Question:

I’m currently trying to go through a series of lessons with the church's youth over media and what kinds a Christian should let into their life. I’m currently using a focus on Ephesians and Colossians regarding verses that tell us to “put away” sinful things from ourselves. Specifically, the first will be over music. But I also want us to use the same principles to consider TV, movies, video games, and books. Anything you might be able to suggest regarding these things would be helpful.

Specifically, however, I have a great concern regarding the popular series released in recent years known as the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer. It’s a supposedly-teen dark romance involving a high school girl who moves to a town unknowingly harboring a group of vampires and then falls in love with one of them. The first book (which I have read halfway through), has been a little unsettling for me. On a side note, I’m working to become a fiction novelist, and I’ve been incredibly put-off by the terrible writing to begin with, but this is not my main concern. My main concern is regarding scenes in the book in which sensuality is made a large part. There is one scene in particular where the girl goes off with the vampire into the woods and spend the day there. In the scene, the young man’s chest is exposed the entire time, and a sensuous description of him running his lips up and down her neck and then jaw is described. Worse still, I’ve been told — by someone who read the book — that the fourth in the series contains explicit sex scenes.

Now, I am not one to criticize from afar as many did regarding something as playfully imaginative as Harry Potter. But, my concern arises here because two girls in the youth group have read these books, multiple times. They failed to mention that the fourth contains sex scenes — though I wouldn’t go so far as to assume they wouldn’t have tried to skip such things. When I told one of them I was reading the first book, she became apprehensive about what I’d say about it, and at the time I had yet to get to the part I described earlier. Now, after reading it, I understand her reaction.

They and I are members of the church. I’ve written you twice in the past and have always greatly appreciated your feedback. So I hope you can understand my concern on this matter. I also want to be very careful here because these two girls, one in particular, are two of the best and most mature-minded youth in the church here and have never given me much cause for alarm in times past. These two girls, however, are also very enamored with this series.

Also, as I said earlier, I’m very serious about becoming a fiction novelist and would very much like to know what rules of censorship I should employ. So your answer will be of great help even to me personally.

My question is thus: What does the Bible say about reading such things, and how do you recommend I go about teaching it? Also, what about when a student is required in school to read a specific “classic” book that may contain similar material? How much is too much? Or is it a matter of being “mature in mind” as so many seem to maintain?

In addition to this, for another section of the lesson I’m preparing, I would also like to ask: What about movies and TV shows that are for the most part good, but occasionally use cuss words or take the Lord’s name in vain, i.e. Frasier, Cheers, According to Jim, etc.?

As always I thank you earnestly for the great work that you do and only hope and pray that the Lord’s Will be that you be with us for many more years to guide so many in these matters. I am extremely thankful for the work you do and wish more church of Christ web sites would be able to do the same.


Answer:

There is so much ground to cover in this note because you are hitting at the very foundation of making moral and ethical decisions. It is an important discussion to have with teenagers because it is during adolescence that ability to reason truly awakens in the young person's mind. Choices have to be made and young people need training in what makes good choices.

You are correct that the criteria regarding what we see or listen to is the same, regardless of the medium in which it is presented. When discussing these things with teenagers, I have found that being blunt works better than crouching terms in careful generalities.

  1. Because of little experience, many vague phrases go right over a young person's head.
  2. Because of society's fondness for redefining terms, young people often convince themselves that what is being talked about isn't really what they are doing.
  3. Because a teenager perceives vagueness as adults hiding information from them.

Here is one way to approach the issues:

  1. Start with a description of what exactly is sin and temptation. For a lesson outline that I use, see: "The Nature of Sin, Temptation, and Lust."
  2. In talking about how temptation works on an individual, I use a neutral topic: advertisement. Using I John 2:15-17 as the base text, I talk about how companies persuade people to buy their products. Magazines make great source material, and you will find that the young people can supply all sorts of examples. Once the idea of the three avenues of lusts is understood, I then point out that Satan is in the business of selling sin. I then go through examples of various temptations described in the Bible so that they can see how the same three avenues of lust are sued against those being tempted.
  3. Somewhere along the way, you will need to crisply define terms, such as sex, fornication, adultery, lust, lewdness, sensuality, uncleanness, etc. You will be amazed how young people have odd ideas about these terms.

Once the foundation is laid, you can move into practical applications. Without a solid foundation you will end up talking at cross purposes. I would suggest starting with language. See "Careful What You Say" for the lesson I typically present. Notice that I don't just discuss what words are wrong, we talk about why certain words are considered bad words. This is critical as words are constantly changing. Young people need a solid standard to decide what is right or wrong, even when word meanings shift. As a part of the discussion, introduce the idea that things we put in our heads have a tendency to come out in our words and actions. This is easily seen in language. You hang around people who use profane language heavily and before you know it, you find it creeping into your thoughts.

Then move to clothing. When I do meetings on moral issues, I have a great deal of fun with the lesson, "What Does Your Clothing Say?" Before telling anyone what I'm going to teach, I put up images of young men and then young women, asking a series of questions and getting people's votes as to which person most represents an idea. After all the votes, I then ask how did they come to these conclusions since they never met the people depicted. About that time you suddenly see all the young ladies wishing they could crawl under the chairs because they realize their arguments that "it doesn't matter what I choose to wear" just went out the window. To talk about the limits in clothing, I use the lesson "Modest Apparel."

This then becomes a good time to discuss pornography and why it is wrong. The article "A Look at Pornography" is what I typically use. The goal here is to get the young people to see how they are being manipulated through their sexual desires to lighten their wallets. I like art, so I usually take the time to point out how things like placement, lines, eyes, colors, etc. all combine to get the viewer's eyes to focus on certain elements of a picture. Once the points are made about visual pornography, the discussion is then shifted to verbal pornography to show that it is the same thing, but delivered in a different fashion. Here is the time to talk about why television shows and books include "gratuitous sex scenes." The song "I Think We're Alone Now" by Tommy Jones would make a good song to discuss sensuality and how some of the sounds, such as the beat, are used to manipulate the listener.

Another important point to make is that moral choices don't change between youth and adulthood, though the world often repeats this theme. The lesson "When I Grow Up" is about this issue, though it was written targeted to parents instead of teens.

By now you should be able to discuss books and movies like Twilight. I haven't read this series and probably won't, but a friend recommended this review and it would make a good discussion with the teens you are studying with: "Talking Points on Twilight."