Can the Christian Movie Grace Unplugged Save Miley Cyrus?

Two weeks ago, I attended the Grace Unplugged press junket in Hollywood. The night before I left, Miley Cyrus decided to cause a bit of a stir (you may have heard about it) by backing her rear end into Robin Thicke at the MTV VMA’s (couldn’t it have been someone who DOESN’T look like a future Las Vegas lounge singer?). As might be expected, the whole world reacted, and my social media exploded. Evangelical Christians, in online media, started to jump on the bandwagon by slinging phrases like “disgusting” and “how far she has fallen.” The controversy continued this past week as Miley released her video, Wrecking Ball, in which she appears sans a stitch of clothing.

When I arrived at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Miley was topic of conversation in Hollywood, including many of my Christian friends and fellow journalists assembled to screen the movie Grace Unplugged. I kept hearing a recurring theme that went something like this; some believed that Grace Unplugged couldn’t have been more providentially timed. While the movie is NOT about Miley, it’s pretty easy to draw the connections. Indeed, many of us (including myself) thought the same thing; would Miley ever see this movie? What would she think?

In fact, one journalist asked the director point blank, “Do you hope Miley sees this movie?” His answer was “Yes, I hope so.”

To understand the connection we all made, you need to understand the content of the film. The movie is about a young girl who leads worship at her evangelical church with her former rock star father. No longer wanting to be “second fiddle,” she decides to go to Hollywood to try and “make it big.” As you might guess, she faces temptation along the way, but she ultimately decides to go back to her church home to become an evangelical worship superstar.

I’m going to save my thoughts on the movie until my review in a couple of weeks. I think it’s a fine film, probably the best “Christian” made film I’ve seen. Yet, something bothered me about my own assumptions and assumptions about many who viewed the film with me.

Having been in the evangelical world all my life, I think I can draw out their assumptions pretty well. In fact, I’ve read in numerous articles, posts and observations about the general mindset in evangelical culture at this time concerning Miley Cyrus. Evangelical Christians think that “Hollywood” and the “search for fame” made Miley back her behind into Robin Thicke. They want her to return to being the “good Christian kid” she represented while on Hannah Montana. My guess is, that many will will pray Grace Unplugged will do the job. It’s a completely unbearable weight to be placed on any movie’s shoulders.

First, my fellow church folks ignore the basic understanding of the actual Gospel and Jesus’ adamant statement that what comes out of a person makes them unclean, not what comes from the outside. You see, Evangelical Christians forget that Hollywood and fame don’t really corrupt. Indeed, they don’t have that capacity. Sin comes from the heart, not Hollywood. Anyone, Christian or otherwise, who goes to Hollywood already carries the sin with them. They don’t get it by fornicating with “the whore of Hollywood” like some odd sexually transmitted disease. They’re already infected with it. Sure, maybe Hollywood gives someone more opportunities to act out what’s already in their heart, but even that involves a number of problematic assumptions, namely, that the church community will never give them such opportunities.

At the root of all this, the church (of which I’m a card carrying member) shows a horrific tendency to “blame first and ask question later.” When things like Miley’s butt shake happen, instead of saying, “What did we as a church contribute to this?” we would rather point the finger at “evil Hollywood and Miley’s ‘backsliding.’”

Just once, I’d like the church to ask the question: is this on us?

You see, Miley grew up in an Evangelical southern Baptist church and went to youth group. She wore a “purity ring” and touted every Evangelical talking point possible. So, what happened?

From all accounts in many interviews, she started to choke on what she calls, “the religious show.” Reading between the lines, this means she got tired of the falseness of “good church people.” She got tired of the superficial holiness of her church, and finally, she got tired of her own hypocrisy – as Miley seems to know her own heart better than anyone else. I was struck by how many times she said, “I’m really not the person everyone makes me out to be, I’ve got issues.”

Interestingly, she’s never renounced her faith in Christ, but her disdain for the culture that she grew up in is on display for the world to see. Literally.

Miley’s ass, her rage, and our complete inability to take responsibility exposes the horror of own hypocrisy. The church embraced Miley when she was a “good kid,” but now that she is a sinner “she is a slut and a whore.” Why have we done this? Why do we continue to shoot our wounded? Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t think that way or we would all be screwed.

Yes, it is true, the church gets blamed a lot in our culture. But you see, the blame rises from a deep disappointment. People want the church to be better. They want the church to be paragons of what it means to really love and accept sinners. Even more devastating, Jesus makes it very clear when He challenges the disciples to be salt and light. He challenges us to love one another. When we don’t do that, Jesus tells us, the world has EVERY RIGHT to judge the church.

For some reason, we can’t seem to get that part right. No matter how much we preach that the church is a place for recovering sinners, we don’t really believe that. Most especially, when it comes to celebrities who are Christians, we expect them to act better and “be an example,” when we can’t even be honest on our own tax forms. Somehow, we think that being famous should equal to being a better Christian.

So, to answer the question, will Grace Unplugged save Miley?

No, it won’t.

Miley has been there and done that. Evangelical celebrity subculture will not bring her back, because she’s already been a part of it. As I’ll explore in my review of Grace Unplugged in the coming weeks, an uncritical look of “church culture and celebrity” will serve no one’s faith. It will just make us self-righteous and drive us further away from Christ in the end.

Is there hope for Miley?

Of course, His name is Jesus, the friend of sinners like me. The only difference between Miley and me is that I’ve not shaken my ass for the world to see.

Yet.

About Jonathan Ryan

Jonathan Ryan is a novelist, blogger and columnist. His novel, 3 Gates of the Dead, published by Open Road Media, is in bookstores everywhere. The sequel, Dark Bride, will be out early next year along with a powerful new Young Adult Trilogy, Revolution of the Wolf and a moving middle grade series, Ghost Bear.

  • Zach W. Lorton

    Oi. I would be horrible at press junkets like that, because I would be so tempted to tell it exactly like it is, rather than merely report on what is said. Guess that’s why I blog.

    • Author Jonathan Ryan

      It’s a balance, Zach. Certainly, not everyone in the room felt the same and I’m only expressing my “feel” for certain comments.

  • http://www.mattbrady.net/ Matt Brady

    Good post

  • ben dell

    I know that this article is probably getting flack from church groups and even the creators of Grace Unplugged themselves. Whereas I agree that Hollywood did not corrupt Miley Cyrus; what we are seeing is a reflection of the sin in her heart. The same sin I have as well. The article has me interested in seeing the movie and not to make fun of it. I look forward nothin seeing what the movie shows about how to share the Gospel and what to learn about how church culture can look to change in the way we relate to the cultures around us.

  • sga

    Great post

  • Sally Valdez

    So Miley is bad because the Church was hypocritical? How is that God’s fault?

    • Author Jonathan Ryan

      Uh, I don’t believe I said it was God’s fault. And, no, Miley is not bad because the church is hypocritical. The issue is more complicated than that. HOWEVER, we do bear some of the blame for her behavior. Not recognizing that IS hypocritical.


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