When last month’s Expelled was released, I was encouraged by several believers to see it in theaters in order to support “that kind of movie,” to vote with my dollars. The last time I heard “vote with your dollars” regularly used in the Church was the release of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. When that film was in theaters I questioned whether it actually presented a Christian worldview, but my objections were disregarded by some who would counter by replying, “well, it may not be perfect, but you should still vote with your dollars,” the same reply I received when I objected to some of Expelled‘s more manipulative tactics. As with many phrases, “vote with your dollars” appears to be a compelling statement, but its exact meaning is not entirely clear. And more importantly, the logic of this statement is obscured behind its rhetoric. Just what does it mean to “vote with your dollars” and is it really something we ought to be doing?
In a capitalist society, objects (films in this case) are produced when they make money. If sex sells, films will include sex scenes. If modesty sells, films will avoid sex scenes. As Rich pointed out in regard to Prince Caspian, some Christian leaders are encouraging us to see certain films in order to essentially game the system. If enough Christians see “clean” movies, or even better, Christian movies, then Hollywood will have to make movies for us, which in turn will mean less immoral films are made. This idea is essentially the same theory that drives political Dominionists: even though most people in American are unbelievers, if enough Christians are mobilized to vote (at polls or box offices) we can out vote them and make this a Christian nation. While there are real and significant benefits to be had from righteous government policies and movies with a Christian worldview, there are two serious problems with this theory of cultural engagement (and its platitudinous slogan): in reality, Christians are encouraged to “vote” for films that are either produced by Christians or are overtly “Christian” in their message regardless of their quality or the accuracy of that message, and biblically we are not called to covert systems, organizations, or businesses, we are called to share the Word of God to individual people. For the sake of brevity, this post will only discuss the former.
As it is commonly used in the Church, the purpose behind theory of culture promoted by “voting with your dollars” appears to be two-fold. First, it tries to encourage the media to make more Christian films. Second, it gives Christianity a louder voice in the world, particularly the media-controlled world. If we take a look at how this idea practically works in our communities, I think we’ll find that “voting with our dollars” does not actually produce Christian films made with excellence and the voice that it gives Christianity merely adds it to the inhuman cacophony of marketing and public relations.
If we are to “vote” for certain films in order that more Christian films will be made, exactly what films should we vote for? Here are some possible guidelines:
- The film is an adaptation from a Christian book (The Chronicles of Narnia)
- The film is made by, written by, or directed by a Christian
- The film is funded by Christians
- The film explicitly states the Gospel
- The film can be treated as an allegory of the Gospel (The Matrix)
- The film is about a famous Christian (Amazing Grace)
- It stars Kirk Cameron
- The film is pro-life (Juno)
- The film is politically Conservative
How Christian does the worldview of the film have to be in order to “vote” for it? Typically, what a “Christian film” or one deserving our “vote” means is a film that is inoffensive to our sensibilities, includes a “positive” message, and is in someway connected to the Church or Christianity. But what is all too often missing from these lists of guidelines is excellence. When we look at Philippians 4:8 somehow “whatever is excellent” doesn’t seem as important when it comes to “voting”. What this has led to is a situation in the Church where we are encouraged to see films that are not excellent, and often are not even biblical, merely because the success of these films will show the world that Christians have money. In other words, sometimes we are asked to support “Christian” films merely because it makes the Church seem like a more respected demographic. And to some extent, this effort has been successful. We can owe the recent Narnia adaptations, Expelled, Amazing Grace and other such films to the success of The Passion amongst other “Christian” movies. But the question we need to ask ourselves is, are we supporting excellent creations made by Christians, or are we supporting the culture or image of “Christianity.” Since most of the guidelines used to determine what to “vote” for ignore the principle of excellence, we are not really encouraging Hollywood to make more excellent films or young Christian filmmakers to create movies that glorify God through their beauty and truthfulness, but rather we are encouraging both groups to cash in by pandering to a certain cultural sensibility. In this sense then, “voting with our dollars” will not (in general) produce the kinds of works that people will see and glorify God in heaven, but rather works that tickle the ears of the American Church.
Tomorrow, come read the second half of this series, which will deal with the “voice” of Christianity in the media and conclude the article.