I have been asked to respond to the issue regarding “where the line is” for acceptable media/entertainment. The concern was that because the Church has stopped saying “don’t watch rated R movies,” (an older “guideLINE”) people think it is now ok to watch some of them. So, I’m going to address this concern and tie it to something else that is very important.
Doctrine: There is no generic line to stand on, or to the side of, to be “like God” or “not like God. Commandments are not lines, they are steps to becoming godly. Guidelines given outside of commandments are for those who have not yet learned to listen, understand, and follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost as they seek to become like God. We should not face “the metaphorical guidelines” given to us by prophets and see how close we can get to them, or how often we can hurdle them and still be “metaphorically righteous.” We should face God and see how close we can get to becoming like Him. We can’t label people are righteous or wicked based on our own self-imposed lines.
Too often good, god-fearing people, and very-good Christians, want an established line of what is wrong so that they can stay away from it. Most commandments are quite clear. Others require personal revelation from the Holy Ghost for individual application. It’s these commandments requiring individual application and personal revelation where people lean upon guidelines. This is because they mistakenly focus on “How far can I go before I’m wicked?” rather than seeking guidance from the Spirit on how to keep the commandment in their progression toward becoming godly.
While it is not an evil desire to want “lines,” it displays a lack of spiritual maturity. We all start spiritually immature and then spend our lives getting more and more spiritually mature as we learn to recognize and act upon the guidance of the Holy Ghost—whose job it is to help us become godly. The desire for “lines” should be considered carefully.
First, it’s important to understand that commandments are not guidelines. Commandments are steps to becoming like God. They are not negotiable (see Bible Dictionary for Covenant). Guidelines, then, are the counsel and advice we receive from prophets on issues where commandments are not as strictly defined or interpreted. So, the prophets offer “counsel” and “guidelines” to help us keep the commandments as we grow and become more spiritually mature in our understanding of the commandments and God’s will for us.
For example, thou shalt not commit adultery is pretty black and white (though arguably people struggle with it more these days it seems). But, fornication some people struggle with the “lines.” “How far can I go before I’m on the wrong side of the line?” people ask. “How long can we make out?” “Is French-kissing okay?” “How close can I put my hands near <fill in the blank> before I’ve ‘crossed the line?’” Well, the prophets have given “guidelines” to avoid committing fornication for those not spiritually mature enough to seek guidance from the Holy Ghost and follow it.
Those looking for lines are usually (though not always) those with unrighteous intent. Their intent is to get as much of what they desire without doing anything that would cause them to have to submit to the repentance process. The repentance process is embarrassing and uncomfortable. But, they want to get as far as they can “just before” crossing over into the repentance territory. This is sadly because they assume that as long as they don’t have to formally repent that they are “ok.” This could not be farther from the truth.
Second, there is a danger when we focus on “lines.” When we teach lines instead of commandments, often people forget why we have the guidelines at all, and so they find little incentive to stay away from them, or to keep from crossing them. Or, on the other hand, people get so converted to the “lines” that they actually omit the personal growth and spiritual maturity that comes from understanding and keeping the actual commandment(s) behind the guidelines.
Third, when we establish lines, people often stop thinking about the decisions that the lines solve for them. They may follow a guideline blindly and miss individual promptings and personal revelation tied to the commandment behind the guideline. There is a danger in having lines because people stop thinking, pondering, and becoming godly. They focus only on avoiding the line, not becoming godly. It’s not a bad start, but it won’t ultimately get them where they want to be.
Finally, some people who do take the time to think about why a line is in place often devise perfectly rational and justifiable ways to stand on the line, or hop over and back. This is because the commandment(s) behind the placing of the line has been completely obscured. The line is merely a line. It can be altered or changed by the context of life at the whim of the best debater. But a commandment is an eternal truth. Unlike the line, it is unchangeable, even by God. This is why the lines cannot become our final focus.
So, lines are often established but they were never meant to be focused upon or to dominate our righteous living perspective. We were never intended to face the guideline to see how close we can get to it or how often we can hurdle it “safely.” We are intended to face God and use the guideline as the first step in a path of righteousness that leads us closer to Him and away from the line.
What is the doctrine? We are here on earth to try to become like God. Period.
So, instead of always asking, “Where is the line?” Or, “How far can I go before I’m in the wrong?” What we should be asking is, “Is this <thing> helping me become like God?” Or, we could ask, “Is this <entertainment> leading me to follow and emulate Christ better than yesterday?”
Visit this link to see the “guidelines” for entertainment and media by modern prophets: https://www.lds.org/youth/for-the-strength-of-youth/entertainment-and-media?lang=eng
These guidelines once included the more specific line to not watch any rated R movies. But, that specific line has since been removed. Some people have often made the mistake of thinking that the removal of this more specific line justifies them watching rated R movies if they can ascertain that it doesn’t contain a list of overt negatives. This is because they are facing the line. However, it is quite obvious, in the wake of modern media that the intent of the prophets counsel was the exact opposite.
Many PG-13 movies are okay. Many are not. If the prophets left the guideline at “no rated R movies,” then people would assume that all PG-13 movies are okay. They are not. The guidelines for “no rated R movies,” has been removed because the prophets want us to become more spiritually mature. They want us to think, ponder, and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in ALL of our media choices. Very little media today is completely safe. Therefore, if we are more spiritually mature and can learn to evaluate any media, even with more acceptable ratings, by the power of the Holy Ghost, we will be so much the safer from Satan’s temptations and tactics—because Satan uses the media to great effect to bring down even the most elect of God’s children.
Satan is practiced enough to slip even the most inappropriate of humor and subtlety into even a children’s show. If we stop evaluating entertainment simply because someone else we don’t even know has given it a certain rating, then we are of all people, incredibly deceived.
So, let’s step beyond the guidelines and look at some commandments that apply to entertainment and media. These are the steps to godliness that should guide our entertainment and media choices.
- Let virtue garnish they thoughts unceasingly (Doctrine and Covenants 121:45)
- Do not even look upon a woman to lust after her (Matthew 5:28)
- We believe in being honest, true, chaste…if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after these things (13th Article of Faith)
- Charity is kind, envieth not, is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth in truth (Moroni 7:45)
I could recite more, but the scriptures are available to each of us. The fact is, when you evaluate entertainment, are you asking yourself:
- Does this help me maintain virtuous thoughts unceasingly?
- Does this subtly, or overtly, support lust?
- Is this media/entertainment praiseworthy and of good report? (And I’m not talking about it getting two thumbs up)
- Does this media lead me to be humble, to be non-contentious or non-violent, to be kind, to think righteous thoughts, and to rejoice in truth?
Now, here is a scripture that teaches us how to judge anything. It’s Moroni 7:13-17:
14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.
15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
Every thing that in combination: inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve Him, is inspired of God.
Every thing that in combination: persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny Him, and serve not God, then it is not inspired of God…which means its inspired of the devil.
Note, that I put emphasis on “in combination.” This is because people like to take things out of context to justify their actions. They will say, “Well, five minutes of the movie invites me to give to the poor,” or “The main character’s goal was basically good, if he/she used inappropriate means to attain it,” and so forth. They want to cite one aspect of the movie/media to justify them seeing it. But one piece of a movie is not sufficient to bring it into the realm of leading us to godliness and Christ. To purport that one lump of sugar counteracts ten lumps of salt is illogical.
The truth is, lots of movies have pieces that are quite good. But, taken together with the whole do NOT meet all the conditions mentioned for leading us to Christ. As well, lots of movies have pieces that are not good, but taken together with the whole meet the conditions mentioned for leading us to Christ.
If you want examples, I won’t give them. I have my own accountability and path to godliness to work out. Each of you have yours. It’s up to you to seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost and make application for yourself.
You Can’t Put People Behind Your Own Favorite Lines
Now, as I have pondered this topic, I have come to feel that the same people who want lines for themselves often judge others by their own self-imposed lines. Just as they categorize themselves as righteous for staying on the right side of such and such lines, they will categorize others as evil if they step over even one line. The people who do this are in great danger of calling evil good and good evil.
We cannot categorize people by our own dependence upon spiritual lines. This is the height of the downfall of the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees in Jesus’ time. Each group, whether the scribes, the Pharisees, or the Sadducees, had their own set of lines. They unrighteously judged everyone around them as wicked if they breached even one of their so-called lines. Sure, the Pharisees kept some commandments (behind their lines) perfectly in an outward way. But, inside, they had failed to recognize the purpose of the commandments and had neglected actually becoming godly. In other words, they didn’t keep all the commandments though it looked like they did. They neglected mercy, grace, forgiveness, and humility—which are of far more weight than other commandments (Matthew 23:23).
Consider this…and it is a scary thought. But, many of those who struggled with more outward commandments and were frequently labeled as sinners by the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees actually recognized Christ as the Son of God and followed Him when He came. The Pharisees did not. What does that teach each of us about focusing on lines? How was this possible that people who were outwardly so righteous could completely miss recognizing Christ?!
I’m sure I can’t name all of the reasons why the Pharisees couldn’t recognize Christ for who He was, but I am certain one of them was their inability to see beyond their own “lines.” Christ healed on the Sabbath, because healing His fellowmen was a higher-law/weightier commandment than that of keeping the Sabbath Day Holy. This, according to the Pharisees, was a breach of religious law. So, they labeled Christ as a sinner. Can you believe that? They called Christ a sinner!
Whether it applies to entertainment and media or how we evaluate and treat our fellowmen, we must learn to understand the purpose of “lines.” They are in place for us to hurdle (in the right direction) in our journey toward God. Guidelines help us learn to keep a commandment as we increase in spiritual maturity until we can learn to live by the Spirit, instead.