving Hollywood’s purposes. In the book, Conley addresses the decade after his LIA experience only cryptically, and somewhat confusingly. His father never followed through, apparently, on a threat to withdraw funding for his college education. Yet describing visits to his parents’ home, he declares, “I will refuse to even look at my father.” He concludes the Acknowledgments, though, by saying, “Thank you, most of all, to my mother and father, whose love has made all the difference.”

Love in Action—The Rest of the Story

In 2005, a year after Conley left Love in Action, the ministry was subjected to a storm of controversy after a teenager named Zach Stark complained on social media that his parents had sent him to LIA’s residential program for adolescents, called “Refuge.” (The Boy Erased film conflates this program with the adult-focused one, “The Source,” that Conley attended—a staffer in the film says, “Welcome to Refuge,” but the notebooks say “Source” on the cover.) This sparked a round of protests by LGBT activists, and investigations by Tennessee state officials.

State officials said LIA required a license because they were providing mental health treatment; LIA insisted it offered discipleship programs, which are exempt from state regulation. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF, now known as the Alliance Defending Freedom) filed a federal lawsuit to protect LIA, and ultimately prevailed, with the state dropping its efforts to regulate the LIA ministry.

The controversy about the short-lived Refuge program seems to be the source of the mythology that there is a network of “conversion therapy camps” across the country holding teens against their will. The trailer on the film’s official website ends with the dramatic and absurd declaration, “77,000 people are currently being held in conversion therapy across America.” Yet the Refuge program—then already defunct—was the only such program identified in a 2009 American Psychological Association report on sexual orientation change efforts. Indeed, a 2015 Ph.D. dissertation agreed that “it is likely the media frenzy surrounding the story of 16-year-old Stark being forced into a conversion therapy residential program by his parents in 2005 led to these bans” on such therapy for minors.

The controversy took a toll on Smid, however, and on the ministry. In 2008, Smid resigned; he has since returned to living as a homosexual and married a man in 2014. Smid now has a gay-affirming ministry called Grace Rivers, and has apologized for the work he did with Love in Action. (LIA, under new leadership and with a completely new ministry model, changed its name to “Restoration Path” in 2012.)

Conclusion

The therapy bans enacted in fourteen states so far apply only to licensed mental health providers and only to clients who are minors. Since Garrard Conley was not a minor and Love in Action was not licensed by the state, his experience would not have been affected by such a law, even if one had been in place in Tennessee. Ironically, the passage of such laws, cutting off access to care consistent with their values from licensed providers, might only have the effect of driving desperate parents and clients into the hands of unlicensed religious programs such as Love in Action. For SOCE skeptics who see this as undesirable, therefore, such laws may actually be counter-productive.

California’s AB 2943, on the other hand, would have applied to any SOCE provider or program that charges a fee, even religious and unlicensed ones. This type of approach, however, raises constitutional questions even beyond those raised by the license restrictions.

Regardless of what one thinks of Conley’s story, its fictionalized film version, John Smid’s story, or the techniques of Love in Action, they all represent only anecdotes about a particular instance of sexual orientation change efforts. They cannot be taken as representative of all SOCE. The claim that SOCE in general has been shown to be ineffective and harmful is not supported by the scientific research.

Boy Erased is not particularly entertaining; and not at all informative for making policy regarding sexual orientation change efforts.

Hollywood and the Truth: Ships that Pass in the Night?

by Robert Morrison

June 5, 2015

I was swimming in a very grand swimming pool in 2008. It was the only 5-star hotel we’d ever been to, but it was our thirtieth wedding anniversary so we splurged a little. Actually, saving up for five years, we splurged a lot.

Suddenly, I was overcome with a strange feeling: I have been here before. Swimming alone is never a good idea. I shuddered with a powerful sensation of being haunted. We were staying at Dromoland Castle in Ireland. I’d never set foot in Ireland before that tour. “This was crazy,” I told myself as I quickly got out of the pool. I had the strongest feeling of déjà vu.

Out on deck, I chanced to see a life ring on the wall: RMS Titanic. Now, that is even weirder.

Suddenly, I got it. The makeover of this ancient castle had been done at the same time as the blockbuster Hollywood movie, Titanic (1997). And that movie was famous for computer-generated images (CGI) that faithfully reproduced the luxurious interiors of the doomed ocean liner.

So that’s why this swimming pool looked so familiar. I had seen the movie and perused dozens of coffee table books on the Titanic story. The pool was modeled on that elegant 1912 shipboard pool. Not to leave weird world too soon: Who would think it was a good idea to decorate a swimming pool to look exactly like the one where all the swimmers wound up dead?

The Titanic movie was really awful. It incorrectly depicted rich and powerful men on that doomed ship pushing aside the poor immigrant women and children to get into the lifeboats. Untrue.

The movie despicably maligned First Officer William Murdoch. Since you cannot be sued for libeling the dead, producers doubtlessly figured they could get away with sliming a good man’s reputation.

But they forgot: There are thousands of us who devour all the details of that “Night to Remember.” We would yell if Hollywood deliberately falsified history. And some of us did yell. Here’s how a truthful account has it:

Indeed, so offensive was the [movie’s] portrayal of First Officer William Murdoch to his surviving family, that the Vice President of Fox personally made the journey to Murdoch’s hometown to apologise and donate £5,000 to the William Murdoch memorial prize hosted at Murdoch’s local school.

As well as suffering from general ineptitude by dint of being English and indeed, the officer who failed to avoid the iceberg, Murdoch is also presented as a corrupt murderer and then a coward. After accepting a bribe to let a man onto one of the lifeboats he then shoots two passengers dead, before, overwhelmed with guilt and/or despair he shoots himself in the head. This is a far cry from the man who went down with the ship, his last moments spent filling the lifeboats with women, children and indeed men

Why does Hollywood feel the need to lie? They willfully falsify true history that is readily accessible to anyone with a computer.

Perhaps we should be grateful that Hollywood did not include the story of Arthur Rostron in that already-too-long big screen epic. Captain Arthur Rostron commanded the rescue vessel, SS Carpathia. This humble Cunard liner was anything but as romantic as that last voyage of hundreds of millionaires on board the White Star Line’s four-stacker Titanic.

Carpathia was a simple workhorse of a ship, quietly steaming back and forth across the Atlantic with manifests of immigrants, plain people, and cargo.

When he got a radio message that Titanic had struck an iceberg and was sinking, Captain Rostron knew what to do. He knew that the great liner was four hours away at normal cruising speed. By that time, he also knew, any survivors were likely to be dead in the bitter cold of that clear, moonless night.

So Captain Rostron ordered his ship’s stokers mustered out of their racks and put them to work shoveling as much coal as the furnaces would take. He ordered his deck crew to swing out Carpathia’s lifeboats. Stewards and nurses were ordered to make plenty of coffee and tea and to collect as many blankets as possible.

As he headed his ship at flank speed into that black night, he knew she was headed into those same treacherous waters that had claimed great Titanic’s life. Captain Rostron then went out onto the bridge wing and — freezing though it was — he prayed. Perhaps this is why Hollywood omitted Captain Rostron’s role on that fateful night.

Happily, the British people and their American cousins did not fail to honor this heroic rescuer. He was made a Knight Commander of the British Empire — Sir Arthur Rostron. He was honored by Congress. And U.S. First Lady Helen Taft began the effort for a memorial to the men of the Titanic.

Hollywood may be headed for its own iceberg. Whenever we see violence erupt on our city streets, we might look to the violence glorified in Hollywood films called “splatterfests.” These are targeted at that profitable youth demographic.

How many Hollywood movies tell the amazing story of Pregnancy Care Centers? There are more of these than of Planned Barrenhood’s (Parenthood) killing centers.

How many movies have they made about Evangelist Billy Graham? Did you see Unbroken?  How did Hollywood manage to miss a pivotal event in hero Louie Zamperini’s life — his coming to faith in Jesus Christ?

So perhaps OK that Hollywood didn’t care about the man who saved 706 souls that night in 1912. Sir Arthur has a better recognition. He modestly said his mission of mercy was “guided by a Greater hand.”

50 Shades Makes 80 Million This Weekend

by Cathy Ruse

February 17, 2015

Truly bad news for the good, the true and the beautiful: with $81 million in box office receipts, 50 Shades of Grey came in second only to The Passion of the Christ for the best February weekend opening ever.

The movie opened in 58 markets around the world, bringing in $158 million globally and setting weekend records in 11 countries including in the largely Catholic countries of Italy, Argentina, and Poland.

According to the website Box Office Mojo, the movie also set records for “Universal Pictures in the U.K.($21.1 million), France ($12 million), Russia ($10.5 million), and Brazil ($8.9 million).” It brought in $15.2 million in Germany, $$8.6 million in Australia, $8.1 million in Mexico, and $7.9 million in Spain.

Box Office Mojo reports that among all R-rated movies, 50 Shades “ranks fifth behind The Matrix Reloaded, American Sniper, The Hangover II, and The Passion of the Christ.”

Such a big opening is not surprising given that the book has sold 100 million copies worldwide. Box Office Mojo predicts it will coast easily to the $300 million mark globally, placing it within reach of the biggest R-rated movies in history; The Matrix Reloaded ($461 million), Troy ($364 million), The Hangover II ($332 million) and Ted ($331 million).

But 50 Shades is not getting sterling reviews, so it might take a huge plunge in coming weeks.

There is a raging debate on Facebook between people who are against this movie. Are the protests and boycotts a worthwhile endeavor, or are they just calling attention to the movie and even increasing ticket sales? There is certainly a risk that the latter position will prove true. But I come down on the side of the former.

The thing about pornography is that, while it is bad to consume it, the knowledge that it is bad to consume it is very good. If we were to let 50 Shades open without publicly raising our concerns, some viewers could mistakenly believe there is nothing to be concerned about. And that would make something bad even worse.

So I say, keep beating the drums! If it gets the attention of inattentive people, so be it. But as the theatre lights dim, they’ll know they’re watching something that has been called offensive and degrading. And the question before them will be: “Do you agree with the protestors?” It will be an invitation for them to say yes.

American Sniper and the Restoration of Man

by Travis Weber

February 11, 2015

Why has American Sniper struck such a chord with the American public? No doubt in part this is due to the incredible storyline and cinematography, but other factors are certainly at play in such a blockbuster hit. While critics have scrutinized various aspects of Chris Kyle’s story, something within us is still attracted to a man with integrity (that term being defined as consistency between one’s beliefs and actions). As Kyle heads off to war in Iraq, backing-up his fellow countrymen as a sniper, his simple conviction about the importance of defending good against evil—and his willingness to act on that belief—is attractive to the viewer. His skill as a sniper, and record as the all-time crack marksmen in U.S. military history, almost become secondary.

As Owen Strachan notes at the Patheos blog, this movie has “struck a chord” because:

We are in an age that does not want to believe in manhood, at least the traditional kind. Men are not supposed to be strong today. They are not supposed to lead their families. They are not supposed to take ownership of provision for their household. They are not supposed to be fearless. Modern men have had their innate manhood bred out of them.

As a result, many men today don’t want to sacrifice for others. They want to be nice, and liked by everyone, and to win the approval of their peers.”

Against this backdrop, American Sniper is a rather shocking entrée. It presents a simple man who lives by a black-and-white moral code. He is traditional. This is not existential manhood; this is non-existential manhood. Kyle does what he thinks he should do, and does not second-guess himself. He believes that he should use his God-given strength and ability to defend the weak and defeat the wicked. He believes, in fact, that there are wicked people in the world. He is not afraid to say so. He is not afraid to act on this conviction.”

Yet, “Kyle was no wilting flower. He was not a perfect man. He knew this. He was rough around the edges, he sometimes shot off his mouth, and he had a tough time with rules. In other words, he was a classically aggressive man. Our culture wants to anesthetize such men, to stick a tranquilizer in them and dose them up on medication to tame their natural aggression.”

Strachan continues, “[t]his is not what the church advocates, however. The church gives men a vocabulary for their aggression, their innate manliness. It funnels their God-given testosterone in the direction of Christlike self-sacrifice for the good of others (Eph. 5; 1 Tim. 3). It does not seek to tame men, or ask them to become half-men (or half-women). It asks them to channel all their energy and aggression and skill into the greatest cause of all: serving the kingdom of the crucified and risen Christ.”

Moreover, as men lead in this way, it is attractive to women. Strachan notes the presence of a number of young women in the movie theater, presumably excited to see this man in action.

Women are attracted to a man on this journey in which he fights courageously for Christ.

For Christ “was fearless. He was brave. We don’t know how big his shoulders were, or how handsome he was, or how fast he could run. We do know that he laughed in the face of evil, and gave no quarter to his opponents, and did not apologize for claiming that he was the way, the truth, and the life. Even as death took him down, he struck a climactic blow against the kingdom of darkness. He crushed it. He ended the reign of Satan, and began the true reign of the Son of God. Jesus was not a pacifist. He was a conqueror, and he will return to judge the quick and the dead.”

At that point, this “true man, who redeemed us, will lead us into a world where heroes do not die, but live forever with their God.”

Until that time, Chris Kyle’s conviction can help serve as a reminder of what conviction truly means.

Brittany Maynard Needs to Go to a Basketball Game

by Chris Gacek

October 29, 2014

By now we are all well aware of the story of Brittany Maynard, a young married woman who is terminally ill with a brain cancer.  She has moved to Oregon in order to legally commit suicide.  (Here is Time magazine’s favorable article about her and Oregon’s suicide enabling act.)  Mrs. Maynard plans to kill herself with medical assistance in early November.

Not so well known is the story of Lauren Hill, a college freshman at Mt. Saint Joseph University in Ohio.  Miss Hill who also has terminal brain cancer, but she has chosen a different path.  She has been practicing for months so she can play in the team’s first basketball game this season on November 2nd.

I hope Brittany Maynard has the opportunity to view the CBS news story about Lauren Hill and realize that there is a better way for her. In the past months, Brittany has been touring places she has always wanted to see like the Grand Canyon. According the People Magazine article:

Though she set Nov. 1 as a tentative date to end her life, she’s always made it clear the date is not set in stone and she will make the decision based on the progression of her disease.

I have no doubt that if Brittany Maynard wanted to see Lauren play basketball this Sunday – tickets would be made available even though the game has sold out.  I imagine Lauren would tell Brittany to grasp every moment of life and to fight for those who will come later and need encouragement in life’s most difficult times.  Seeing Lauren Hill play will, in its own way, have a grandeur of equal stature to the Grand Canyon’s.  Brittany Maynard needs to see and understand that.

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