It’s that time of year again! On February 28, 2016, the rich and the famous will descend in mass upon the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California for the 88th Academy Awards. Guests have shelled out serious cash for multi-thousand-dollar outfits, makeup jobs, and hairstyles in hopes of drawing the lens of every camera and the adoration of every eye. Gathering in a hall of extravagance and celebration, most attendees will project an expression to match. Exchanges of flattery and accolades will accompany displays of entitlement and superiority. However, though rivalry and self-importance will certainly be part of the atmosphere, funnyman and host, Chris Rock, is expected to expertly weave his usual tapestry of hilarity and crassness, lightening up the night. With Rock at the helm, viewer and attendee alike will, no doubt, spend much the evening half-laughing and half-cringing as they wonder what in the world is going to happen next.
As fun as they are for celebrities and the general public, events like the Oscars can be awkward times for Christians. Should we watch or should we not? If we do, should we live-Tweet our reactions throughout the visual journey from the red carpet procession to Best Picture Award? Or should we turn the lights out and close the blinds so our neighbors from church don’t know we’re some of “those Christians” who watch these kinds of things? Are events like the Oscars a total spiritual loss or are there things to be enjoyed and learned from watching them?
None of these types of questions are stupid or insignificant. I don’t claim to have the answers to them completely figured out. But if you’re debating whether you should watch the Oscars tonight, perhaps some of my thoughts will help you solidify your own conclusions. So here are four things I think we should consider when evaluating our opinion on whether or not Christians should watch the Oscars and events like it:
1. Not everyone should watch the Oscars but some of us can.
Events like the Oscars can offer up some serious delicacies for our “flesh.” For those of you who may not be church people, when I say “flesh” I’m talking about the desires and emotions we experience that drive us to destructive and wrong behavior. The “flesh” is like a monster that comes from within warring against our better judgment, pressuring us to compromise on our convictions. It is both the little voice inside you have sensed telling you to do something you know is wrong and the accompanying desire that urges you to comply.
If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit lives inside you. He knows you better than you know yourself. His goal is to lead you into experiences that will help you, not hurt you. If you are wrestling in your conscience over whether or not it is going to be helpful for you to watch the Oscars, that may be Him trying to protect you. If the things emphasized during the show have historically proven to corrupt your heart and twist your imagination, feel the freedom to refrain. No form of entertainment is worth the guilt, shame and spiritual deflation that come when our engagement in it is used as a tool of temptation that overcomes us.
On the flipside, those of us who aren’t in a place where our conscience will let us watch the Oscars need to be a rule to ourselves, not to others. Your conscience is intended to govern you and your relationship with God, not another person’s. As Paul the Apostle said regarding issues of personal conscience and conviction, “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5)
Not all of us should watch the Oscars this year, and that is perfectly ok. However, some of us can.
2. Not everything about the Oscars is beautiful but some of it is.
At least one thing about the Academy Awards is for sure; it is an epic artistic production. Beyond the apparel and accessories worth tens of thousands of dollars worn by the average attendee, there is the audio/visual production in the theater itself. Then of course, there is the main artistic focus of the evening, which is about appreciating every angle of film creation and acting.
I confess that there have been times in my Christian life that I have watched the Oscars in self-righteousness, disdain and hypocrisy. I have scoffed in disgust at the “materialism” I have thought characterizes the event. I have felt disgust at the presenters, artists and award-winners because of the message communicated through their art.
Materialism is a serious issue. Stuff, image, clothes, makeup, expensive jewelry and shoes, all these kinds of things can easily become little idols. They promise big returns but end up choking the life out of us. But biblically speaking, wealth is not the same thing as materialism. Some of the most greatly used people in the Bible were incredibly wealthy. Ever heard of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? All these dudes were incredibly wealthy (Genesis 13:2, 26:12-14) and their wealth was God-given. Don’t get me wrong. I am not into prosperity theology at all. But I’m not into poverty theology either. Jesus loves the poor and, in part, lived as a poor man on the earth to identify with them. But Jesus loves the rich and blesses them as well. We need to be careful to not confuse wealth on display as materialism. The problem isn’t people owning nice stuff. The problem is when stuff owns people. And that is a struggle for us all.
Additionally, artistic expression, even on a large-scale, is something God Himself is into. Have you looked around at the universe we live in? It is full of the creative works of a Divine artist! Every flower, animal, person, star and stream reveal the artistic interests of God. Actually, and this might be tough for some of you to hear, God is a pretty amazing interior decorator. If you don’t believe me, go and check out the choices of color-schemes, furniture and fabrics He ordered to decorate the Tabernacle sometime (Exodus 26-28).
The creative capacity and products of people seen in so many diverse forms and mediums at the Oscars are like fingerprints of our creative God. We create because He creates. We hold giant banquets because the God of heaven does. We appreciate beauty because our Father in heaven is the source of all beauty. When we understand these things, it becomes possible for us to watch events like the Oscars, which center on artistic expression, with moments of worship. Why? Because we know that the beautiful aspects of the ceremony reflect the image of Jesus.
Not everything about the Oscars is beautiful but some of it is.
3. Not everything about the Oscars is true but some of it is instructive.
This may come as a shock but the 88th Academy Awards is not going to be a church service run by conservative pastors. Hollywood actors are not exactly known for their Christian faith and values. As a result, acceptance speeches will communicate beliefs that are not in step with the gospel. Much of the art for which people are being honored will also communicate messages that are incongruent, or even combative, to Jesus and the gospel.
But here is the thing, while watching the Oscars may not be a great way to learn the Bible it is a great way to learn about the core values of culture. The people at this ceremony are the people our kids want to be. Their bodies and lifestyles are what most of us spend our days, energy and money trying to acquire. Their art, money and voices are some of the greatest forces of influence over the most influential societies in the world. Consider that a recent study concluded that the 75 million individual subscribers to Netflix watch an average of 1.8 hours of content every day. Considering the content medium of Netflix alone, it is clear that the people who are present or receive awards at the Oscars for the films they make have a massive amount of influence in our daily lives. Many of us don’t even talk to our spouse or kids for 1.8 hours a day, let alone pray or read our Bible that much. But there’s always time for a little Netflix, right?
What is the point? When we watch the Oscars, we get a strong sense of the values of the primary influencers in our culture. Filmmakers are some of the philosophers of our day and film is their pulpit and platform. This knowledge can inform how we understand the thinking of the youth of today and some central causes of shifting trends in national values. Most importantly, it can inform how we pray for the lost and broken world of which we are a part.
Not everything about the Oscars is true but it is instructive.
4. Not every celebrity at the Oscars loves Jesus but He loves every one of them.
Thinking back to my earlier confession of watching the Oscars with disgust and disdain, these things have no place in the hearts of Jesus’ people. The essence of the gospel message is that every human being is in utter need of the mercy that only Jesus can provide. Salvation is equal opportunity. As Christians, sometimes the disgusted thoughts that flow through our minds and the critical words that flow through our mouths reveal that we understand the gospel in our head far more than we embrace it in our heart. Again, we need to be careful about self-righteousness. Jesus made this point passionately clear in a story in the Bible:
“Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 NKJV)
If you watch he Oscars this year, when you hear those thoughts of self-righteousness creep out of your mind and exit your mouth, remember the gospel.
Not every celebrity loves Jesus but He loves every celebrity. He loves them just like He loves wretches like you and me. So tonight, whatever we do, let us evaluate our conscience, appreciate the image of God reflected in creativity, seek a deeper understanding of cultural values, and display the love and humility of Christ in our attitudes, words and actions.