Considering Michael Oher is now wearing a Super Bowl Ring and his biography is a a part of Lifeway bookstore’s catalogue I thought it was time to revisit the most visited post at Dare to Look in 2012.
I’m not sure why this one received over 1300 visits in less than 10 hours but it apparently struck a chord. In case you missed it, here it is again.
Did Lifeway Get the Blind Side?
Since 2010, Florida pastor Rodney Baker has been on a crusade to remove an “offensive film” from Lifeway Christian bookstores and as of last month he succeeded. You might ask, what manner of ungodliness did this chain of Christian bookstores operated by the Southern Baptist Convention promote? The answer will probably perplex many of you.
The pastor of Hopeful Baptist Church in Lake City, Florida submitted a resolution to the Southern Baptist Convention, demanding that Lifeway pull The Blind Side. Grossing over $34 million in its opening weekend, that film was nominated for Best Motion Picture at the Oscars and won Sandra Bullock an Oscar for Best Actress.
Weeks before the denomination’s annual convention, LifeWay decided to pull “The Blind Side” from its shelves. A Lifeway spokesman stated that this decision was done to make the resolution unnecessary. In fairness to the trustees of LifeWay, the timing could not have been worse. The SBC’s convention was to meet in New Orleans and the body was about to see its first African-American president, New Orleans’s pastor Fred Luter, elected. Understandably, controversy was not something anyone wanted.
Not surprisingly reactions to LifeWay’s decision have been mixed.
Some like New York Times best-selling author Eric Metaxas best known for his biographies on William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer mused about the negative image to the world at large such a decision would offer:
I’m kind of upset. A great movie was pulled from the shelves of a Christian bookstore chain,” he said on the July 5 program. “Look, I’m as concerned about cultural messages as anyone. I’m a father. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this – and the wrong way definitely includes the permanent state of umbrage that many Christians seem to exhibit. They seem to have confused being salt and light with being curmudgeons.
Others such as Rachel Held Evans took the action as occasion to bemoan the steps authors must take to be considered by Christian publishing houses.
Christian bookstores have a chokehold on the Christian publishing industry. And this chokehold not only affects the inventory you find on Christian bookstore shelves, but which books are contracted by publishers, what content gets edited in the writing and editing process, and the degree of freedom authors feel they have to speak on their own blogs and platforms. As a result, the entire Christian industry has been sanitized, while its best artists look elsewhere for publication.
Marty King, communications director for LifeWay, was quick to say that the staff had “carefully and prayerfully” reviewed all of it products and applied standards approved by the chain’s trustees. To illustrate their decision-making process he brought up LifeWay’s inclusion of the movie Amazing Grace:
We carry movies like “Amazing Grace”… [which] includes scenes with language some would deem inappropriate for their children’s ears and actions not suitable for everyone’s viewing. But the film is about man’s struggle to understand God’s justice and find redemption.
The Distractions of Legalism
So why did Pastor Baker target The Blind Side and not Amazing Grace? It’s not for me to judge motives so I’ll leave that to him to explain. The irony of this whole situation is that a lesser-known film, To Save a Life, not only remains on Lifeway’s shelves but receives heavy promotion. Not only can you purchase the DVD at the chain but there’s also a book and a group activity kit aimed at teens to boot.
So what’s the irony? To Save a Life is not nearly as well made as The Blind Side and the acting was certainly not Oscar worthy. In fact, about the only thing the two films share is a PG-13 rating. Words that The Blind Side uses sparingly come in generous portions in To Save a Life.
LifeWay has every right to sell whatever it wants to sell and not sell what it doesn’t want to sell. This is America last time I checked. I understand the constraints such an enterprise faces in trying to please everybody. But I also see illustrated here the seminal problem with legalism. Legalism is more about trying to be the Holy Spirit than pleasing God.
We look for ways to banish one non-profane movie while justifying the presence of another. We pass resolutions about all the easy things to fight while avoiding the weightier eternal matters. How else can you explain LifeWay booting The Blind Sidewhile selling Joel Osteen books like hotcakes? That’s the same Joel Osteen who told agnostic Larry King before a national audience that he couldn’t say how one gets to heaven. Last time I checked – no resolutions about that one.
A movie is made that describes in realistic yet tasteful terms how an inner city castaway is embraced and loved by suburban evangelicals. For once the Christian characters in such a film don’t end up being pedophiles or serial killers, Hollywood recognizes the quality of the film, and a few words disqualify it!
The Bottom Line
By way of disclaimer I’ve been affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention since birth. My father was a pastor of Southern Baptist churches and I received my education at a Southern Baptist college. I was present along with 43,000 other messengers in St Louis in 1987 when we chose to stem the tide of Neo-orthodoxy and teachings that denied the authority of Scripture in our schools and institutions.
So with that out of the way I just want to ask one thing of my fellow believers and Baptists. The question is not profound nor is it nice. And, unfortunately, people will be bothered by how I word this question more than Joel Osteen’s theology.
And that question is … “What the hell are we thinking about?”