“Lest I Make My Brother to Offend”

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As children of God, one of the many blessings which accompany each human being is the ability to discern good from evil. A profound benefit of increased Christian discipleship is a deepened understanding of the workings of the Holy Ghost. As we grow older, white and black swirl together into a gray, indiscernible to the natural eye. Hopefully, through the Spirit of God, we will always be able to discern black from white and right from wrong.

The Premise

“I haven’t seen that movie before. What’s it rated?”
“It’s rated ‘R’.”
And that’s the end of the discussion.

As children of God, one of the many blessings which accompany each human being is the ability to discern good from evil. In the infant stages of life, these rights and wrongs are very much black and white. However, the process does get more complicated as we progress spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and even physically.

A profound benefit of increased Christian discipleship is a deepened understanding of the workings of the Holy Ghost. As we grow older, white and black swirl together into a gray, indiscernible to the natural eye. Hopefully, through the Spirit of God, we will always be able to discern black from white and right from wrong.

As we progress spiritually, from the letter of the law to the greater spirit of the law, we do things which we wouldn’t have done before. Things, which in our youth may have seemed harmless, are now viewed as debilitating. Things which appeared to be obvious violations of the law are now suddenly required when done in the spirit of love. Herein is where the Pharisees, almost comically, frequently missed the mark. Do we set pharisaic absolutes as our guidelines or do we teach Christian principles and let the people govern themselves? Obviously, the latter is the modern-day order.

Stepping beyond the conflicts with the Pharisees, we discover legitimate issues of discipleship. We want to be closer to our Heavenly Father. In our efforts to draw closer to Him, we learn that our behavior may affect others adversely while seeming harmless to us. So how do we avoid offending our brothers and sisters? Paul counselled, “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth,” (1 Cor. 8:1).


The Question

I am a film major. Recently in one of my film classes, someone raised the question about viewing R-rated films. My professor made an interesting analysis. Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are those that watch R-rated films and those who do not. Those that don’t watch R-rated films judge those that do as being rebellious and disobedient. Those that do watch R-rated films judge those that don’t as being prudish and ignorant. The point that my teacher made was that it is more important how we treat each other than whether or not we watch R-rated movies. This conclusion sounded very similar to the Savior’s teachings to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and others. The situation was only partly resolved.

Judge not others lest you be held up against that same, slated judgment. On the other hand, I should judge righteously on issues that apply to me personally. So I condemn not the man that has decided to view selective R-rated films. By so doing, I discover a greater measure of peace and confidence. Beyond that, I am able to openly discuss issues and concerns with those that I’ve not judged, without a tainted view of their supposed sinful influence. However, the unresolved question remains: What do I do? Do I cleave to the simple decision of faith that I zealously adopted in my youth? Up until that day in class, I had remained so anchored.

The Factors

I’ve never discussed the matter one-on-one with any of my major teachers. I know superficially where they stand. They view R-rated films. What their internal convictions or reasons for doing so are, I do not know. Obviously, it is not simply for the sake of violating prophetic council, or to sinfully indulge in that which they shouldn’t. I suspect that, in a true spirit of education, they seek to become more proficient in their field of study.

Additionally, if it were not for the integrity of those individuals with whom I associate, I would more easily be able to conclude that their actions reflect this specific violation of the law. But it is not so. The integrity of my teachers is genuine; their suggestions, practical; their insight, inspiring. Until I had arrived at BYU, not viewing R-rated films was an issue of obedience. Recognizing that my BYU professors were faithful, temple-attending, family-oriented people, who view some R-rated films, I pondered if there were more to the argument then I had considered. Is this perhaps their Achilles’ heel, their one weakness that keeps them from obtaining perfection? Is this their stumbling block? After some serious heart felt consideration, I think not. If we want to talk about serious discipleship, then let’s do it. Do these professors, by watching what they do, endorse sin? No. Are they purposefully engaging in material that portrays sin? No, or maybe yes. For their decision, I do not judge them.

While in my film class, I agreed not to judge the other party; therefore, I was more willing to discuss the issue. At the end of class I was approached by a classmate. We were more open with each other than we ever had been before. In a true spirit of Christian fellowship, we both agreed that it was more important not to condemn the other side of the argument because they were different. The conversation that followed was very insightful.

We established where we each stood on the issue, and, as it happened, we stood on opposite ends. Both of us were returned missionaries and students of film. My friend consumed some R-rated material as part of his film diet. I, on the other hand, happened across an R-rated film only once at a friend’s birthday party. I was 11 years old, and have not seen an R-rated movie since. Prior to attending BYU, my prudish viewing was even limited to very few PG-13 and PG films.

Then we discussed why or why not to watch an R-rated film.

Reasons to view some of it:*

  1. Spiritual and educational maturity. As man’s maturity grows so does his ability to discern. Discipleship gives man the power to withstand evil, and cleave to the good.
  2. Cleave unto all good things. As Saints we have a divine commission to seek out that which is good. Does good art cease to be good art when a panel decides that it is R-rated?
  3. The ratings system. This is a panel of human beings making decisions based on superficial content. The rating system as we know it also is limited exclusively to the United States. What are our friends outside the U.S. to do?
  4. Governed by principles not by laws. In the revised “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet, under entertainment and media, nowhere does it say to avoid watching R-rated movies. Instead it lists principles to govern sound media consumption–“Avoid vulgarity, immorality, violence, and pornography.”
  5. All appearances of evil are not the same. What is the way in which evil is being portrayed? Does it condemn evil or does it commend evil?

*A disclaimer: I believe the above-mentioned list can only be used by those who use film for reasons other than entertainment.

Reasons to view none of it:

  1. Content. These movies often contain sensual, pornographic, and violent images (that’s why they’re R-rated).
  2. Corrosive to the Spirit. My ability to feel the beautiful intricacies of life is muffled if not seriously damaged. I take a chance in opening myself to poisonous imagery that is difficult to remove from the mind.
  3. Avoiding temptation. Why put myself into a situation where I will knowingly be tempted by evil? Life is hard enough without it.
  4. A principle of sacrifice. “Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.” If that means missing a handful of exceptionally well made films to enjoy the prescribed blessings, what sacrifice is it really? Among other blessings would be the ability to sustain faith in others.
  5. Christian liberty. Even if I come out unharmed, indulging could result in weakening others.

Other influences may be related to our stations in life. I am a father with three children. My class mate was still single, and hadn’t yet dealt with the responsibility of setting an example for his children.  Admittedly, he agreed that his future consumption habits may be altered. I can see direct conflict for an individual who sincerely wants to seek out the best in all things.

The Reading

Enter required reading assignment for my religion class: 1 Corinthians, chapter 8. In the midst of this extremely interesting, and almost essential, dialog in the study of film as a Latter-day Saint, I came to some insights from Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. Before I knew it was called “Christian liberty,” I knew this was the evolved, unexplained reason for standing where I did.

In Paul’s day the issue was not the consumption of film, but meat, specifically meat that had been slaughtered upon sacrificial alters to pagan gods. Paul’s response demonstrated his selfless character and his concern for new members. He knew how others looked to him for an example of Christian behavior. While there was no sin in eating meat properly cooked, lest someone assume they were taking part in offering up sacrifices to pagan gods, Paul counsels the Corinthians not to partake. His chief reason for not indulging in it was because of the effect it may have had on others, especially those who were weak in the faith. In matters of true discipleship, selfless charity is the order.

The Application

It must be understood that I point a finger at no man in making the following conclusion. I believe it is every man’s responsibility, in the higher realms of discipleship, to listen to the Spirit and know God’s will for him or her.

Why don’t I watch R-rated movies? I think it is directly related to how I see myself. I know that there are others who look at me and whom I will influence.

If I, as a student of film were to watch an R-rated movie, it would be obviously wrong to compare me with a negligent father who regularly consumes R-rated material. However, if I were called to be an example to the same negligent father as his home teacher or elders’ quorum president, how could I justify my actions as a rationalization for his viewing selections? It is, of course, easy to see that the circumstances would be arguably different. Even so, I refrain my debate; so I will not give the weak in faith anything upon which to stumble, now or in the future. In days of weaker faith, it is easy to justify sin when rationalized against another’s actions, especially when that person is in a postion of responsibility or authority!

By coming to this knowledge, how have I changed? I have experienced a great amount of character growth as I continue to cleave unto the foundation of my faith and yet do not condemn my neighbor for not following the same direction. I respect and love him much more than I did before. For the Lord does prefer mercy over sacrifice. However, the acceptance of others in no way enables me to do that which I know my Father does not want me to do. If it be a cause to stumble for someone I love, be it an old friend, a new convert, or even my own child, I choose to not view the R-rated film “lest I make my brother to offend.” (1 Cor. 8:13).

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Brent is married to a very supportive woman, is father of a large family, and went into business for himself in 2006.

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