by John Ellis
My six-year old heathen heart knew two things: I wanted some candy and an entire wall of candy was spread out before me. So, I took some candy, opened it, and began satisfying the lust of my little, heathen heart.
Later, as we piled into the station wagon, my mom knew two things, too: I hadn’t entered the store with any candy and she hadn’t purchased any for me while we were in the store. So, she marched me back into the store, and under her flashing, stern eyes I admitted to the manager what I had done.
You see, my mom knew something else as well. Stealing is a sin before our Holy Creator. When we take something that is not rightfully ours, we reveal our rebellion against God. Most of us know this and most of us trumpet it. Among all the things that professing Christians quibble over, the command “Thou shalt not steal” is rarely considered a controversial topic. In fact, the Bible’s prohibition against stealing isn’t controversial among wider society.
Most parents, Christian or not, would not be happy to discover that their child had shoplifted candy. Most of us want the government to punish those who steal cars, shoplift TVs, or break into the houses of others in order to steal. But many of us feel no tinge of conscience when we illegally download music or watch a pirated movie.
This was brought to my mind yesterday when I noticed that the producers of American Gospel: Christ Alone posted a plea on the documentary’s Facebook page for people to stop trying to pirate the film. In the post, they wrote:
People are attempting to pirate the film. PLEASE understand that a professional film production company spent four years flying around the country producing this film. We’re hoping to make several more editions. While you think you’re spreading the word by pirating, you’re actually killing any chance of the rest of the series being made. And you’re breaking the law. PLEASE do not pirate this film.
Many Christians seem to believe that watching pirated movies, listening to illegally downloaded music, and using photocopied sheet music and books are not stealing. Setting aside the fact that doing so is an act of disobedience to the government God has placed over us, those things are stealing.
If you record movies onto other devices (DVD, VHS, digitally, et al.) and give or even sell those copies to your family and friends, you are a thief. If you avail yourself of the many websites that show pirated movies, you are a thief. If you illegally download music, you are a thief. If you photocopy music for your church choir to use without obtaining the proper permission, you are a thief. If you photocopy a book and pass those copies out to your study group, you are a thief.
Those are harsh words. But harsh isn’t a synonym for false.
Like the sin of lying, if we’re being honest, we’ve all stolen something. Therefore, all of us need Jesus: we’re liars and thieves; we’re sinners.
However, my intended audience for this post aren’t those who have yet to repent and believe in Jesus. It’s my brothers and sisters in Christ who laugh off copyright laws as they enjoy pirated movies and music.
Brothers and sisters, that’s sin, and there’s no ethical way around it.
As the producers of American Gospel pointed out in their Facebook post, your motives do not matter. Those who watch their documentary and conclude that their friends and family would benefit from watching it, are stealing money out the pockets of those involved in the production and are chipping away at the producers’ ability to make more in the series if they pass out pirated copies of the movie. Those who pirate the documentary are revealing that their desires are more important than obeying God and that they don’t care that they are undermining the ability of others to make a living and provide for their families. And that applies to watching pirated movies produced by non-Christians, too.
There is a larger conversation in this about how many American evangelicals undervalue the arts. Even within that conversation, though, there is zero room in the Bible for allowing the stealing of the intellectual property of others.
This is such a “get the splinter out of your own eye” topic as to make it hard to talk to each other about. Chances are, unless you are a complete luddite, you have violated this very thing, and I’m including myself in that “you.” But God doesn’t call us to ignore sin because we all do it. Instead, we should all humbly encourage each other to pursue holiness while resting in the glorious reality that our Father loves us and has saved us from all sin, including violating copyright laws.
If you are guilty of watching pirated movies and music or of taking part in the illegal photocopying of music and books for your church or Christian school, you need to repent. And, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you need to stop doing it.
Soli Deo Gloria