Thomas McKenzie
by grace alone


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Priest'in Ain't Easy

On Sunday, I preached a sermon in which I referred to a scene from the movie "Hustle and Flow." (I talked about how they had to turn off the fan, etc., due to the ambient noise when trying to record a record). A young lady who has visited our church a couple of times, and comes from a different denomination, sent me an interesting question. Here is the question, and here is how I answered.

The question:

I have a question about Sunday's sermon. I haven't seen Hustle and Flow, but considering the subject matter and the rating (and the reasons for the rating including nudity) I'm not sure that it would be a movie worth watching. It just confused me a little that you would use this movie to illustrate a point. Could you get back to me on this when you get a chance?

And my response:

Great question.

In my view, I wasn't recommending the film in the sermon as one to watch. Rather, it was a great narrative example of what I was talking about: the extent to which musicians have to go in order to lower the "noise floor." If people had seen the film, they would connect with my sermon. If they hadn't, then it was still a great story which helped to explain my point (in my opinion).

As far as the film itself goes, Hustle and Flow was rated R for a reason. It deals with some very difficult issues, and includes violence, disturbing sexual situations, and course language. These aspects would be offensive enough to some people that they would not be able to watch the film.

That said, this is a film about redemption, perseverance, hope, and love. It is also positive about Christianity. So while no "Christian film maker" would make a film like this (given the reasons it got the R rating), it is a film with a substantial message.

The film shows reality, the reality of some of the horrors of poverty and prostitution especially. But that doesn't mean a Christian should not see the film or refer to it. I would even venture to say that the film's language, sex, and violence is more tame than what one finds within the pages of the Bible itself. The Bible uses real-life situations of rape, incest, murder, genocide, and course language in the telling of its stories. We aren't offended by this, primarily because the thrust of the biblical narrative is the glory of God and the redemption of humanity. While Hustle and Flow is not the Bible, far from it, it follows a similar trajectory.

There are films that I believe use violence and sex for their own sake. I would call these films pornography. And I would lump sexual porn in with violence porn (such as Hostel and Hostel 2--though I have not seen those films) as films that have no redeeming value. I would not at all consider Hustle and Flow pornography. While I am aware that there are those who watch it who would be titillated by certain moments, I don't believe that this excitement is the intention of the film.

I know that there are churches where the pastor would never refer to a rated "R" film. In fact, there are churches where watching a film with that rating may even be considered sinful. This is not part of my understanding of the faith. I come from a Christian tradition that places value on artistic and intellectual freedom. I believe I must use my God-given wisdom in discerning what to read or watch. And, I am free to participate in the culture around me. After all, if Saint Paul tells us in the Bible that we can attend pagan festivals and eat meat sacrificed to false gods (Colossians 2:16-23, etc.), perhaps Christians can watch and discuss an Academy-Award winning film.

As a Christian, I know I should do what I can not to offend the "weaker brother" (in St. Paul's words). And I must also witness to the freedom I have in Christ to engage both constructively and critically with culture. In preparing for this sermon, I prayerfully considered this question and concluded that the part of the story I was telling was redemptive and edifying.

So, I hope that is helpful. Thanks again for the excellent question

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