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Screwtaped: On the misguided Christian boycott of Netflix

Screwtaped: On the misguided Christian boycott of Netflix

A few weeks ago, I heard that Netflix has a new comedy show featuring a gay Jesus. So I said, “Yeah, no thanks,” and got on with my day.

Then I learned that a boycott of Netflix was trending on Twitter spurred on by Christians outraged at that show. So I tweeted:

"So now #cancelonetflix is trending because Christians are offended about some stupid show. Do you know how many offensive books and films are in your public library? Should we cut up our library cards? Please Christians, grow a thicker skin."

In this article, I’m going to enumerate three problems with these misguided boycotts and protests.

Let’s start here. After posting the tweet, one fellow then asked me: “Which movie?” And you may very well be wondering the same thing: Yeah, which movie is that, anyway? Which is, of course, the first problem: all these outraged boycotts do is drum up interest in the offending product thereby granting it loads of free publicity. Back in 1988, the mediocre film The Last Temptation of Christ would have quickly sunk into obscurity if Christians hadn’t made a point of picketing theaters.

So that’s the first problem: boycotts/protests give free publicity to the offending product.

But it’s worse than that. Another fellow asked me on Twitter, “Dude, what are you an apologist for again?” Someone else then interjected, “At least in this case, not being a whiny baby.” Exactly. I’m an apologist for Christians not being whiners who invite the derision and contempt of a wider pluralist society. Apologists should be concerned with presenting a winsome, welcoming Christianity, not one that is known for its protests and boycotts. And yet, the reality is that Christians often are known more for what they’re against — same-sex marriage, abortion, gay Jesus comedy shows on Netflix — than what they’re for. You can have great arguments for the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus, but if people write you off as a censorious curmudgeon worthy of derision, you won’t even get an audience to present those arguments.

So that’s the second problem: boycotts/protests hurt Christian witness.

Finally, let’s turn back to my tweet for a moment. As I pointed out, if you believe in boycotting Netflix for making content you deem offensive available to others, why don’t you boycott your public library, too? And why not also boycott the local bookstore and YouTube and Facebook? Where does this stop? Perhaps you should move to the mountains and build yourself a log cabin off the grid so your eyes and ears need be sullied no more by the things of this world!

Others will say, “Ah, our protest is not simply that Netflix made this content available, but also that they produced it!” Okay, so now the protest is focused in on the production of the offending content. In that case, do you believe in protesting every studio that produces content you find offensive? Once again, where does that stop?

Furthermore, if the producers are worthy of boycott and protest, why aren’t the distributors equally worthy of boycott and protest? You wouldn’t target the producers of child pornography and leave the distributors untouched. So why doesn’t the same logic apply here? In short, if you’re going to boycott the studio, you should also boycott the public library, the local bookstore, YouTube, Facebook, and all other modes of distribution. And in that case, the boycott just got much larger.

So that’s the third problem: consistently following out the logic of knee-jerk boycotts/protests like this sets Christians up to be either wing-nuts living in log cabins off the grid … or casuistic hypocrites who confabulate tortured justifications to explain why they’re boycotting ‘x’ but not ‘y’.

What do we do?! How can we proceed?!

Fortunately, there is another way through this morass. You could just say, “A new comedy show featuring a gay Jesus? Yeah, no thanks.”

Dr. Randal Rauser is Professor of Historical Theology at Taylor Seminary in Edmonton, Alberta, where he has taught since 2003. He blogs at randalrauser.com and lectures widely on issues of theology, Christian worldview, and apologetics. Randal is the author of many books including his latest, What's So Confusing About Grace?

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