Sex, Crime, and Violence - How Much Is Too Much for Christians?

No doubt about it, it was a hot button topic. 

My friends and I were discussing our favorite Christian authors. As writers, we were not only talking about their books, but also their style, craft, and writing approach. Talk quickly turned to a popular suspense writer. “His goal is to paint the darkness as black as possible so the Light will shine in stark contrast,” one woman who had studied under him said. “Problem is,” she confessed, “I can’t read his books. They’re too graphic. I have nightmares. He’s a masterful writer, and the pictures get in my head, and I can’t get them out.” 

“Me too,” someone else said. “I know good is going to win in the end, but ugh, it’s tough reading about the bad in such gory detail.” 

“Is it really necessary to paint sin, death, and destruction in such graphic terms?” another asked. She spoke the question we were all wrestling with: 

“Do we really have to know all the disturbing details to be able to cheer for the hero when he catches the bad guys?” And herein lies the question: 

How much is too much? 

 Paul instructed believers, “but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (Rom. 16:19). In other words, you really don’t need to know every detail about what sinful people do to each other. Personally, when I hear detailed stories about abuse, debauchery, and murder, the facts stick in my mind and trouble me. 

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not advocating a Pollyanna world where we shove our fingers into our ears and pretend bad things don’t happen. We should be troubled by sinful behavior so we can hate it, fight against it, and take steps to prevent it. But do we really need to know the step-by-step process for how to pull off the murder of the century? 

Ephesians 5:11 warns, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.” This verse leaves no doubt that believers are called to take action against wicked behavior. At the same time, however, it encourages us not to broadcast all the sinful details. 

One of law enforcement’s greatest fears following a crime spree, murder, or suicide is that other unstable or evil people will copy the behavior. Police coined the term copycat effect after intense media coverage of Jack the Ripper’s murder spree spawned several copycat killings. Loren Coleman, author of the book The Copycat Effect, How The Media and Popular Culture Trigger The Mayhem in Tomorrow's Headlines, writes: “Copycats imitate the previous violent attacks, oftentimes down to specific details as that mirror the previous specifics of the shooter, the victims, and the methods.” I wonder how many senseless crimes might be prevented if the media included less detail in their stories. 

Here’s a final verse to ponder as we consider what we allow into our minds: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—If anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 5:8). 

Jennie is an older woman who watches a lot of television. She likes “to stay informed,” so Dateline, 20/20, and America’s Most Wanted are some of her favorite shows. Day after day she feeds her mind a steady diet of tragedy, crime, and bizarre behavior. It’s not surprising, then, that she has trouble sleeping at night. She keeps a gun by her bedside and regularly calls family and friends to warn them about the latest threat. She is fearful and anxious. 

I’m not saying we should stick our heads in the sand and remain uninformed about legitimate threats. I am saying we should limit our exposure to the dark and evil aspects of our troubled world. The Greek word translated think in Philippians 4:8 is logizomai, which means meditate. I believe if Jenny applied this verse to her television and reading habits and meditated on good and lovely things, she’d sleep better at night, share positive information with her friends and family, and be much less afraid. 

“I read this stuff for entertainment,” some say. “It doesn’t affect me.” Are you sure? A steady diet of chicken wings and soda will affect our bodies in a negative way. A steady diet of crime and wickedness must surely affect our souls. 

Here’s a final litmus test, one I taught my children many years ago when they were trying to decide if a book or movie was OK: Ask yourself, If Jesus was reading over your shoulder or sitting beside you on the couch watching with you, would you feel comfortable? The answer might cast the question in a different light.  

What's your opinion? Is it OK to read and watch media that delves deeply and graphically into the dark parts of our world? I’d love to hear your opinion. Leave a comment below and join the conversation.

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  1. Lori, you made some good points. I know I can't watch or read things with profanity because it sticks in my head even if it doesn't come out of my mouth. My profane words were one of the things God used to convict me I was a sinner in need of salvation. Thanks for being bold enough to call out even Christian writers who are too descriptive of evil doings.

    1. Gail, you make a good point - garbage in, garbage out is a real phenomena. And even if we're successful at keeping. It from coming out, do we really want it in there at all? Thanks for sharing your thoughts.