Netflix and Christians: Our Mutual Exploitation of Image Bearers

Paris Games Week 2017 : Day Three At Porte De Versailles In Paris

by John Ellis

A bikini carwash is located around the corner from our house; across the street from our son’s elementary school. I suspect that if I were to check, I would find that its prices are substantially higher than other carwashes. Customers are paying for the “privilege” of leering at almost-nude young women doing menial work, after all. Make no mistake, for many of the men who wait in line for that “privilege” (if not all), the work of washing their vehicle is merely an incidental part of their lustful experience at the carwash. Whenever I drive by it, I sadly ponder how one of Satan’s lies is convincing us that oppression and exploitation equals freedom.

Often, when Christians think and talk about things like nudity and explicit sexuality, the conversations are couched in protecting myself from lust. I need to protect my own heart. And while that’s a true and right motive – the Bible uses first person pronouns when it says, “I will set no wicked thing before my eyes (Psalm 101:3)” – we have the tendency to fail to consider the command to love others in those conversations.

In their book Sex, Dating, and Relationships, Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas helpfully explain that the Bible only recognizes three relationships between a male and a female: family, marriage, and friend. They conclude, “The standard of purity for the neighbor relationship is identical to the standard of purity for the family relationship: no sexual activity of any kind is permissible.”[1]

Loving our neighbor demands an understanding of and obedience to the reality that the bodies of others are not ours, not even in our imagination. As Hiestand and Thomas point out, when we treat those who aren’t our spouse as if they were, even if only in our mind, we are violating the Bible’s standard of sexual purity. The sin isn’t just in the fact that I’ve committed lust; the sin also extends to how I’ve objectified and oppressed another Image Bearer of God. Yet, sadly, many Believers have bought the lie of the Devil that has inserted the objectification and oppression of others under the protection of our so-called Christian liberty.

Having recently collected a few more Emmy Awards, HBO’s Game of Thrones dominated, once again, the newsfeeds of my social media platforms for a few days. To be honest, I find Game of Thrones an easy target – low hanging fruit, if you will. While I’ve never watched an episode, I’ve read enough reviews and think pieces about the popular show, from both Christian and secular perspectives, to know that throughout much of its run, it was replete with nudity and graphic sexuality, including graphic depictions of rape and incest. At this point, I am completely baffled at the number of professing Christians who defend watching Game of Thrones. Worse, their open and, at times, boastful defense of their Christian liberty raises serious concerns in my heart about the state of their soul. I’m not saying that watching Game of Thrones means a person is not a Christian. I’m saying that openly and proudly engaging in something so obviously immoral and wicked is the antithesis of the fruit of the Spirit.

Think of it this way: I’ve never discipled or counseled someone struggling with a porn addiction that hasn’t been deeply ashamed and broken. For sure, there are times of attempted justifications and angry denials, but, for the most part, Christians who are porn addicts are characterized by an understanding that they are failing to love God and love their neighbor. If I were to ever encounter a Christian who was addicted to porn or who visited strip clubs and evidenced zero guilt and shame over their sin, but, instead, proudly trumpeted on Facebook and Twitter their “Christian liberty” to go to strip clubs or look at porn, I’d harbor serious doubts about that person’s salvation. By their fruits you will know them means something, after all.

Like those who look at porn in secret, watching shows like Game of Thrones makes the viewer complicit in the objectification and oppression of the women (and men) who expose themselves on camera. Paraphrasing John Piper, when an actor shoots another actor in a war movie, nobody was actually shot. The actor didn’t commit murder. However, when actresses and actors remove their clothes and engage in sexual activity on camera, they’ve actually sinned (to be blunt, because I know how the rejoinders will go – sexual activity doesn’t require penetration). When we consume that activity as a viewer, we’re not only engaging in sins against our own body, to use Paul’s language, we’re also promoting the objectification and oppression of other Image Bearers. We are committing acts of injustice.

But, and here’s the thing, for many, like me, bikini carwashes and Games of Thrones are easy targets. Most of the Christians I know understand that followers of Jesus are not to engage things so obviously exploitative and oppressive that are steeped in the market of lust. But what about our own entertainment options? With our Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime viewing habits do we bear testimony that we, too, have embraced Satan’s lie that oppression and exploitation equal freedom?

Before the advent of streaming services, there were natural barriers that helped protect us from movies containing nudity and/or depictions of sexual activity. A conscious choice to wait in line at the movie theatre or to drive to the video store was required. The public specter of our entertainment choices was almost always present. Sitting in our house today, though, bombarded with entertainment options that look really interesting, we, from a human standpoint, are shrouded in privacy. Unless we choose to make it known publicly, those engaged in discussion with us in our Sunday school class or small group don’t know that the night before we set our eyes on the nudity of someone who is not our spouse. Streaming services have removed a barrier to sin.[2]

Even if we could truthfully claim that watching nudity, especially in the context of sexual activity featuring attractive people, doesn’t tempt us to lust, we are still sinning. Our involvement as a consumer means that whatever dollars we spent on the subscription combined with the site’s internal data about viewing habits help ensure the continued exploitation and oppression of Image Bearers. In that instance, we’re no different from the man who would argue that the young women at the bikini carwash do a better job of washing his vehicle than any other carwash in town. His involvement as a consumer is financially propping up a business that is blatantly abusing young women; how he internally responds is irrelevant.

Justice has become a buzzword, including among conservative Christians. While there may be much confusion among some circles about how the word is defined and implemented, there should be no confusion that the Bible paints the clear picture that our Creator is incredibly concerned about justice and He spends a lot of time defining justice in His Word.

By way of one example picked from many, the book of Amos is God’s indictment of the Israelites for how they used and abused fellow Image Bearers. They failed to uphold God’s justice, and for that, God condemned them. Our involvement as consumers of media that oppresses and exploits fellow Image Bearers is a failure to live and act in accordance to our King’s righteousness and justice. By willfully looking on that which is not ours, we are treating that person unjustly because we have no right to their nudity. It’s a lie of Satan-Serpent that we have the Christian liberty to watch movies and TV shows that oppress and exploit Image Bearers through unlawful nudity and sexual activity. The command to love God and love our neighbor extends to what we watch on Netflix, too.

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas, Sex, Dating, and Relationships (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 41.

[2] Not to mention that since streaming services aren’t beholden to the MPAA or retailers like Wal-Mart, the old ratings system is irrelevant. Netflix’s “MA” rating is broad enough to include content that would’ve required an NC-17 rating from the MPAA board.


2 thoughts on “Netflix and Christians: Our Mutual Exploitation of Image Bearers

  1. Well-stated, John. Very convincting. You state a solid position without coming across as prudish or legalistic. You have spoken the truth in love here. Thank you for always being so bold in your writing. Keep up your great Kingdom work!

    Liked by 1 person

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