As expected, conservative Christians are up in arms over the first Hallmark Christmas movie featuring a same sex couple. And as expected, pro-LGBT people and their allies are up in arms over conservative Christians being up in arms over the first Hallmark Christmas movie featuring a same sex couple.
As the author of Ecclesiastes said many millennia ago, “there’s nothing new under the sun.”
Rather then get caught up with the same old media loop, here’s some food for thought about Christian art and “family values.”
Many Christians are upset with Hallmark for giving into “secular culture.” For them, Hallmark movies are one of the last vestiges of “Christian values.” And what values are those? Contrived, recycled plotlines? Mediocre writing? D-list acting? No offense to devout Christian actors like Lacey Chabert and Candace Cameron Bure, but the only thing remotely Christian about these films are the fact that they don’t blatantly transgress Christian moral sensibilities.
As Hans Fiene points out,
In a theological sense, the Hallmark Channel is not a Christian broadcasting network. More to the point, the 6,000 original “Christmas” movies the network airs every December are not genuinely Christian films in content…
But, culturally speaking, Hallmark Christmas movies are noticeably Christian. The characters don’t take off their clothes, murder anyone, or use profanity. The hero loves children and defends the poor. The heroine who begins the story loving her self-involved life in the city chooses family and a life of self-sacrifice in her hometown by the end of the tale.
If you’re a pious Christian mom who wants to escape into a universe where all the cynicism and immorality of modern life aren’t allowed, or if you want to snuggle up with your eight-year-old daughter and watch a silly movie without having to explain inappropriate content you weren’t expecting, the Hallmark Channel is about the only place left that will let you do it.
Fiene also notes that there’s rarely ever explicit references to religion in the movies (church, Scripture, prayer, etc), unlike the films featured on Pure Flix.
This implies that Christianity is merely about moral rules and rituals. Christianity does have this in common with other religions, but what makes it most distinct from other religions is the belief in an incarnate Deity. God enters the flesh through Jesus. The encounter with him ontologically changes our consciousness of ourselves and of the concrete, carnal details of the world around us.
To say that Christian art is about propagating Christian morals and rituals is to negate the centrality of the Incarnation. Christian movies should be distinct not because the main characters don’t have sex before marriage or because they read the Bible. Rather, Christian movies should imbue the viewer with a sense of sacramentality, of the transcendent being present in the small concrete details of the production, writing, set design, and interactions between characters. What makes Christian art distinct is not talk about Jesus or defense of “family values,” but its ontological ethos. (This video ingeniously spells out this problem with Christian platforms like Pure Flix).
So while Hallmark Christmas movies may never contradict Christian morals, they really have little to do with an Incarnational sensibility. The standard plotlines revolving around bourgeois “family values”–without any rootedness in the Event of the transcendent entering the flesh–is perfectly consistent with the expectations of LGBT advocates to see a gay couple featured in a movie. Within such an immanentistic, bourgeois moral ethos, a same sex couple is really not that different at all from an opposite sex one. So it would only make sense to have a gay Hallmark Christmas movie, after all this time.
This debacle also speaks to the rifts within the LGBT community between advocates of keeping queerness queer and of assimilating queerness into the bourgeois norms of respectable society. It’s the difference between claiming Love, Simon or Call Me By Your Name as the true gay love story. Is homosexuality a subversive, countercultural experience distinct from heterosexuality, or is it just another means of self-expression, morally neutral in itself and indistinguishable from heterosexuality?
Those who are determined to watch same sex love play out in a genuinely Christian ethos can get their fix watching Granada Television’s 1981 adaptation of Brideshead Revisited.