The Church and Media: Common Concerns

For The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the effects of media on the family are front-page news. In their September 2004 issue of The Ensign, the official publication of this U.S. based sect, their president, Gordon B. Hinckley, opens his prominently placed Page 3 column by stating his concern about what he is seeing in current media productions and the contribution this is making to the "dismal rot seeping to the very fiber of society."

Across the religious street, Dr. Richard Land, spokesperson for the Southern Baptist Convention, said in the church’s authorized periodical For Faith and Family, "American families need desperately to put themselves on an entertainment diet in order to become more discerning in what they feed their mind and allow to be fed into their children’s minds."

While some of America’s religious factions may disagree on points of doctrine, one thing is clear: Media and its impact on families is a major issue. Based on the National Council of Churches (NCC) annual ranking of the biggest U.S. religious bodies (meaning distinct denominations), all of the top five organizations had media content information or commentary on their websites.

Not surprisingly, the tone of what they are saying to their parishioners is very similar, and no matter which of these religions you may or may not adhere to, they all offer some sound council to help you manage media in your home.

Very early in the 20th Century, the Roman Catholic Church (listed as the largest U.S. religious group) publicized its worries regarding the influence of media on society. Member Martin J. Quigley wrote that the entertainment industry threatened to destroy "those principles upon which home and civilization are based." His work played a major role toward putting the first Production Code in place. This list of general guidelines outlining what movies shouldn’t contain survived for nearly four decades (from the 1930’s to 1967) until the current MPAA film rating system replaced it.

Today, this giant among Christian sects still watches media very closely. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops even provides movie critiques based on Catholic values. Their lowest rating, an "O" for "Offensive" is saved for films like the recent Team America: World Police: "Definitely not one for the kids, and probably not for most sensitive adults either," writes an unnamed reviewer.

No commentary on media issues was found on The United Methodist Church (named the third largest denomination) website, but it did yield some movie reviews—all of which appear to be positive in nature.

By far, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Latter-day Saints and the Southern Baptist Convention are the most vocal church websites on this topic.

The Evangelical Lutherans (5th in size) offer many items taken from their periodical The Lutheran. These have excellent thoughts about the subtlety of media effects. For example, one article details the moral dilemma faced by a food stylist (who happens to be Lutheran) after she was asked to sign an affidavit stating the food she created for an advertisement hadn’t been manipulated—when in fact she was ordered to artificially modify the product. Another talks about the impact of media violence on children and how parents can help by watching television with their kids.

With more pointed commentary, but also offering some solid advice to parents, is the website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Surveyed as the 4th largest, this religious organization offers many "safe media" ideas, with a particular emphasis on the dangers of the Internet and pornography.

A home page link takes you to a list of ten things families can do to keep the Internet under control in their homes. On another page, a helpful topic index lists four sections related to media. Scroll down and find Media: General, Media: Internet, Media: Movies and Television, and Media: Music. With these links, you’ll have access to around thirty articles aimed at adults, youth, and young children. Nearly all of these feature concrete steps parents can follow to help their children and teens make better music, television, movie, and Internet choices.

The Southern Baptist Council (ranked number 2) uses its publication of For Faith and Families in a likewise manner. However, unlike the Latter-day Saints, the Baptists talk about specific media titles. Their regular Entertainment and Pop Culture Fact Sheet provides a list of the previous months’ media issues in the areas of television, video games, movies, print media, and general pop culture. Another page offers topical information on pornography.

Those who explore these various sites will also notice none of these groups are preaching that you should toss the TV out the window, or throw your son’s Walkman in the toilet. Instead, they encourage their churchgoers to take a stand.

Perhaps Latter-day Saint President Hinckley sums it up best: "Let our voices be heard. I hope they will not be shrill voices, but I hope we shall speak with such conviction that those to whom we speak shall know the strength of our feeling and the sincerity of our effort."

When it comes to the issue of media’s influence on the family, parents of all denominations, lifestyles, and ethnic backgrounds will find this is one place where they definitely have something in common.

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