Is it Okay for a Christian to Watch the Oscars?

Here come the Oscar blogs!

There will be a lot of re-hashing today of last night’s award ceremony honoring excellence in film. Among those there will likely be a voice of criticism over the mega-rich, self-important collection of celebrities who descended upon the Dolby Theatre.

As I sat watching the event unfold, I was struck by a question that I knew was being asked all over America:

Is it okay for a Christian to watch the Oscars?

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Never mind that many were. Twitter was ablaze with comments both serious and silly, many from Christian leaders I admire. I also know there are many who didn’t watch for reasons I can empathize with. But I wanted to share three reasons why I watched and maybe hear back from you on why you did or didn’t.

The envelope, please…

1. I don’t mind engaging content with which I disagree.

This goes for the Oscars as well as the movies themselves. When it comes to media I feel like there are two basic approaches: The Critic and The Consumer. When I watch movies, as well as when I watched the awards last night, I did so as a critic. This is the difference between being a taste-tester and a glutton. A taste tester examines the flavor, substance, and richness of the food with keen observation, a glutton chows down on $9.99 All You Can Eat Whatever.

I do not think we should be gluttons of our culture’s content, because some of it is poison. But not all of it is poison. Some of it is wisdom. I feel confident in the truth of the Scriptures and so interacting with content that I disagree with doesn’t scare me, it teaches me. And since I’m sorting out the wheat from the chaff, I believe it teaches me in the best possible ways.

2. I love stories, and movies tell the best stories.

Not surprisingly, most of the stories that get the accolades are not just good stories, they are redemption stories. They are narratives filled with self-sacrifice. These themes borrow from the ultimate story that we see in the Scriptures. At the end of the day, every story is a sorting out of human emotion that is sometimes answered and sometimes left mysterious. That goes for the Bible, too.

I am a story teller. It’s what I do. Through preaching and writing, I get to tell stories that (hopefully) inspire. Watching movies and watching the Oscars helps me be a better story teller. It’s a master’s class in shaping narratives, building characters, introducing conflict, resolving the conflict in creative ways (or not). I love to read books, too, and listen to old men tell stories. I like history and I love the Bible because it has great stories. But today’s movies are the best contemporary medium for telling stories. So whether or not I like the story or agree with the story is secondary. I feel like I have something to learn from watching them tell their stories.

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3. Art shapes culture more than laws do. 

Andrew Fletcher was Scottish. He was born in the late 1600s and died in 1716. He was both a writer and a politician. It was he who famously said, “Let me write the songs of a nation. I don’t care who writes its laws.” Tweet out a picture of twelve or thirteen high-powerd lobbyists or senators and see how many folks can name. See if that gets close to 3 million retweets over night like this one did. Folks aren’t listening to the lawmakers, they are listening to the artists. Our culture is being shaped by the art we enjoy.

There is an ongoing kerfuffle on the moral decline of our great country. It’s hard to argue with. But our (and by “our” I mean our Christian subculture) main tactic in reversing this decline has been to try to legislate our way out of the funk. It’s not going well. Some would argue that the reason for the ongoing decline is that we’re not fighting hard enough. I would disagree.

I just think it’s because we’re in the wrong ring.

We’re about 50 years late in stepping through the ropes lining the political ring and entering into the ring where the artists are. While a billion people do not watch the Oscars, as has been claimed, it is routinely the most-watched program in the United States every year that’s not an NFL game. And the movie industry is ginormous. There were over a billion movie tickets sold in 2013.

I think Christian movies (though I think “Christian” makes a lousy adjective, I use it here) are catching up in quality. But even when there’s a big release, we spend a good chunk of our time debating it’s accuracy instead of capitalizing on it’s audience.

If the arts shape our culture more than laws do, I want to know of, engage with, and be able to talk about the arts in a relevant way. In doing so, I’m building bridges that can be leveraged in relationships to advance the cause of the Gospel.

If you didn’t watch the Oscars last night, I’m not mad at you. But I do think there’s a place for a ceremony like that in the life of a Christian.

So I hope you won’t be mad at me, either.