Reader Mailstrom, 6/18: “Your reviews are no longer of value to the Christian community.”

I’m starting a new column, chronicling stand-outs from the daily maelstrom of Looking Closer email.

Most of these letters are real. Some of them are amalgalms of a variety of messages. Some of them are what I read between the lines of the things readers really wrote.

Each installment of Reader Mail-strom will be updated over the course of the day, so check back to see if I’ve responded to you.

READER:

Thanks for your blog about Ted Slater’s over-the-top attacks on CT’s review of Sex and the City. I work at Focus on the Family…. I have to say I’m embarrassed by his original blog, and his follow-up just compounds the damage, as did his combative response to anyone who disagreed with him in the comments. … Thanks for your charity towards him and Focus.

MY RESPONSE:

Wow, thanks!

It’s an important distinction… to remember that one person’s interpretation of a work of art is not necessarily the interpretation of everybody in that organization. I certainly didn’t assume that Ted’s opinion was the official opinion of Focus. And I’m grateful that you reached out. I find it hard to believe that many Focus on the Family employees would stand up and dare to suggest that “Christianity Today Relishes Sexual Perversion,” as Ted did (and apparently still believes, as he hasn’t backed off on his outlandish charge).

Camerin denounced the film’s gratuitous sex. She warned people about it. She declared that it was shocking and unnecessary. What did she *enjoy* about the movie? The reunion of four characters and the film’s portrayal of their friendships. That is what Camerin Courtney enjoyed.

How a person could read that review, and run a story that declares Christianity Today Enjoys, no, Savors, no Relishes Sexual Perversity — in other words, “Christianity Today is a Bunch of Perverts” — I have a hard time comprehending. How such an accusation is published at Focus on the Family, and allowed to stand, speaks volumes.

And yet, I received an email from Ted Slater, who wrote that headline and made that accusation, and he asked me to be more “honest” and “gracious.”

I know that there are many out there who saw the lie of that headline. I’m grateful for those who stood up and called it for what it was. And I’m glad to hear from at least one person at Focus who understands.

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This is an *excerpt* from a letter that CT received in response to my commentary “Have We Lost Our Minds?” I haven’t changed any of the words. (Okay, for correctness, I italicized the titles of films and publications.)

Dear Christianity Today Movies,

In response to “Have We Lost Our Minds?” – the short answer is, “Yes”!

You can always tell when a Christian critic is in need of a career change. They become so inured to the violence and corruption of our modern media that they are no longer offended by things that ought decently to be considered offensive. They then lapse into an apologetic whereby “good art” becomes the paramount virtue, eclipsing any concerns about good message or good morals. They thereafter begin to allege that deeply ungodly movies might actually be “better revelations” than movies which, despite poor production values, are nevertheless aiming to edify the body of Christ. This pattern is not new with Jeffrey Overstreet or Christianity Today. World magazine dove down into the same twisted tunnel a few years ago. The problem is obvious: Any critic who can seriously consider a vile and reprehensible piece of perversion like Little Miss Sunshine as being in any way positive or virtuous has simply become so callused and scabbed-over that they have lost the savor for what is pure, true, lovely, and right. Anymore, only spectacle and excess can touch them. The media has become more important than the message.


Any assay at a Christian aesthetic which ends up ranking “the testimony of God” (however poorly-phrased it may be,) as being somehow less virtuous than some enticing, amazing, glitzy piece of Hollywood-work which is based in a non-Christian worldview, and especially which vaunts anti-Christian morals, is necessarily a false aesthetic, opposed to Biblical values. And publication of any such aesthetic ought also to constitute the letter of resignation for any Christian critic who gives voice to it.

Take a break, Mr. Overstreet. Step down from movie reviewing. Take a year off – maybe two. Maybe make a permanent change, cover some other beat. Your reviews are no longer of value to the Christian community. Resign with grace today and, perhaps, return to fight again another day.

Sincerely,

Christopher C. Shubert

MY RESPONSE:

Mr. Shubert,

I would reply, but it would take a great deal of time to address your rather lengthy message.

As a matter of fact, I’ve already written down the observations and anecdotes that I would include in such a response. In fact, that is exactly why I wrote Through a Screen Darkly. If you send me your mailing address, I will happily send you a free copy. Consider it a gift. It will read as if it is a personal reply to your letter.

And regarding your declaration that my reviews are “no longer of value to the Christian community,” I’m tempted to pass the question along to the regular readers of my work here at this blog, at Christianity Today, in the classrooms that use Through a Screen Darkly, and at the Christian film festival in L.A. that just surprised me with a special show of gratitude. All of these kudos have come unexpectedly, as I started writing reviews in hopes of finding other Christians who were interested in exploring movies. And I keep finding more and more kindred spirits who teach me and inspire me, and so long as I keep learning and growing and delighting in their company and in the beauty of great art, I’ll keep writing reviews.

But thank you for showing an interest. Your letter will be entered in my annual Top Five Letters from Angry Readers contest.

Jeffrey


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  • http://www.lookingcloser.org closerlooker

    You offer me a copy of your book, gratis. This is a noble and generous offer, and I am grateful. For personal reasons I may not take you up on it, but I recognize and honor your good spirit in so doing. My question is, do you really think that your book will change anything? Read what follows, and decide for yourself.

    My book addresses your lengthy reply very thoroughly and directly. I did not mention my book as a way of saying, “It’s popular, thus it’s right.” I mentioned the book as a way of saying, “I’ve already addressed the points you raise, and what I said there seems to make sense to some people. So I encourage you to check it out.”

    In fact, I wrote the book as an answer to such things as you are saying to me here. I cannot say if it will change your mind, but it goes into great detail about why I have come a great distance to arrive at the kind of work I am doing now, and to share why I believe I am not only serving Christ but following his example. It is an approach to art that has enriched my faith and transformed my engagement with God, with fellow believers, and with culture. And I grow daily from seeing that pursuit in my brothers, sisters, and colleagues in the Lord.

    So, rather than re-write that book here, again, I encourage you to read it and consider it. You have clarified your position, loud and clear. If you don’t wish to read my perspective in the book, then we will have to agree to disagree and leave the matter there, in God’s hands, to settle as he sees fit.

    Jeffrey

  • http://withashout.net ajamison

    I don’t even know where to begin with Mr. Schubert. Mind boggling.

    Just wanted to say thanks for your reviews Jeffrey, I enjoy reading them and find them extremely valuable.


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