Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Diving Beneath The Surface
What with AIDS, hunger, poverty, war... and the desperate need to transform people's lives, body & soul, it can be really frustrating when "media Christians" (those people who have been annointed by the networks to speak for religion & the cause of Christ) focus on incidents like the last year's Super Bowl halftime show or the newest "outrage". I think the "trick" is to understand the difference between moments which are indicative of larger issues (Janet Jackson) and the issues themselves. For example, HBO emasculated the excellent book And The Band Played On, the history of the first years of the AIDS epidemic, which was written by Randy Shilts, a gay activist who has since died of AIDS. Rather than deal honestly with the causes of the spread of AIDS (which Schilts lays at the feet of opportunistic bathhouse owners, power hungry members of the gay community, government ignorance & stupidity, and media misinformation & panic), the film essentially absolved the gay characters of any wrongdoing & focused on the government, religion & media as the prime purveyors of evil. Now, the HBO film is NOT the AIDS epidemic... but it is a cultural moment which is truly indicative of a way of dealing with problems (a culture of blame & victimization, if you will) that MUST be dealt with by Christians. And, of course, it's not just outside the church, but inside it as well. It's present when we spend our time blaming our destructive & sinful choices about pornography, sex, & fidelity on the culture rather than dealing honestly with our unwillingness to wisely interact with culture & our blatant disregard for Biblical teaching. It's not Victoria Secret's fault I watch a lingerie special... I'm a big boy. I can use the 100 calories it takes to pick up the remote and click "off". (The company and those who work for it are responsible for their own actions... but that's a topic for another day.) Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" is another cultural indicator - the main problem is not that we saw her nipple (or the starburst thing - man, that's gotta hurt) but that the choice to do something like that on network television tells us something about our culture that must be addressed. "Addressed", btw, doesn't mean castigating Janet Jackson or Justin Timberlake. It means taking a hard & close look at a society that has devalued sex to such an extent. We are called by the Bible to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15) - so we're called to talk about our culture and the issues that lurk beneath the surface of those cultural indicator moments. It's easy to let our moral outrage burn white-hot at an offensive film or flagrantly immoral politician or performer who subscribes to a ethical code we consider to be reprehensible. Yet it's our job as believers to get behind the persons & actions to the heart of our broken-down culture... and speak truth into it. Moreover, those of us who call ourselves Christ-followers are also obligated to "live in the light of God's presence" (1 John 1:7) - in other words, to live the truth in love. That means we need to care for those stricken by AIDS, regardless of how they contracted the disease. That means we feed the hungry, free the oppressed, cloth the naked (Matthew 25:34-36)... in short, make a God-sized dent in this world of ours.