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Vol. 77 - No. 10

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             


Censoring Religion?


Recently it was announced that a major television network had picked up the popular Christian animated series "Veggie Tales" for broadcast during Saturday morning cartoons. What a positive development! Veggie Tales is a truly great religious show for children–it has winsome characters, memorable songs, and story lines that communicate a Biblical, moral message. Lutherans might point out that it lacks a definite gospel message–Christ is usually seen as teacher, not Saviour, and the show doesn’t talk much about the Cross. Still, Veggie Tales has been a wonderful tool to connect children with Biblical stories and concepts. (And not always just children–a lady once told me how helpful the Veggie song "God Is Bigger Than the Boogie Man" had been in getting her through the painful days after 9/11).

      However, there’s a major "flag on the play" in this story about Veggie Tales hitting the big time on network TV. The network is removing from the show...almost all references to God! Even the tag line that closes every Veggie episode–"God made you special and He loves you very much"–is vanishing. Actually, it’s every "non-historical" reference that will be removed–which I take it to mean that, in telling a Bible story from 3,000 years ago, mention of God is acceptable–but nothing can be said to imply that He is relevant to our lives today.

      It will be interesting to see how they pull this off. It’s as hard to imagine Veggie Tales without God as it is to imagine, say, Jaws without water! 

      Major entertainment providers are very uncomfortable with religion. That becomes evident when one looks at the American Film Institute’s recent list of the "100 Most Inspiring" films ever made. One would think that a list of "inspiring" films would be packed with movies with a religious message. One would be wrong. The first thing one notices is the complete absence of films about Jesus–not "The Passion of the Christ", not "King of Kings" (either the silent or the sound version!), not "The Greatest Story Ever Told". Then one notes that almost no film about any Biblical theme made the list–"The Ten Commandments" being the sole exception. Then one notices that almost all the great films with religious themes made in the past twenty years or so–films like "Tender Mercies", "The Apostle", "The Mission", "Signs"–are missing. ("Places in the Heart" and "Chariots of Fire" did make the list–"Chariots of Fire" barely nosing on at Number 100!). Our Roman Catholic friends might find it peculiar that "The Song of Bernadette" and "Going My Way" didn’t make the grade (hey, I’m not Roman Catholic, and I find it peculiar!) 

      At least two films that have some religious content (but, on the whole, are not religious films) made the top ten: "It’s a Wonderful Life" and "Schindler’s List". But on the whole, it’s a very secular list of "inspiring" films. 

      The folks who shape our entertainment are just plain skittish about religion. This is not a new development. If you watch an old film from the 1930s or 1940s, you will almost never hear the name "Jesus". When the traditional liturgy is used in a funeral scene, for instance, the references to Christ in the service are almost always amputated. And it’s interesting to note that, when Walt Disney constructed the ideal American town for "Main Street USA" at Disneyland (and later DisneyWorld), churches were conspicuous by their absence. And that was in 1955, when almost everybody went to church!

      I do not mean to bash the television networks or the American Film Institute, and certainly not the great Walt Disney. I can understand their point of view. Religion tends to divide people–that’s why we’re always told not to talk about "politics and religion" in polite company. (Even though those are probably the two most interesting things to talk about!) Entertainment companies want to draw in as wide an audience as possible, and explicit religious references in movies and TV shows could be a turn-off. Some entertainment companies have discovered that Christians actually constitute a powerful specialty or "niche" market–20th Century Fox, for instance, recently launched a production company to make Christian films. But in general, our entertainment tends to be a religion-free zone That’s why I’m always pleasantly surprised when religion does surface in a positive way in films and television (as in "Touched by an Angel", or the focus on Scully’s cross at the end of "The X-Files", or Timothy Buswell’s religious reawakening when his wife falls ill in "thirtysomething", or the successes of "Narnia" and "The Passion of the Christ".)   

      In the end, our entertainment media aren’t responsible for getting the Christian message out. We are.  We are responsible for lifting up the cross of Christ, we are responsible for inviting people to belong to Him, we are responsible for sharing the Good News of Jesus with the world.

      The one thing we don’t want to do is "censor" religion in our lives. We want to go to church, we want to be up-front about our Christian identity, we want to show the world we belong to Jesus. The TV networks and the film industry aren’t going to do it–that’s not their job, and any help they give us is gravy. Ultimately, you and I are called upon to show forth the presence and the power of God in our world. Not on a movie screen, not on a TV screen, but on the screen of our lives, our words, our actions–that’s where Jesus will be seen.

      We have a wonderful Saviour–a Saviour who shed His blood for our sake, a Saviour whose love is always present for us. That’s a Saviour worth proclaiming to the world!

God loves you and so do I!

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