It’s a normal day in the life of a typical man or woman in any Western nation:
Wake up and, while getting ready for the day, watch a morning news program that—by the stories it covers, the sources it cites and the language it uses—promotes a leftist-progressive bias.
Drive to work, listening to hit songs filled with sexual immorality, greed and violence.
Throughout the day, keep an eye on social media, where memes and discussions polarize neighbors, distort conflicting views and breed bitterness and cynicism.
Back at home that evening, watch television programs that—if LGBTQ activists have their way—will within the next five years have 20% of series regular characters portrayed as gay or lesbian. Or skip TV altogether and play a video game that glamorizes violence and crime.
Over the weekend, take in a movie that portrays a completely secular world where immorality and profanity are seen as normal, even desirable.
No matter the medium, popular culture floods our consciousness, giving it nearly unmatched power to influence our thoughts and actions, and even our laws and public policy.
“Popular culture both reflects and moves our society,” writes progressive author Tracy Van Slyke in the Huffington Post. “It shapes beliefs and behavior. It is where people are already paying attention.” Van Slyke’s observation explains why popular culture is so influential. The issue, then, is this: Will popular culture be used for good or for evil?
Billy Graham understood the power of popular culture for spreading the Gospel. From the earliest days of his ministry, he incorporated music, with Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea becoming lifelong members of his team. His “Hour of Decision” radio program began in 1950, and before that decade was over, he was also proclaiming the Gospel through movies and television. In 1993, when the World Wide Web was just beginning to show signs that it might revolutionize modern life, Mr. Graham held a live chat on America Online. Today, BGEA continues to use music, video, radio, television, social media, evangelistic websites and more to spread the message of Christ.
But the predominant messages of popular culture are antithetical to Gospel truth. Messages such as:
- There is no God. Religion—fairy tale that it is—has no place in public life.
- Abortion is a basic right that simply removes unwanted tissue from a woman’s body.
- Homosexuality is perfectly good and should be encouraged, and those who think otherwise are self-righteous bigots.
- If one feels like one’s biological sex does not match his or her true self, we should aid and celebrate a gender change.
- Euthanasia and assisted suicide are useful options for those in chronic pain or suffering from a terminal illness.
And on it goes.
To mature Christians, those messages might seem easy to dismiss, but the very nature of popular culture makes them more powerful than they might appear.
“The main things that I think shape our minds and hearts are the things that shape our imaginations first,” says John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. “Popular culture is so powerful because it makes things thinkable. And when something moves from unthinkable to thinkable, then it’s a shorter step from thinkable to normal.”
It accomplishes this in a very sneaky way.
“It doesn’t convince us,” Stonestreet says. “C.S. Lewis said that the most dangerous ideas are not the ones argued but the ones assumed. And nothing assumes ideas like pop culture does. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? What’s the noble cause? What’s success? What’s a family? How do things connect and relate? All that stuff is pictured in the moral of a story, of a movie, or in the images of a meme or a website or a game. That’s its power—it never has to argue ideas. It can just embody them and assume them and smuggle them past you.”
Consider, too, the way popular culture saturates our lives. We can complain about that, but we need to admit our own complicity. Part of the reason popular culture is so seemingly inescapable with its anti-Biblical messages is that most of us have willingly immersed ourselves in it. At the heart of much of our media consumption is an insatiable desire to be entertained. It’s not a stretch to call it an addiction to entertainment.
How do we spend our spare time? If we aren’t watching movies or television, we might scroll for hours through Facebook, Instagram or YouTube, lazily devouring all manner of words and images. Our media intake is largely a passive pursuit that can breed lethargy, greed, envy, lust, bitterness and covetousness. After spending our days in such insipid pursuits, is it any wonder if our lives do not exhibit spiritual power or bear the fruit that God desires?
And the effects can go far beyond unfruitful individual lives.
“Law, most of the time, follows culture,” Stonestreet points out. “Not always, because the law can have a transformative effect on culture as well. But most of the time, law reflects what’s already taking place. That certainly has been the case with sexual orientation, gender identity issues and same-sex marriage.”
Children are particularly vulnerable to the values being expressed in popular culture.
Davy Liu, an artist and animator who has worked for Disney, Warner Bros. Feature Animation, and George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic, hopes to counter the anti-Biblical messages of Hollywood through his nonprofit ministry KenduKids.
“You need to be aware of what Hollywood is doing,” Liu says, pointing to Hollywood’s push to add more LGBTQ characters to children’s entertainment. “Parents cannot be naïve.”
KenduKids board member Rick Dressler adds: “The sheer volume of secular entertainment and secular preoccupations for children is an overwhelming force. Some of it’s good. Some of it is educational. But a lot of it is not. That sheer volume has a catastrophic influence on the trajectory of children’s values.”
In response, KenduKids aims to create animated programs on par with the quality of any major studio, telling Bible stories as seen through the eyes of the animals in those stories. The first program in production, “The Giant Leaf,” tells the story of Noah’s ark from the perspective of a young fox who is searching for freedom in the wild despite his fear of something known as the Animal Eater. Then he begins to realize that the Animal Eater may be his only hope for survival when the rains come.
“We need to own up to our responsibility for Christ,” Liu says. “I don’t want to blame the world. The world is being dark. That’s just normal for a sinful world. But if we are not shining light, it’s our fault. We’re not being the light of the world.”
Dressler sees a spiritual battle reflected in the messages of popular culture: “Paul says in Ephesians 6 that we are not fighting against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities and spiritual forces in the heavenly realms. This is the underpinning of secularism. And we’re seeing it manifested now in school shootings. We see it manifested in sexual behavior. Premarital sex is considered no different from popping the top off a soft drink—it’s just the way it’s done.”
So how should Christians respond to the onslaught of popular culture?
First, Stonestreet says, stop consuming so much of it: “I think we should turn down pop culture in our lives pretty dramatically because it’s got way too much influence.”
“Do not be conformed to this world,” the Bible says, and this must include the conformity of recklessly imbibing the world’s entertainment. Instead, “be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
We renew our minds through God’s Word, the Bible. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). Is the Word of Christ dwelling in us richly? If not, major changes are in order.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). If we are honest, many of us are failing in these areas. Only by repenting and changing our thought patterns will we rise above the din of popular culture.
And Christian parents must help their children to identify the lies they will inevitably see in popular culture.
“If you never acknowledge it and deal with it, then it becomes normal,” Stonestreet says. “I have three choices. One is to stop and celebrate it. Two—which I’m not going to do—I could walk by and hope my kid doesn’t notice it. Three, I think what we have to do is stop, point it out and have a big, long, robust conversation about it. It makes our job harder, there’s no question. It was nice to live in a culture where all the music and art supported a religious framework, but we just don’t live there anymore.”
Hollywood and the LGBTQ Agenda
Hollywood is pushing hard to normalize homosexuality. Consider some examples from Disney:
• “Toy Story 4” included two brief scenes that show a kindergarten child with two mothers.
• Marvel’s blockbuster “Avengers Endgame” included a character, played by co-director Joe Russo, who talked about dating another man—and being commended by Marvel’s paragon of virtue Captain America.
•“Jungle Cruise,” a film set for release in July, reportedly has a straight actor portraying a gay character—which has brought criticism from some LGBTQ activists.
• The recent “Beauty and the Beast” remake portrayed Gaston’s servant LeFou as gay.
• A 2017 episode of Disney’s animated children’s program “Star vs. the Forces of Evil” included a number of same-sex kisses in a concert scene.
Yet for all this, the LGBTQ activist group GLAAD reports that Disney “has the weakest history when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion of all the studios tracked.” The group calls on studios to have 50 percent of their films “LGBTQ-inclusive” by 2024, adding, “Animated and family films must be more inclusive of LGBTQ characters.”
Overall, television has been even more willing than movie studios to push the LGBTQ agenda. GLAAD notes that “support for marriage equality grew alongside the increase in LGBTQ characters on television.”
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.