New York Times best-selling author Eric Metaxas is among the Christians upset over the decision by LifeWay Christian Stores to remove "The Blind Side" from its shelves because it contained profanity and racial slurs. He says objections over the language miss the point of the film and such reactions make it hard for Christians to be taken seriously in cultural discussions.
Metaxas, a rising evangelical voice who is best known for his biographies on William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, expressed his disapproval of LifeWay's move to pull "The Blind Side" in a commentary for BreakPoint radio this week.
"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."
LifeWay Christian Stores, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, made the call to remove copies of the inspirational movie from its shelves last month after a Florida pastor within the denomination complained over the language used in the film. The film tells the true story of NFL player Michael Ohr, an impoverished young black man, who is saved from inner city gang activity and homelessness when a white Christian family adopts him.
The pastor had proposed a resolution for the SBC's annual meeting June 18-20 that called on LifeWay to pull the PG-13 movie and any other products that contain "explicit profanity, God's name in vain, and a racial slur." Wanting to avoid controversy at the annual meeting, officials at LifeWay announced that the movie would no longer be sold.
Metaxas pointed out that the objectionable language helped to realistically depict the "unpleasant world" from which Ohr was rescued from. He disagreed with the Florida pastor's reasoning that the presence of this movie in Christian bookstores would make children more likely to "embrace" this kind of behavior.
"I think it's insane. I saw the movie myself. I even let my 12-year-old daughter see it. That's because it is a great film and I recommend it highly," he said.
Added Metaxas, "Concerns about the language in the film also miss the larger point: what made the Tuohys – the family depicted in the film – such great Christian exemplars wasn't their non-use of profanity; it was their willingness to reach out and embrace someone in need."
"If we Christians can't get this, then maybe we really should refrain from commenting on culture in the first place."
Metaxas thought that LifeWay's decision to pull the movie only reinforced the negative stereotype of Christians: there's no "pleasing" them and they're always "mad" about something.
"We complain about the calumnies and caricatures of Christians on the big screen; and then, when an Academy-Award winning film shows us at our very best, we complain that scenes depicting harsh, inner-city reality are too true to life!" observed Metaxas.
"We are, in effect, making our participation contingent on all our possible objections being met beforehand. Since there are many people who would be happy if we stayed within our cultural and religious ghettos, it's difficult to imagine how we Christians can hope to be taken seriously in cultural discussions and debates with this kind of an approach."
John Stonestreet, a commentator for BreakPoint's sister radio program The Point Radio, argued that the reactions by the pastor and LifeWay to "The Blind Side" were a disservice to the portrayal of redemption and to Christian art.
"Look, real Christianity – including Christian art – doesn't hide from the real world. Our addiction to keeping everything 'safe,' hides the fall and trivializes redemption. How evil is portrayed in a movie is far more important than whether it is portrayed," wrote Stonestreet in a July 5 blog post.
In a follow-up radio commentary, Stonestreet contended that Christians have created a "Christian art ghetto," where the quality of art and its message are watered down.
"As Christians, we too often dismiss good art and accept mediocre substitutes just because they're labeled Christian. We've created for ourselves a kind of 'artistic ghetto,' and are willing to preserve it even at the cost of quality," said Stonestreet.
"In many ways, 'Christian art' has become a synonym for anything that's charming, quaint, or makes us feel good. It often portrays a one-sided world where evil doesn't exist and only 'positive' and 'uplifting' messages are allowed."
Stonestreet suggested that Christians look to award-winning writer and director of Pixar, Peter Docter, for an example of how Christianity can reclaim its place in the art world. Docter, who is a devout Presbyterian, has brought audiences the movies "Toy Story," "Wall-E," "Monsters, Inc" and "Up."
"Docter's art is shaping an entire generation. The values and lessons of his animated stories have been praised by both Christian and non-Christian critics alike," said Stonestreet. "These movies are about family, courage, friendship, loving your neighbor, and they're the gold standard of the industry. And most importantly, they're not stuck in the Christian ghetto, but bringing wholesome entertainment to eager audiences."
LifeWay has stood by its decision to remove "The Blind Side" from its stores and online site.
"I am confident our staff have carefully and prayerfully reviewed all the products we sell and applied standards approved by our trustees," said Marty King, communications director for LifeWay, in an earlier interview with CP.