A controversy erupted a few weeks ago concerning Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the live-action version of its animated 1991 hit. Many Christians were disappointed to learn that the new film had a clear and positive presentation of a homosexual relationship.
There is no doubt: the movie is a blockbuster. Less than three weeks after its nationwide debut on March 17, Beauty had turned into an absolute beast, earning just over $910 million dollars in box office receipts, both here and abroad.
You read that right – nearly a billion dollars in less than 21 days. According to Forbes magazine, as a film, Beauty and the Beast will be Disney’s 14th billion dollar baby in its history. However, it has hit that mark 10 times in the last five years and seven times in the last two years alone.
This makes Disney the New England Patriots of the entertainment world – an absolute juggernaut that is rarely beaten on the field. Its movies and television programming, with their seemingly endless supply of merchandise byproducts for kiddies, are ubiquitous. (Let’s not even mention the popularity of its theme parks.) Moreover, the company’s savvy pickups in franchises, such as Marvel and Star Wars, have grossed billions and will no doubt continue to do so.
All this is to say that the Walt Disney Company lives and feeds at the top of the entertainment food chain. Everyone else is either in awe of Disney, imitating the company, or following its example.
Which brings us to Christians. I have no data to support this, but from my own observations and anecdotal evidence, Christians have been as likely to open their wallets to let their children feed at the Disney trough as non-Christians. I’m one of them, although there were some movies and TV shows that were forbidden in our house when my kids were growing up.
When it comes to their families, people can make up their own minds about Disney specifically and entertainment in general. However, I think many Christians were probably among those who knew about the pro-homosexual message in Beauty and the Beast and went anyway. In my opinion, I think this is potentially dangerous for the souls of little ones, as I made clear in my last blog on the subject.
I’m not trying to pick on Disney, but instead raise a broader issue that spells trouble for the church. The older I have gotten, the stricter my conscience has grown when it comes to entertainment. I can’t just let things slide anymore. I see more demonic danger than ever before, hiding in the giggling far too many of us have done watching yuk-it-up, small-screen fornicators; the fist-pumping at mindless slaughter; and shrugging off the occasional flashes of flesh as if these things meant nothing to the state of our souls.
Perhaps my uneasiness has something to do with seeing the growing decadence in our culture and asking what is causing it. Entertainment can’t be blamed for all of our ills, of course, but its power to corrupt cannot be overstated.
It is far too easy in our culture to fall into the trap of being a lover of pleasure rather than a lover of God (2 Tim. 3:4). There is in humanity a universal tendency toward idolatry, and the appetite to experience pleasure can be idolatrous as much as any other desire.
The church father, Augustine of Hippo, who lived in North Africa in and near the city of Carthage, highlighted this spiritual danger – among many other topics – in his monumental work, The City of God. The book was written in the wake of the sack of Rome by Visigoth barbarians in A.D. 410.
Augustine told of the sensual “madness” of the Roman theaters prior to the city’s destruction, theaters used by demonic powers to infect the morals of its citizens via the filthiness of these stage plays. Augustine said the people were so addicted to these worldly pleasures that, shockingly, “some of those who fled from the sack of Rome and found refuge in Carthage, were so infected with this disease, that day after day they seemed to contend with one another who should most madly run after the actors in the theaters.” Sound familiar?
All idolatry is a form of madness, as it creates an intensity of desire for something within the created order that often borders on obsession.
As Augustine laments, even the chastisement of Rome’s demise was not enough to break the hunger for entertainment. These people had experienced the destruction of their city and yet were still craving what was playing at the local metroplex!
Augustine then goes on to warn those who claim to love Christ but who are similarly captured by this passion for pleasure. He said, “These men you may today see thronging the churches with us, tomorrow crowding the theaters with the godless.”
I’m not a prude who rails against “them there satanic talkin’ pictures,” nor am I an entertainment Luddite who thoughtlessly recoils at the latest thing. Movies and television can be powerful instruments that can accomplish much that is good and uplifting – or not. So I fear for the church – and for myself – lest we become deluded by the spirit of the age that everywhere beckons us to come and get our fill of the latest godless pleasure.
Do we run the risk of becoming like Esau, who traded away his inheritance for a bowl of beans – a temporary pleasure that satisfies a passing appetite?
Hebrews 12:15-17 says: “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears” (NASB).
The first thing we see here is that there is often a root to our sin. If we are making bad choices with regard to our entertainment choices, why are we doing so? What is the root to our sin?
Second, sin often affects more than my own life. In this example, the warning is against allowing bitterness to spring up, but then this is added: “and by it many be defiled.”
Third, we are often blind to what God considers a sin. The spiritual lessons in the story of Esau could take up dozens of blogs, but at first glance, it’s hard to discern exactly what he did wrong. He was hungry and, since his brother Jacob was cooking lentil stew, Esau asked for some. Jacob told his brother he could have a bowl of stew in exchange for his inheritance as the oldest son. Esau agreed. For this act, the writer of Hebrews calls Esau an “immoral” and “godless person” (vs. 16). Why? What was the big deal?
What Esau traded away was his inheritance as the firstborn son. The Hebrews saw such matters as connected to God’s purposes for individuals. The birth order was not accidental; Esau was the firstborn because God had a purpose in it. Esau’s actions were egregious because he despised God’s sovereignty and purpose. Moreover, Esau dismissively traded his inheritance for a bowl of bean soup. It would still have been insulting to the Lord had Esau traded his inheritance for 100 gold coins and 500 sheep, but he cashed in for a bowl of wilderness-quality Campbell’s Soup.
Fourth, sometimes sin’s consequences remain, no matter what. Hebrews 12:17 says, “For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.” Since repentance often refers to changed actions as well as a changed mind, I take this to refer to the fact that Esau, even though he regretted his foolish choice, could not reverse what he had done. Sometimes tears do not alter the consequences. He could not recapture the inheritance he’d squandered for a momentary pleasure.
Let this be a warning to us all: The choices we make regarding what we let our children see – even what we ourselves see as adults – might have consequences that we cannot change.
What if we let the kids watch Beauty and the Beast, with its fairly fleeting embrace of same sex love, because we want them to enjoy what everyone else is enjoying – a heady drink of Disney mead? What about next time, if, say, Frozen’s Elsa gets a girlfriend instead of a boyfriend, as the homosexual community is demanding?
Might our kids grow up and approve of homosexuality – or, for that matter, any other sin to which we expose them – all for a few entertaining chills and thrills? We might not be able to change those consequences to come, though we seek for it “with tears.”
The inheritance we have in Christ Jesus is nothing to treat shabbily. The gifts of righteousness and holiness, sometimes symbolized in Scripture by white robes, are nothing to sniff at. It should grieve us when we stain those pure garments and defile our consciences to the extent that we harden them with rebellion.
I’m not arguing for tossing the television or declaring the local theater a no-go zone. What I am saying, however, is that both Augustine and the writer of Hebrews warn us of a dark danger that many of us fail to apprehend.
“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God” is a warning that sends a shiver down my spine. I just thought I’d pass that warning along.