I fell compelled to write one more post as a result of all the responses to my pointing out the Miracle Theater’s full page ad in USA Today. My biggest disappointment is how quickly a discussion like this disintegrates into personal attacks, gossip, and strife. Honestly, I was a little amazed at how much some people got off topic, and raced into areas that mattered very little to the issue at hand. You want my opinion in a single post? Here it is:
The Miracle Theater (or any Christian) can do anything they want with their money. They have every right to follow their conscience any way they see fit. Unless they have donors and need to report to those donors, they don’t have to answer to anyone but the IRS. We live in a free country.
But there’s also something bigger at stake here: How we share our message in a non-believing, media-driven culture. How effective are we at getting our message heard, and having our audience seriously consider it in the hope that it could change their lives? And finally, what is the perception of our efforts to the greater culture? (Because that perception helps or hinders our future efforts).
Does much of Christian media help spread the gospel to the culture, or create a bubble where we’re only preaching to the choir?
Does standing on a street corner holding posters of bloody, aborted fetuses, change the minds of people considering abortions? Or does it make the protestors look like radical fundamentalists?
Does Pastor Fred Phelps, who created the God Hates Fags website, actually draw homosexuals to the faith, or does he make all Christians look like intolerant jerks? I’m sure he’s a sincere guy wanting to reach the gay community, but does that make it OK?
What about the pastor’s wife at a small church in the South who decided to “celebrate” Black History month by having her all-white church choir perform a “selection of Negro spirituals” – all in blackface. She meant well, and was very sincere. But does that make it a good idea?
I’ve said in other places on this blog that in a media driven culture, simply standing up and saying something about an issue might not always be the best and most effective strategy for changing the culture. In the case of The Miracle Theater, I never doubted their sincerity, and still don't. But the question is: was it the best strategy to reach their goal?
When missionaries approach a cannibal tribe, they don't protest outside the village, call them names, put an ad in the paper, or complain that they eat people. Missionaries develop a relationship with the tribe, earn their trust, and become part of the community. Once they do that, the tribe is far more open to listening to their message.
So why can't we do that with Hollywood? Hollywood is simply filled with sinners just like us. There’s plenty of things Hollywood does that I don’t like, and are detrimental to the culture. But does anyone really think a confrontational approach works? When people get mad at you does it soften your attitude toward them? I doubt it. I wish we could view Hollywood as a mission field, develop a relationship with those in the entertainment industry, supporting the hundreds of believers who are there already, and then speak into their lives.
Some responses from people have sited Jesus turning over the tables in the temple as an example that we should be confrontational with the culture. But we often forget that the money changers Jesus tossed out were the religious people. There's no record to my knowledge of Jesus confronting the non-believing culture. He didn't go into a Roman guardhouse and turn over the tables.
When it comes to The Miracle Theater or anything – James Dobson, Donald Wildmon, religious media, or Christians who protested The Da Vinci Code – we have to remember that believers all on the same team, and respect each other, pray for each other, and support each other. But what team takes the field without helping each other play at the highest level? Do we not offer criticism to the quarterback when it’s obvious he’s throwing low? Do we not adjust a blocker’s stance because his position is too high? Or do we just love them, stay quiet, and let them lose the game?
I have enormous appreciation and respect for The Miracle Theater, and what they’re doing with drama. We need a lot more outreaches like that.
But the truth is, when it comes to the ad, I have yet to meet a single Christian who was brought to the faith by criticism, humiliation, or protest.
Sure we get offended. Sure we feel like our rights often get trampled. But rarely does protesting do more than sooth our egos, and make us feel better. But does it really make a difference? Not too often.
Yes, I do believe there’s a time for protest, and even a time for boycotts. And if you genuinely feel God leading you to protest or boycott something, then go for it. But I believe they should be used very carefully, with a lot of thought to the potential impact and potential consequences.
Perhaps my point is that we need to worry less about how offensive the culture is, and more about how effectively we engage it. Before a general attacks, he makes absolutely sure he’s not going to get outflanked or outgunned.
Will their USA Today ad work? I have no idea. I’m not really sure what they hope to achieve. I do hope they continue responding to this blog so we can see how it plays out over the next month or two.
But for me, the scripture that drives my thinking on the issue is Paul's note in I Corinthians 5:12 – "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside."