“Alright kids, let’s open our Bibles to Ezekiel 23. I’d particularly like us to focus on the imagery in verse 20,” said no youth worker. Ever. (Although I have scrawled that reference at the end of an encouraging note in the Bible cover of more than one friend in my life.)
Neil O’Boyle raised the point that Christians (and youth leaders in particular) should not engage in content with graphic sex, extreme violence and storylines around sexual exploitation and rape.
I guess that means no Song of Solomon or stories of conquering of the land of Canaan.
Don’t like accounts of rape victims wanting a relationship with their attacker? Let’s not encourage young people to do the Bible in a Year lest they discover the story of Judah and Tamar.
Incestrape? Another Tamar and Amnon.
Incest? Surely that was pretty much everyone for at least a few centuries.
Exploiting women? Pretty much everyone…ever.
In his piece Neil argues against cultural moral relativism, yet the glaring similarities between Game of Thrones (that we shouldn’t watch) and the Bible (that we should read every day) demonstrate this exact error. The Bible is full of this stuff, and not just from the ‘bad’ people. Something disturbing happened between drunken Noah and his son inside a tent. Abraham basically pimped out his wife to save his own life and sexually abused Hagar. David exploited his power when he wanted Bathsheba and then murdered her husband. Cities are wiped out (including women and children) on the God of Israel’s instructions. Song of Songs is graphic in it’s metaphors of tasting gardens nesting between thighs.
Let me be clear, I’m not saying every youth worker should watch Game of Thrones, but I find the majority of reasons given by Neil to have their own problems and I find his blanket ban unnecessary and an attempt at the very thing he argues against – a subjective approach to morality.
You are free to restrict your freedom in any way that is helpful for yourself or others. You don’t need Neil or I legislating to you
As a youth worker I want to enter into complex situations with young people and, together, figure out a Christian response. I’ve worked with young people whose lives are filled with violence, sex, sexual assault and incredibly difficult family situations. I don’t shy away from these things because of the topics.
I occasionally ask young people I work with for music and Netflix suggestions, partly to get new things to watch and partly as a window into their world. At one point I was recommended Black Mirror by a room full of church-attending young people. They didn’t think it was sending a mixed message despite the first episode (the only one I’ve watched) featuring the prime minister being blackmailed to live stream his sexual intercourse with a pig.
Questions of what Christians should and shouldn’t do have plagued the Church for its entire life. It seems symptomatic of our lack of willingness to really step into a life of faith based on the sacrifice of Jesus alone.
When questions were asked of the apostles relating to the habits of Gentiles, the reply in Acts 15 was not to place extra burdens or them. The yoke of Jesus is easy and his burden is light remember? (Matthew 11:30)
Paul writes that everything is permissible, but not everything is helpful (1 Corinthians 6) – is watching Game of Thrones permissible? Yes! Is it helpful? That is for you to figure out with your friends, church, pastor and Bible. You are free to restrict your freedom in any way that is helpful for yourself or others. You don’t need Neil or I legislating to you. Yes, we must use wisdom with what we consume, but that is your wisdom for your context in line with your character and relationship with Jesus.
Which leads me to my last point. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict (John 16:8). As evangelicals especially, there is a tendency to forget that. I’m sure we have all encountered Christian leaders who want to “protect the flock” so badly that they instead suffocate them – generally with a focus on external, visible issues (like Game of Thrones) rather than greed, pride, selfishness (much harder to point out). “Don’t read those books – they are gateway drugs to liberalism”, “that show will send mixed messages to your youth group” “Don’t sing Stormzy songs in church because he’s also involved in a culture we don't like (again, think about David and who has an issue singing the “Lord’s my Shepherd”?).
I had a church leader tell me that my girlfriend and I would be observed as the “Christian model for dating” by young people, parents, young adults and uncle Geoffrey's cat – talk about a light yolk. I’m aware that I might be one example, but the standard bearer for Christian relationships? Chill out.
In my own younger days I swore a lot. I was a Christian and knew that my swearing didn’t change my status with Jesus or his love for me. Lots of people told me off for swearing to no real affect. Sometimes I swore less to not get yelled at. Sometimes I swore more to show them. When the Spirit convicted me, it was gentle, kind and yet incisive and real. My language changed almost immediately.
One of the things the Spirit used? The movie Se7en, and listening to the contrast between Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman’s characters and their language. A movie about seven deadly sins that features sex, nudity, violence and a decapitation, which is almost certainly not on Neil’s approved film list.
Lots of Christians won’t watch Game of Thrones and that’s great for them. There’s no need to shame those who do. The same way those who do aren’t going to use their freedom to pin others to a chair and force their eye-lids open to watch it. Surely, there are more important things to be getting on with? Comparing ones genitals to those of a donkey perhaps?