Christians and the Media:
Steeling vs. Stealing the Mind
by Dr. Ted Baehr
To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to
educate a danger to society.
The most recent 1997 Los Angeles Times Poll finds that a wide majority of
Americans believes that TV language, sex and violence is getting worse.1 Four of every five parents think popular culture such as music,
television and movies negatively affects children.2
Most parents are concerned about popular culture because their children are
being conformed in dress, actions and ideas to the images of Hollywood idols
such as Madonna, Michael Jackson and Beavis & Butthead, rather than to
positive, moral images of virtuous men and women and, in particular, to the
image of Jesus Christ.
Parents should be concerned because the mass media of entertainment are among
the most influential teachers of our children. In the United States of America
the average child sees 15,000 to 30,000 hours of television3
by the time he or she is 17 years old. During this same period a child
spends only 11,000 to 16,000 hours in school,4 and 2,000
hours or less of quality interaction with their parents.5 Many American children spend more time with a
television set before the age of 6 than they will spend with their fathers
during their lifetime.
Most parents want their children to be able to discern between good and evil
so they can choose the good and thus grow and mature into adults of integrity
and good character. With the power of the mass media to confuse and even
to undermine their teaching, these parents often have difficulty teaching their
children the basics of discernment.
When I started teaching discernment to concerned parents and children in the
late-70s, a significant number of people did not understand the magnitude of the
problem and many others did not think that there was a problem. I began my
lectures with startling information about the depth, breadth and seriousness of
Most people today have become very concerned and a few are at the point of
hysteria. So it has become more important to keep in mind the good
news before exploring the nature of the problem and the solutions. Many people
have fallen for the negative fallacies spewing from the entertainment
media. As a result, they have a growing fear of crime, politics or
whatever other institution or problem the media choose as the villain of the
day. This growing fear is the result of the program content decisions of people
working in the news media, who think that"if it bleeds, it
leads." This emphasis on bad news rather than good news presents a
very distorted picture of reality.
However, the truth is that there are signs of revival across the country and
there is great news in that neither television, movies, the Internet, or the
entire mass media are the most powerful force in the world today; instead, God
is! Consequently, the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10), not the fear of the mass
media, is the beginning of all wisdom, while the knowledge of the Holy One, who
loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten son to pay the penalty
for our transgressions and free us from the fallacies of our age, is true
Many people recognize that God is the real sovereign. Therefore, contrary to
dire predictions of its demise and consistently negative images in the mass
media, the church is alive and well in the United States of America.
The disparity between the strength of the church in America and the strength
of the entertainment media, which many financial analysts call our leading
industry and our leading export, is astounding. Despite film director
Ingmar Bergman's claim that movies are the church of the 20th Century, the
church in the U.S. is doing much better than its upstart rival.
A 1995 American Bible Society survey reported in USA Today found that going
to church is the most popular leisure activity of Americans (55% say that it is
their favorite activity), much more popular than going to movies (a mere 9%
choose movies as their favorite leisure time activity).
In 1995, Americans went to church five times more often (5.3 billion times)
than they went to movies (1.26 billion tickets sold), and individual Americans
gave 21 times more to church and charity ($116 billion) than they spent at the
box office ($5.51 billion).
The healthy state of the church in the USA is somewhat surprising,
considering almost 30 years of pointed media attacks on Christianity on
television and in movies: attacks so blatant that for many years the most
acceptable villains in Hollywood movies and television programs appeared to be
In spite of these well documented attacks, the church is not only attracting
the vast majority of Americans but the faith of America may be in the first
stage of revival, according to the National and International Religion Report
and the Gallup Organization.
Furthermore, after years of denying the power of the mass media, more and
more people are aware of and opposed to the mass media's ungodly enchantments. A
USA Today poll found that more than 80% of the American people think the biggest
problem facing society today is the breakdown of morality. A vast majority
of people think the mass media are responsible for this breakdown. For
many years, children and teenagers claimed that movies and television programs
did not affect them, but according to recent surveys children no longer want to
be abandoned to the television set and subject to the ritual worship of sex and
violence on television and in movies. A 1992 MTV poll found that 92% of MTV's
audience wanted less sex and violence in the mass media of entertainment.
Even entertainment industry leaders have changed their attitudes about the
mass media. A UCLA Center for Communication Policy/U.S. News and World Report
survey found that:
87% of media decision-makers think violence in the mass media
contributes to violence in society.
76% of media decision-makers say
they have prevented or discouraged their children from watching a violent
63% of media decision-makers say the industry glorifies
58% of media decision-makers avoid movies because of violence.
A revival has even started to impact the entertainment industry. There has
been a tremendous growth in the number of Christians taking the top production
positions in the entertainment industry.
For example, the number one rated television program and the biggest box
office hit of 1994 were produced by evangelical Christians. The biggest box
office hit of the summer of 1995 was also written by evangelical Christians. Of
the more than 45 executive producers of the 60 prime time entertainment
television programs, 21 of them were professing Christians in 1994, up from 1
professing evangelical Christian twelve years earlier.
Married with Children
How do these signs of revival impact the box office? For many years, family
movies have made much more money at the box office than R-rated fare. For
instance, in 1996 family friendly movies grossed on average 300% better than
movies aimed at the adult marketplace.6
Long term studies of the box office have shown that R-rated movies have
a maximum earnings ceiling which is at most 50% of the earnings ceiling for
G-rated and PG-rated movies.
Be of Good Cheer
Signs of revival and the changes in the attitudes of the American people are
encouraging. Knowing this good news should help you help others to take a stand
for righteousness. By taking a stand for the good, the true and the
beautiful, you will be making a difference by influencing Hollywood
decision-makers to produce more good entertainment and less immoral and amoral
entertainment. Part of the reason for the breakdown of morality in America is
that the church retreated from being salt and light in the culture. Over
the last few years, the church has started to again stand for righteousness, so
the tide is turning. The key to taking a stand is to think clearly in the
midst of the babble of the mass media which so easily distracts us and tempts us
to be manipulated and changed by things.
An Action Plan
You can help to clean the movie and TV screens by supporting the Christian
Film & Television Commission. Although there are many Christian prayer
groups, fellowship groups and watchdog groups, it is clear from talking with the
insiders that the key is advocacy. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, the
church was the leading advocacy group.
Now, we are reinstating that work. As a result, in part, of our work
the number of family films released by the entertainment industry has increased
from 6% to 40% over the fourteen years that we have been working behind the
scenes and the number of R-rated movies has decreased from 81% to 54%.
Right now, we have an opportunity to accelerate the positive trend which has
developed in Hollywood over the most recent years and even months; however, the
support of godly people is critical to our success.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear;
but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
- The national survey of 1,258 adults, conducted Sept. 6-9, has a margin of
sampling error of +/- 3 percentage points.
- Family Research Council, national public opinion survey, October, 1995.
- According to Nielson Media Research, as reported in the Los Angeles Times,
Aug.19, 1995, the average daily television usage in the United States of
Childrenage 2-11 2 hrs 43
Teensages 12-172 hrs 52
Menages 18+3 hrs 52
Womenages 18+4 hrs 28 min/day
use:6 hrs 59 min/day
Using these statistics, which are
significantly lower than the Nielson figures from 1980, the average child will
watch over 16,000 hours of television by the time they turn 17. Many children,
especially in single family homes and impoverished environments, watch much more
television. Assuming that these children are watching whenever the
television is turned on, then 30,000 hours is slightly less than 6 hours a day
excluding 2 years of infancy and perfunctory days away from the
television. According to U.S. News & World Report, Aug. 2, 1993 v.115
n.5 p.64, our children watch an astonishing 5,000 hours by the first grade and
19,000 hours by the end of high school"more time than they spend in
- 11,000 hours assumes 4 hours per day of classroom time for 8 months a year,
excluding holidays, from 6 to 17 years of age. Of course, many children start in
nursery school, day-care or preschool, go to after school programs and spend
much more than 4 hours per day in the class room for more than 8 months per
year. For instance, 16,000 hours assumes 6 hours a day from age 5 to 17,
- Several studies have wired parents and their children with recorders to see
their interaction and have found that parents spend 5 to 15 minutes a day with
their children, which would equal 1,500 hours of interaction by the time the
child is 17 years old.
- As reported in Dr. Ted Baehrs MOVIEGUIDE Annual Edition,March