What is “Family Safe” Entertainment?

By Dick Rolfe CEO

Dick Rolfe, President/CEO - The Dove FoundationMy friend and Christian media guru, Phil Cooke recently wrote a blog titled “Should Creative Work by Christians be “Safe”? The responses to his proposition were nearly 100% supportive. Here’s the opening salvo Phil uses to launch the discussion.

Christian media today is filled with the word “safe.” Look at the advertisements: “Family safe programming.” “The safe alternative.” “Safe TV.” Sure we need to protect our kids from violence, sex, or profanity, but one thing you can bet on about the Bible: It isn’t “safe.” It tells the story of humanity in very real, authentic terms.

Phil continues by equating the term safe with a soldier’s reflections about the realities of war and concludes with the following call to action:

… in a similar attitude, if you’re a Christian pursuing a life of creativity, my advice is to stop worrying about being safe. Start pushing the boundaries. Start telling the truth. Start showing us life as you really see it. Our job isn’t to force the world into a Christian bubble. Our job is to pop the bubble and engage the culture that is – not the culture we’d like it to be.

Jesus called the religious leaders of His day out. As a result he was threatened, vilified, ridiculed, and eventually hung on a cross. Had He taken the safe way out, our future would be bleak indeed.

What can you do this week to punch through “safe” and create work that speaks the truth?

I admire Phil’s talent for making those of us in media focus on important issues. His book “One Big Thing” is a favorite of mine. However, in this case, I believe his use of the term “safe” in this context creates a false choice for this discussion. He seems to equate the word with cowardice.   Several blog participants suggest that staying safe is tantamount to hiding out which “reduces our effectiveness and relevance to the world.”

Christian filmmakers often refer to the Bible as full of R or X-rated stories, which is certainly true. However, if that is the argument, then it begs the question; are there any boundaries when telling stories of Biblical truth? Do we need to see Bathsheba bathing naked to get the full impact of King David’s temptation? What about showing Delilah bedding down a drunken Samson so we can appreciate the extent of his sin? Or, maybe we should turn the air blue with curses to get in touch with the reality of the blaspheming demon-possessed man of Gadara.  And so on…

It is easy to complain about “vanilla” portrayals in today’s Christian movies. And it is true that in order to reach the lost, especially in the inner city, stories need to be relevant. But we should also be willing to admit that there are some boundaries of decency, even when telling harsh stories involving sex, drugs or violence. For example, “The Blind Side” was gritty enough, but the filmmakers still maintained clear boundaries of decency in telling the story.

At The Dove Foundation, we frequently use the term “safe for family viewing”. While Phil acknowledges that we want to protect our children, the assumption is that safety only applies to youngsters and that as adults, we are immune to the vices and images excluded in “family safe” programming.  On the contrary, I contend that as adults, temptations can be more subtle with profound results.

Many filmmakers justify blatant onscreen acts of sex, nudity, blasphemy, and graphic violence as relevant and necessary to get to the truth of the story.  It’s easy to justify a nude scene in a film because it’s relevant to the story.  Or, to give a pass to the profane uses of Jesus’ name or on-screen drug use since it accurately reflects the depraved nature of the antagonist.

Sometimes “safe” can be substituted for “sane”, especially to someone who can be easily tempted by viewing salacious graphic images. Many studies point to increasingly sexualized entertainment as a contributing factor to our society’s moral decline. Who would have thought that the once-wholesome teen icon Hannah Montana would be credited with the addition of “twerk” to our lexicon?

Even the MPAA admits that social norms change from time to time, which propel the movie ratings into a downward spiral. It is commonly accepted that material which was deemed R-rated a few years ago is PG-13 or even PG today. A Harvard University study aptly called that phenomenon Ratings Creep.

It is certainly true that the Bible is not a G-rated narrative. It is full of sin and redemption – emphasis on redemption. We should not forget that the prevailing Gospel message is to refrain from Sin because of the consequences.

There’s a false notion perpetuated by Hollywood which says, “Movies reflect society, they don’t influence it.”   It is obvious to any thinking person that both are true. The same can be said of our own lifestyles. We can either be influenced by sin, or influence others to avoid it.

In spite of all the sex, debauchery, and violence in the Bible, I have yet to meet someone who became a moral degenerate by reading Scripture.  Award-winning screenwriter and author, Brian Godawa in his book “Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment,” may have given us the reason. He said that the Bible does not exploit immorality, but rather exhorts the reader to avoid such behavior. Maybe that’s where the boundaries of good taste and decency in storytelling are found.