Recently I found myself involved in a Facebook discussion with a sister in Christ who objected to watching the A&E television program Duck Dynasty. Her concern was that the people on that program profess to be Christians but some aspects of their behavior do not live up to the standards she expected in their lives. I agreed that there are some problems with the characters’ behavior. I do not think that they always provide an ideal Christian example. I do not approve of gambling or drinking alcohol in any form or amount. While the language does not fall to the standard of the vulgarity we commonly encounter in movies and novels today, some of it can be described as crass and coarse. I do not know if the language we hear on that program is sinful, but it is not the way I talk and it is not the way I wanted my children to talk when they were little (or as grownups, for that matter). Even though I like the program, I have to admit that they do not always do as well as I would like in letting the light of Christ shine in all aspects of their behavior.
However, leaving Duck Dynasty aside, I want to address the question of whether or not it is sinful for a Christian to be entertained by programming that depicts sinful behavior. It seems to me that we need to exercise care about making hard and fast rules. Answers may differ from one individual to another because the influence such exposure effects will vary.
Writing to the Corinthians, Paul said that avoiding all immoral people would mean “you would need to go out of the world” (1 Corinthians 5:10 ESV, “Not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world”). Unless we live like hermits, alone in an isolated mountain cabin having no contact with the outside world, we will witness sinful behavior in the lives of people around us. We might even see some in our own lives.
Paul did go on in the next verse to say that we should not “associate with anyone who bears the name of a brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” From his discussion of sin in the church in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul is concerned with two issues: (1) He wants the spirit of the sinner to be saved in the day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:5 ESV you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.) and (2) he wants the church to be protected from the harmful influence of sinners in their midst (1 Corinthians 5:6 ESV Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?).
All faithful Christians should be trying to restore those who have fallen into sin (Galatians 6:1 ESV, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” and James 5:19-20 ESV, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins”). When other efforts to bring about restoration have failed, the last step is to withdraw ourselves from association with sinning brothers and sisters in the Lord (2 Thessalonians 3:6 ESV, “6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us”).
This means that our responsibilities as Christians seem to fall into two areas. First, we need to do whatever we can to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” those whose lives demonstrate the need for repentance (2 Timothy 4:2 ESV). Our opportunities to encourage and influence people who appear on a television program are limited. Certainly, whether or not we choose to watch the program has minimal impact on them changing their objectionable behavior.
The second area of responsibility is to protect ourselves from contamination by the pernicious influence of evil spreading into our own lives. We need to avoid exposing ourselves to behavior if that exposure means that we are likely to sin ourselves. No Christian should watch pornography because it can be expected to result in the viewer committing the sin of lusting (Matthew 5:27-28 ESV, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart”).
We should also be concerned about the desensitizing effect of ongoing exposure to sinful behavior. Will watching movies with cursing and profanity cause viewers to be more likely to use that language in their own lives? Will exposure to violent behavior cause viewers to be more violent themselves? Will the example of sexuality immorality in movies, television programs, and novels cause us to be more accepting of that kind of behavior in our lives and in the lives of people we know in real life?
The best answer to those questions may be, “Perhaps.” We cannot always say with certainty how our thinking and behavior will be changed by continued exposure to things that are sinful. People with mature faith are less likely to be negatively impacted by what they clearly recognize as sinful actions than impressionable people who do not have those settled convictions.
There is a need for us to focus our thoughts on things that are beneficial to our development as Christians. Philippians 4:8 ESV does admonish us to think about things that are excellent and praiseworthy: “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.”
Realistically, however, this is not something that we can expect everyone to accomplish 100% of the time. Surely watching the news focuses our thoughts on things that are not praiseworthy. Watching sports might expose our eyes to immodestly dressed cheerleaders or our ears to inadvertently picked-up snippets of bad language spoken in anger by players or coaches. Even the classic television programming of yesteryear can be problematic. Sheriff Andy Taylor sometimes schemed a bit and was not always totally forthright in everything he said. Lucy Ricardo wasn’t exactly submissive to her husband all the time.
Furthermore, we sometimes face an issue with determining exactly what constitutes sinful behavior. We might think that this should be simple enough because if the Bible calls something sinful, it is sinful (no matter how our culture views the practice). Not everything is so clear-cut, however. One of the objections raised by some against Duck Dynasty is that sometimes the people gamble. In one episode two of the brothers played golf with stakes of $100 a hole wagered on who did best. These people are millionaires so $100 might not mean as much to them as it would to me. Nevertheless, there are principles at stake that cause me (and many others) to reason that Christians should not gamble in any form or fashion. However, can you provide book, chapter, and verse from the Bible to back up explicitly that conclusion? No, you cannot. It is a matter of applying Bible teaching about stewardship of our money. Is there room for leeway in allowing others to reach a different answer? Maybe, maybe not. But it is hard to be sure that the matter is settled with certainty.
Bottom line: Christians need to be very concerned about the pervasive influence of sin. We should encourage those engaging in what we know to be sin to repent and reform their behavior. We should do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves from contamination by this ole sinful world. Some may conclude that the right answer is to unplug the TV, abandon the movie theater, and be very careful about what we choose to read from the bookstore and library. Others may choose to use their discernment to decide case-by-case what is hindering their faith and what is simply providing entertainment. All of us should try to avoid judging our brothers unfairly regarding the decisions they make in this area.