Conversation: Ted Baehr
Hollywood's Christian watchdog
In 1985, Ted Baehr founded Movieguide, which reviews Hollywood films from a unique Christian lens. The magazine and Web site ministry uses a grid measuring not only quality but also acceptability, monitoring such content as blasphemy, paganism and alcohol use.
Since 1986, Baehr also has been chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission. In lectures as well as one-on-one meetings, Baehr regularly has access to college students majoring in film studies, Hollywood entertainers and industry executives, encouraging them to redeem the material they will produce.
This year, Baehr, 61, is co-author (with Pat Boone) of the book The Culture-Wise Family: Upholding Christian Values in a Mass Media World. Baehr, the son of actor Bob "Tex" Allen and the father of four children, recently talked with News Editor John W. Kennedy.
tpe: If Christians stopped paying for offensive movies, would the quality of films improve vastly?
BAEHR: Tens of millions of people go to church every week. If they acted as a unit — which Jesus prayed for — they could change the entertainment industry overnight. The church can be the most powerful force in Hollywood, but many denominations have lost their biblical focus.
tpe: If offensive movies do so poorly at the box office, why are there so many of them?
BAEHR: There are two reasons. First, 40 percent of movies are released by major studios, which usually aim for the broad audience and avoid R-rated material. In fact, Disney is going to rebrand itself as Walt Disney without any sex and foul language. Second, however, 60 percent of films are produced independently, usually by people who think they must push the envelope. Most of them think they have to stoop to conquer.
tpe: How have so many Christians — and denominations — been snookered into adopting nonbiblical attitudes toward sexuality?
BAEHR: We're supposed to be in the world, not of the world, but much of the church has lost its focus on biblical principles. When I talk to Hollywood studio executives or Christians in the industry I often read Ephesians 5, which says you shouldn't curse or engage in sexual immorality, you shouldn't associate with anyone who does, and if you do, you're not going to get into the kingdom of heaven. But people would much rather listen to psychology.
When reviewing, we try to use a biblical approach. The majority of parents do not teach their children biblical principles in a clear way about what God expects of them.
tpe: How do the media shape our opinions by giving sympathetic portrayals on such issues as transgender rights?
BAEHR: The media have hammered the message that people are born this way. But if someone is "born" an alcoholic you don't set up an intravenous alcohol drip for them. We're all born sinners in one way or another. That doesn't mean you allow the sin to take control of your life. You have to be delivered and discipled or it will destroy you.
We know that promotion works. Seeing two women kissing can influence people who have a propensity to copy that behavior. The same is true for those who are taken in by violence and drug use.
tpe: How do subtle anti-Christian movie themes shape our worldview?
BAEHR: The high point for anti-Christian material was during the 1980s. During that decade, only 13 movies had a positive reference to Jesus Christ. Most of the time the church was vilified. Now Rocky Balboa says, "Not by might, not by power, but by my Holy Spirit says the Lord Jesus Christ." And Spiderman goes to church.
tpe: There are biblical themes in mainstream movies. Spider-Man 3 dealt with faith, good and evil, and the sanctity of marriage.
BAEHR: That's right. Christian-themed films don't have to have small budgets. There have always been Christians in Hollywood who are major players. Frank Capra and Cecil B. De Mille loved the church. Today, we have outspoken Christians such as Ralph Winter, who produced the X-Men and Star Trek series of films, and Ken Wales, who produced Amazing Grace.
tpe: How do TV shows play a role in desensitizing us by pushing a steady stream of jokes about body parts and bodily functions?
BAEHR: TV used to be a broad-audience medium with only three networks. Now with niche programming there are a couple of hundred different channels. The problem with this niche marketing is that different children respond to different stimuli. Some people who see a beer commercial or a character smoking will have susceptibilities toward those behaviors. Some people who have a propensity toward violence or sex will gravitate to programs filled with it. Such shows aggravate the sin nature of people.
tpe: How can parents protect children from harmful media?
BAEHR: In The Culture-Wise Family, I outline a five-step process. One, understand the influence of media. Many people buy the latest cell phone because they've seen a commercial and they think the phone will make life easier. Two, understand children at each stage of development. The eyes of innocence must be protected. Three, understand how media works. Four, understand what your values and principles are. Many people are not clear about their values and do not know the basics of their faith. Five, know how to apply those values. Ask the right questions. The Bruce Willis character in Live Free or Die Hard breaks the kill record he set in an earlier version. How does that compare with the values of Jesus?
tpe: The film industry continues to heap accolades on antibiblical pictures. Brokeback Mountain, which promoted homosexuality, and Hustle & Flow, which glorified prostitution, both won Oscars. The film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which gives a sympathetic view of abortion, won this year's top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
BAEHR: People don't go to those films. The vile movie Brokeback Mountain earned $83 million at the box office. At $10 per ticket, that is a meager 8.3 million people in a country of 300 million. In the same time span, The Chronicles of Narnia, a movie reviled by the press, took in $292 million at the box office.
tpe: Yet religious-themed movies have had a lukewarm reception lately. The Nativity Story earned only $37 million and Amazing Grace just $21 million.
BAEHR: There are a lot of reasons for that. But chiefly a film must be marketed properly. It can't just be marketed directly to churches. It must be marketed first in ads in the secular newspapers and elsewhere so that kids who attend church want to see it. The average filmgoer is 12 to 24 years old. He wants to know that this is an exciting movie, not a movie where his parents are dragging him into the theater.
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