Is watching trash TV a sin? My husband describes ABC’s The Bachelor as “relationship porn.” But at my work, everyone watches reality shows, so it’s an easy way to both connect with my colleagues and discuss an alternative Christian viewpoint on relationships. In addition, my Reformed upbringing includes phrases like “common grace.” Are there some areas of media we should avoid altogether for our own godliness, even if it means giving up a possible avenue of connection?
First, let me pose a revised question: “Are there some areas of media that I should avoid altogether for my own godliness, even if it means giving up a possible avenue of connection?” In other words, what is “trash TV” to one believer might not be to another. (To be clear, I’m not speaking of shows that cause us to sin just by watching—for example, soft pornography. Everyone should avoid those.)
Under the canopy of common grace, God gifts believers and unbelievers alike with the ability to make art and entertainment such as movies and television shows. Yet Christians often err by adopting one of two extremes: We either hastily condemn media or gluttonously consume it for mere amusement.
Instead, we should pursue what my colleague Walt Mueller, president of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, advocates: “Not mindless consumption, but mindful critique.”
I must critically evaluate a TV show—or any media offering, such as a song or a piece of art—by asking questions such as:
- What can I affirm here that is good?
- What is unredeemable about this?
- What boundaries should I place around myself for the sake of my own godliness?
I need to think as Paul did when he told his Corinthian audience, “All things are permissible, but not all things are profitable” (1 Cor. 6:12). I then need to ask, “Is watching or listening to __________ profitable for me and for others?”
The late Chuck Colson tells the story of meeting an unbeliever who had a love for Woody Allen films. Colson leveraged this common interest as an on-ramp to sharing spiritual truths with this young man. However, I am sure Colson would say, “If a show is negatively affecting your mind or heart, then trust God to provide another avenue of connection with your coworker.”
There will be times we have Christian freedom to watch what others may deem objectionable (1 Pet. 2:16); on the other hand, we’re also charged not to cause a brother or sister to sin (Matt. 18:6). In the case of The Bachelor, it might be a stretch to say the show could be used as an effective evangelistic tool. Almost anything “trashy” could then be justified under that logic.
There are many ways to love to our coworkers for the sake of the gospel—such as doing quality work, honoring them as image-bearers, and offering help. Sharing conversations about TV can—but doesn’t have to be—one of them.
You can read previous installments in the Thorns & Thistles series.