The Calvary Chapel of Albuquerque, as many CCs are, is a city unto itself. It boasts a membership of over thirteen thousand, and claims to be one of the twenty largest churches in America. It owns its own television station, radio station, book store, skate park, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. Of course, this all causes the congregation and its leadership to come under sharp, and sometimes unfair, scrutiny. Apparently, the latest product of the holy city in the ABQ is a film production company (Connection Communications) that produces, among other things, Christian films. The most recent of these Christian films, a documentary on culture, has me pondering some issues.
This film, “Shattered: Exposing Windows of Evil” comes out just in time to scare the bejesus out of evangelicals in Albuquerque at Halloween.
Now, in an uncharacteristically diplomatic turn, allow me to make several qualifications before I continue (these will be necessary, because I seldom aim the gun so close to home). I have no “axe to grind” per se with CCs, Skip Heitzig, Chip Lusko or anyone else associated with Calvary of Albuquerque. I have had most of Skip and Chip’s children in class (and have found them to be delightful people). I have many students and friends that attend C of A. So, for anyone looking for an offense, I know that the aforementioned are favorite targets of CC haters. You’ll have to pick your fights with the ideology at hand, though, because I have no desire to breach these issues.
So, here’s my question – why the cycle of Christian scare films making claims that cause viewers to believe that our media has been infiltrated by the occult, and that participating in said media endangers us all personally? While it may be extreme, there are even some that actually teach you will be possessed if you read or watch any of these media (though, I am not aware of any of these “teachers” being associated with CC). Consequently, if you happen to have a personal penchant for anything of the fantasy or horror genre, then you are opening yourself unnecessarily (or so the theory goes) to the wiles of “the Enemy.” Additionally, if you happen to be going through a “dark spot” in life or if you just happen to be one of those (gasp) “dark” people, then your very salvation is in jeopardy. The documentary promises to “give the real meaning” behind the supernatural themes so prevalent in our media. Perhaps, most troubling of all, is the prescribed game plan for dealing with this infiltration of the enemy.
The most frustrating element of this project is the “Quick Guide” insert in the DVD – which minces the project’s already poorly constructed thesis into short generalized truisms. And, like the most insidious lies, it all contains just enough truth and genuine wisdom to cause thinking individuals to second guess their instincts. Frankly, I deplore these appeals to fear. I deplore it when politicians do it, when educators do it, and especially when pastors do it. Without further ado, allow me to quote some of the examples – then you give me your take.
Intro: “Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13)
Families are under attack as never before; media is aggressive and dangerous. But there is no reason for fear. The Bible says where sin abounds, grace abounds much more. The weapons of our warfare are not earthly, but they are powerful. God has given us what we need, etc. etc. so on and so forth… (Don’t want to get into copyright issues) ;0)
Harry Potter movies have made $4.2B worldwide, over 300M books in print
“Twilight” vampire movies have made over $775M, with 100M books in print
97% of teens play video games, 75% have cell phones
25% of teens have created an online false identity…
Warning Signs “Being filled with all unrighteousness…” (Romans 1:28)
Glamorization of the occult
Pagan versions of Christianity
Mocking of truth
Misrepresentation of reality, creation of false identities
Decreased interest in God
Obsession with increasingly dark and bizarre entertainment
Preoccupation with death and the grotesque
Increased isolation from family and social norms
Kids barring parents from their rooms
Excessive time online gaming…
Practical Steps “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” [sic] (James 4:7)
Make sure your relationship with God is strong (James 4:8)
Have a biblical “filter” and worldview
Take inventory: where is your family really at in these matters?
Set an example: Make sure your relationship with God is strong (James 4:8) and that you have and use a biblical “filter” for your worldview
Get informed about what’s in your home
Learn about the current culture; it may seem foreign
Be bold, loving, and persistent
Now, allow me to itemize a list here, which I believe will help contextualize my complaint. In my estimation this is poor theology couched in great parenting advice. So, the positive things first:
1. There is no such thing as parents being too restrictive with young children when it comes to visual media. Countless studies from a diverse array of disciplines (psychological, medical, theological, etc) have directed parents to monitor carefully the influences children have at impressionable ages and have proven that visual media like television and movies have detrimental affects on small children. Which, of course, is precisely what some of those interviewed in the film say. There is a dangerous window of impressibility that closes around 10 years of age (but, does the presentation stop there? No)
2. I wonder whether parents could actually do anything more productive in their homes than getting involved in the lives of their children. This documentary, at its core, insists that Christian parenting requires engaged adults. Who could argue with this?
3. The video admonishes parents not to let schools and churches to do the parenting for them. As an educator, I have experienced that you can almost point out the kids that have engaged parents and the kids that are being sent to me for babysitting. I heartily congratulate this effort, and wish more spiritual leaders would emulate the message, “parents, you are the front line in a battle to raise Godly, church going Americans.”
4. The video addresses a modern trend to view Satan as a “contemporary” or opposing force to God, instead of the limited, created being that he is. (Though, I can’t help but point out here that one central premise of the video is the insidious infiltration of Satan and the occult into the lives of Christian young people through the glamorization of such in our media, and then boldly pronounces that the enemy has no true power, but indeed “cannot even tempt Christians without God’s permission.” So, if it all has to be cleared with God first….oh, nevermind)
Now, a few of the things I take issue with:
1. The host and guests in the video consistently assert that there is a concerted “occultist” effort to trap Christians in a fantasy world of power and control via their own personal curiosity. They pound it again and again. If your child is curious or role plays or has an imagination, then you may already be too late. Which translates, at least to me, into a simple message, “listen to our story of power and control in your life or you’ll end up in hell (because we have the power and control and say so).”
2. Their anecdotal “expertise” on the occult is manipulative and disingenuous. For every “I was a mixed up kid, and turned to the occult to gain power over my situation and realized that I was influenced by my culture into dark and dangerous things that nearly destroyed me” story that the hosts can produce, I can produce an “I was looking to hurt people with black magic and the occult – now I am a fruitful Christian and movies/music/games had nothing to do with either of them” stories.
3. Each of the presenter’s erroneous or anecdotal arguments eventually run thin and they ultimately identify the home as the impetus behind trouble. Yet, they will not abandon their thesis. They want us to believe that Columbine happened because those kids played video games, role played, and read fantasy/horror literature, and not because their parents were completely disengaged. One father even laments, “Let me be perfectly clear about this, my son died because I put him in a secular, humanist school – and I knew what they taught. And I did that.” Then the host points out that the attackers wore t-shirts at school that endorsed “natural selection.” “This whole crime,” the father goes on to state, “was based on the belief that evolution was true and that they had the right to kill those they deemed weaker…” Any coincidence that there is a CC Christian school in Albuquerque that is in desperate need of enrollment?
4. From this springs an entire series of slippery slope arguments. If you send your kids to secular, humanist schools (i.e. public school), you may be sentencing them to death. If you watch horror movies, you are getting a perverse blend of sex and violence that will turn you into a serial killer – just like Ted Bundy. If you dabble in Harry Potter or other “Wiccan” spiritual influences, you’ll become a crazy universalist pagan just like Chuck Russell who used to be a good Christian man. If you are hurt in your relationships and get involved in online chat communities, you will join an online coven and will become demon possessed. If you play the role-playing games (online or tabletop), you are merely trying to find a “life” you like better than your own and the occult content of those games will corrupt you.
5. I reject the thesis that things are “worse than they ever have been before.” It demonstrates a lack of scope or a lack of expertise, I’m not sure which. Even the simple proposition that movies are somehow “worse” than they used to be is a completely subjective statement. At best, the most that can be asserted is that the previous generation of media better suits the sensibilities of the writer, host, and guests in the documentary. Frankly, I think “Nosferatu” is far more terrifying than many modern horror films, which according to the documentary, are the true gateways into the occult.
6. The big problem – They are not offering a solution. Bishop Pierre Whalon gave the sermon in our church last Sunday. In it he gave a simple and profound explanation of the Church’s purpose: Reconciliation. It is the job of the church to proclaim the Gospel, feed the poor, protect the orphan, care for the widow, and generally to live out the love of Christ toward the disenfranchised of the world – to reconcile them to God. This video leaves its viewers at a serious disadvantage with an aggressive ideology. Viewers who buy into its whole message are left feeling afraid, powerless, and inept. A feeling that can only be alleviated by submitting to the ideology engendered in the video itself. There is no option, take their advice, purge your home to rescue your family – assimilate. There is no plan to reconcile those who may actually be hurting to God. If your children pull away, seek privacy, get moody, want to be around their friends (you know, normal teen-age stuff), then they may have been infiltrated by the occult and you must aggressively intervene (but in a loving way). Oh, and don’t be fooled, because, “This will all be slickly packaged and very attractive but the message is just below the surface – once an appetite for unhealthy entertainment is created it will only grow and demand more radical expression – take strong, immediate, action now…this is war.”
There are, of course, numerous other anachronisms, inaccurate facts, and incomplete statements made throughout. I cannot really fault the production as a documentary for such things, though. Which documentary have you watched that got all of the facts right? My most serious complaint is that it is a production designed to “scare parents straight” on the “facts” concerning media. Ultimately, though, the “facts” fall short of anything but the preferences and sensibilities of those involved in the production; and they belong to a broader group of Christians that are under the impression that only “wholesome” media are pleasing to the Lord. This certainly causes a plethora of problems for me, that cannot be rightly expressed in a post that is already too long. In short, the experts are suspect, the evidence is anecdotal, the theory is flawed, and the outcome is fear and confusion. It’s just too bad, because all of its shortcomings obscure some sound admonition to be an involved parent.
If you want it in an even shorter version, it’s legalism.
(As a minor, personal issue in a post script – I think the video’s characterization of J.K. Rowling, a baptized Christian, as someone who is peddling Wiccan religious philosophy in her books is unconscionable.)