Focus on the Family’s Ted Slater Tells Christianity Today to “Repent.” Peter Chattaway Responds.

Same song, second verse.

The following has been revised and “clarified” by request:

Slater’s still going on at Focus on the Family’s Boundless.org about how Christianity Today needs to “repent” for “enjoying” “soft-porn.”

I felt that that was a watershed moment for CT, and felt that I had to draw a line in the sand.

I’m embarrassed for CT. And for the sake of their constituents and their credibility, I’ve called on them to change their position, to, by definition, “repent.”

Sometimes we have to choose not to watch something that will pollute our souls, even though that thing has the potential to help us grapple with important themes. Even though the trailers look fascinating. It’s not worth the cost.

The thing is, I firmly believe that there’s a point where the content of a film is such that the benefit to our minds is not worth the cost to the purity of our souls. I firmly believe this movie, which I haven’t seen, crosses that threshold.

It’s my prayer that the stewards of CT’s legacy rightly identify that threshold and take a stand for purity and righteousness.

That’s an excerpt from Slater’s post. I’m not interested in misrepresenting him, so I encourage you to read his post for yourself. If you missed the first verse of Slater’s rant, which has the headline “Christianity Today Relishes Sexual Perversion,” go back and read that first. And my initial response to it, here.

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You know… I’m not even interested in Sex and the City. The show doesn’t appeal to me, and I would have no way to properly examine or assess the movie. So it pains me to spend so much time writing about it here.

But it is important to answer Slater’s critique, because he is spreading false accusations and misrepresentations of Christianity Today’s mission, and especially Camerin Courtney’s review.

Pornography is a poison, yes. Nobody at CTMovies would argue that.

But Sex and the City does not fit the definition of pornography. And, contrary to Slater’s claims, Courtney never said it did. She said the *substance* of the television show elevated it above soft porn.

Pornography could not be edited for network television and presented to any kind of success. The storylines and characters are the backbone of this long-running show, and nobody at CT is arguing that the show does not sometimes stray into excess. Pornography exists to shut down our capacity for discernment and to provoke a sexual response. Courtney clearly stated in her own review that the film, like the show, lapses into occasional lurid indulgence. But Sex and the City is clearly much, much more than those missteps, and it is the substance of the show that is drawing the interest of many who watch it… yes, even Christians.

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Simply put: Slater is mistaken when he says that CT’s complimentary words for aspects of Sex and the City is the same thing as encouraging Christians to watch pornography. He is also mistaken to claim that CT is *promoting* the movie.

And Mark Moring’s words of explanation — that “It’s good to see what the world looks like through the eyes of even the depraved” — is not an exhortation to feast upon filth. Moring was echoing what Frederick Buechner wrote:

If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.

I love that. “We must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces.”

Moring’s defense of Courtney’s review was not an exhortation for Christians to go and feast on sin. Rather, it was an appeal to consider how others see the world, so that we can understand them better, and be better equipped to engage the culture and show compassion.

I am finding that many viewers of Sex and the City are drawn to the characters because they resonate with some of their feelings and experiences. Some are also growing in understanding of how many women in this culture suffer, how they dream, what they value and why they value it.

It is not the job of CT’s reviewers to decide which movies to *promote.* It is our job to look at the weekly offerings of art and entertainment, and to consider what they reveal to us… for better or worse.

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I often find that my own prejudices and insensitivity to others comes from a lack of understanding. For example, my perspective on homosexuality led to harmful feelings of contempt for homosexuals. Then, much to my surprise, I discovered some (in fact, several) of my coworkers and friends were gay. This rattled my perception of homosexuality. I had been trained up to see homosexuals as malevolent, devious people bent on destroying others. I began to see that my gay friends were individuals who, like me, had strengths and weaknesses, were both loving and sinful, and were deeply loved by God. As I began to learn more about their perspectives and experiences, I repented of my sinful and condemning spirit.

Please note, I did not turn against what I understand the Bible to teach about homosexuality, but I did overcome a hateful and condemning spirit toward those who live with such inclinations. And I came to care about them just as I hope others will show compassion for me in all of my own strengths and weaknesses. It was humbling.

Art and storytelling about the struggles of homosexuals, especially in the context of religious condemnation, helped rescue me from perpetuating that spirit of condemnation. Contemporary art and storytelling helped me learn to care for my neighbors. Worldly art revealed threads of God’s truth that I needed to see. And those threads were missing from “Christian entertainment” and the evangelical culture in which I grew up.

Similarly, I value the stories of people from other cultures and beliefs… whether the stories concern refugees in the Sudan or shopaholics in Manhattan… because they help me engage with my neighbors more knowledgeably, compassionately, and humbly.

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Anyway, I appreciate Mark Moring’s defense of Camerin Courtney’s review, and I’m glad he wrote it. It hearkened back to when CT came under a similar attack for reviewing another R-rated movie — Children of Men — and I wrote CT’s response, which is still accessible here (and, abbreviated, here).

As always, I am fiercely concerned with helping people make wise decisions when it comes to moviegoing. If anyone doubts that, I recommend they take into account the whole book I wrote on that subject.

And I’d especially encourage you to read the first three chapters, because they speak very directly to what’s happening here. In Chapter Two, I recount what happened when Movieguide declared Wim Wenders’ film Don’t Come Knocking as an “abhorrent” work. (You can read that chapter here.)

Rather than respond any further, I’ll just link to my previous response, which hasn’t changed.

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UPDATE 1:

Peter T. Chattaway, another freelancer who reviews movies for CT, sent this comment to Ted Slater yesterday. Curiously, the comment has not yet been approved to be included among the other comments. So I’ll include it here:

Peter T. Chattaway to Ted Slater:

Good grief.

Ted, I can’t believe you’re still perpetuating the lie that Camerin called this movie “soft-core pornography”. She didn’t. What she said was that certain elements “often elevated the show from mere fashionable fluff or soft-core porn.” She was making a distinction between “soft-core porn” and what the series — not the movie, but the series — often did, the same way that many people would say that elements in, say, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ “elevated it from mere torture porn” (as “The Dane” pointed out to you over at Christ and Pop Culture).

The word “porn” has as much to do with the *context* into which certain kinds of content are put, as it does with the content itself. Without that context, the sex and nudity can be mere “soft-core porn”. But *with* that context, the sex and nudity — or the blood and violence that Mel Gibson wallows in in so many of his movies, for better and for worse — can be something more than mere “porn”.

Naturally, for many people, the sex and nudity in a film like Sex and the City will be too much, and they would not be able to appreciate it within the context that the movie provides — just as, for many people, the blood and gore of Mel Gibson’s movie would be too much for them to handle.

And naturally, many people will watch a movie like Sex and the City to get off on the sex and nudity, just as many people will watch a Mel Gibson movie — including The Passion — to get off on the blood and gore. (I hear The Passion was popular among horror fans, who may or may not have had any interest in the deeper Christian themes.)

But context is everything. Everything. And it is the *job* of a critic to provide that context.

And that includes those who would dare to critique the critics. If you keep yanking Camerin’s words out of context … well, you certainly aren’t clearing *anything* up, no matter how much you may say that you want to.

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UPDATE 2:

You’ll notice that I haven’t been responding to Focus on the Family. That’s because, as far as I can tell, Ted Slater’s opinion does not represent any official statement from Focus on the Family. I have just received an email that included the following points:

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.

I find it interesting that Focus on the Family, the organization that publishes Slater’s work in Boundless, sent their own reviewer to see Sex and the City. Lindy Keffer watched the film with her own eyes as well, and gave her response to it. Keffer too noted the film’s strong points along with its excesses. Her *opinion* was somewhat different than Courtney’s, but that’s to be expected — when it comes to worldly art and entertainment, you’ll find that Christians have different opinions and experiences about the strengths and flaws of those works.

Similarly, the conservative Christian magazine WORLD sent their reviewer, and their review is curiously devoid of the harsh condemnation that Slater demands. I find it curious that Slater has, to use his own words, “drawn a line in the sand,” and yet not commented on the reviews in both Plugged In and WORLD.

I have no doubt that, for many people, Sex and the City would be a bad choice for moviegoing. But it is not for me to draw the line and say that viewing the film will automatically “pollute” anybody’s soul. In order to “hold fast to what is good” we must “examine everything carefully.” That is one of the critic’s primary functions. So I’m glad that we have Christian film critics thinking through the offerings of Hollywood and equipping us with thoughtful critiques so that we can make our own choices.

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UPDATE 3:

The letters continue to pour into the CT Movies mailbox, showing the wide range of opinions and perspectives on this subject.

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UPDATE 4:

Ken Brown’s thoughts on “immoral content” and “the overarching worldview”… and comments follow.

Gene Edward Veith’s coverage… and comments follow.

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  • phillytle

    My favorite comment over at CT:

    “Those are led by the Spirit will refrain from Sex in the City. In this light as representatives of Christ your online venture should call a spade a spade and be accurately biblical in its view when “reviewing,” which should never mean fence sitting. To have authority to espouse even a minor exegetical view alone on poetic nuance, misplaces your authority as neo-apostolic or prophetic, as a logical line drawn from some ability of interpreting and thus above the allegorical poet. The procedural logic and Spirit is null and void. God help us all run like and from hell.”

    ??? – Talk about trying too hard. :)

    I especially like the last sentence for it’s structure and vivid image it paints….yeah…

  • http://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com/ Rebecca LuElla Miller

    I think a more important issue is getting lost in this discussion.

    Here’s the comment I left at Ted Slater’s blog, though it hasn’t been approved yet:

    While I agree with your position for myself, because my personal standards seem to be consistent with yours, something you said raised a red flag for me:

    You ended your post with this: “All of us have different thresholds; some of us don’t watch R-rated movies, some do. Some tolerate sexual innuendo or graphic violence or degrading language, and others choose not to. That’s up to the individual’s conscience, of course.

    The thing is, I firmly believe that there’s a point where the content of a film is such that the benefit to our minds is not worth the cost to the purity of our souls. I firmly believe this movie, which I haven’t seen, crosses that threshold.”

    You believe this movie has crossed a threshold, but is it your place to decide for other Christians what their threshold should be?

    I actually feel that having well-known figures or organizations set up as authorities of what is pure and right is one of the greatest dangers we Christians can buy into. My contention is, Scripture has been given for this purpose.

    In verse after verse in the Bible, it is clear we are to discern between good and evil. We Christians. Each of us. But in America today, it seems we Christians want someone else to do our thinking for us. It’s a “just tell me if I’m for it” mentality.

    If you came out and voiced your objections to the movie and laid out Scriptural support for your position, without the assertion that those who disagree with you have crossed some ultimate threshold, then you would essentially be calling others to think, to evaluate their own standards, to consider what it is they should be looking for in entertainment and to compare that with Biblical standards. (And if you thought the editors at CT sinned, you should confront them privately about that matter.)

    Instead, it seems to me, your post ends with the claim that your threshold is the right threshold, implying that others need not create their own.

    In my opinion, that idea, if widely followed, will do far more damage than one movie.

    Becky

  • http://leftcheek.blogspot.com jasdye

    i guess that i just don’t appreciate that this man will tell us all what our weak points are. and then stand in judgment over somebody b/c they engage in something that he judges as being a worse type of sin than another.

    i think that he needs to repent of his judgmentalism. and more so, his bad logic:

    1) The original review observed that SATC is “soft-core pornography,” perhaps made more palatable because the characters explore themes relevant to single women. The thing is, in order to have “enjoyed” this movie, in order to find the themes “refreshing,” you’ll have had to endure “a lot of sex and nudity,” “a threesome, a naked man in a shower, some steamy makeup sex,” “sex scenes between married folk,” and so on.

    2) The defense of this review encourages CT constituents to engage media that allows them to “enter into the minds” of “the depraved.” In this context, that means that CT is encouraging their constituents to view SATC, an admittedly “depraved” movie. Sitting through the “muck” of SATC is “good,” they are saying.

    Put point 1 and point 2 together, and what we have is a prominent Christian publication clearly saying to their constituents that watching pornography is “good.”

    “clearly” it’s not what you think, Mr. Slater.

    sorry for going negative here (and really not adding anything to the mix), but i’m a bit tired of the legalism game by now…

  • http://withashout.net ajamison

    Thanks Jeffrey for covering this. This “controversy” and Slater are getting rather ridiculous.


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