First it was on, then it was off, then it was on again. On Christmas Day, Sony pictures released its controversial film The Interview amidst fears and concerns for the safety of those who would attend the film. The events leading up to this release are full of mystery and plenty of drama. It’s a drama that we can’t just stand by and watch, but rather should evaluate carefully from a Christian worldview.
USA Today reports that a cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment began in late November by a group calling themselves the Guardians of Peace. This attack resulted in a canceled movie release, leaked personal information, apologies from Hollywood executives caught in embarrassing e-mail conversations, and ultimately word from U.S. officials that North Korea was behind it all. The fact that it is believed that North Korea is involved is the part that begins to complicate things quickly.
It all started when employees experienced an unexpected message on their screens that announced, “Hacked by #GOP.” The message continued, “Warning: we have already warned you, and this is just a beginning. We continue until our request be met. We have obtained all of your internal data including your secrets and top secrets.” It soon became clear that this was not just a threat. The scope and magnitude of the problem caused many theaters to refuse to show the film, which was slated to debut on Christmas Day. Sony quickly responded by canceling the scheduled release of the film. Many were critical of Sony for canceling the release of the film, and responded with much talk of refusing to be bullied by terrorists or criminals. President Obama said quite pointedly, “It was a mistake. We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States” (USA Today).
Others said, “It appears Sony Pictures Entertainment is unclear on American values. The cowardly stance that theater owners took was one thing, but Sony had the opportunity to send a clear message to the hackers who were reading the company’s e-mail. Instead, it cowered and, in doing so, is an embarrassment to millions of Americans in this nation, particularly those who’ve served in the military” (USA Today).
In short order, the release was back on. Sony reversed its decision and made the film available for digital rental and purchase online, as well as in a limited number of theaters across the country. North Korea responded in turn by saying President Obama was like a “monkey” and blamed the U.S. for engineering the country’s recent Internet disruption.
What will the saga bring next? Are we surprised by the attack on the offices of a satirical magazine by terrorists? Clearly the situation is escalating out of control and a lot of people are offended. The most often cited concern on the American side is “freedom.” President Obama made reference to “censorship,” and @edzsplace tweeted, “This move just gave the power of the First Amendment to any crazy person in the world. Sony should release it for free everywhere.”
Certainly the Christian is sensitive to “censorship.” Baptist Christians in particular support free pursuit of the truth, knowing that every person must be convinced of the truth for themselves. We abhor coerced worship and confessions. If this were all about truth and the freedom to express that truth, then indeed our hackles would be raised at perceived bullying. For example, as recently as Jan 6, the New York Times reported that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced he had fired the chief of the city’s Fire Rescue Department, Kelvin Cochran, after Cochran gave workers a religious book he wrote containing passages that condemn homosexuality.
Cochran’s book, Who Told You That You Were Naked?, counts homosexual acts among a number of “vile, vulgar and inappropriate” activities that serve to “dishonor God.” Cochran believed that “he had not acted in a discriminatory way toward gay people, and said that he had asked for, and received, permission from the proper bureaucratic channels to write the book—an assertion Mr. Reed’s office disputes. . . . Mr. Cochran said that three city employees had received a copy of the book without asking for one. But he said that he had given it out only to members of the department whom he had established ‘a personal relationship with as Christians.’” Al Mohler comments, “He’s out of a job for having written a book that was basically privately published and very narrowly distributed in which he stated something that is fundamental to evangelical moral conviction—that basically amounts to nothing more, or at least a little more, than actually quoting the Bible, quoting the Scriptures.”
But in the end, the controversy surrounding The Interview is not just about truth; there is an element of this that is about freedom of expression. Sometimes our freedom to express ourselves can create an offense. From what I have seen of the previews, there does seem to be an attempt at humor that makes fun of our own ineptitude and plays on our ability to laugh at ourselves. It also appears, however, that the plot revolves around an assassination attempt of a living person. Nobody enjoys being mocked.
There is one thing that a Christian should understand better than anyone else. God has taught us in His Word that sometimes freedom is something we can voluntarily give up for the sake of our brethren, especially if our freedom may cause an offense. In Romans 14, the apostle Paul starts off with two brothers who each have a different view of what they may eat. One believes he may eat all things; the other is strictly vegetarian. Unfortunately, it can end up that one despises his brother who won’t eat, and the other judges his brother who does eat. Paul goes on to illustrate it further and refers to one brother who esteems one day above another, and another brother who esteems every day alike. Paul seems to make the case that each must be fully convinced in their own mind and either brother is equally capable of bringing glory to God in what they choose to do. The danger is repeated: one brother shows contempt and the other judges. Then Paul makes a key statement as it applies to my point in this article. He says, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way” (Romans 14:13). You can’t obey this verse without being willing to freely give up a right you may believe you have for the sake of a brother and the cause of Christ.
Christians ought to know that there are certain freedoms that do not have to be demanded. Insisting on my rights can lead to conflict in the body, and nothing illustrates that better than what is playing out on the world stage in front of us right now.
Wayne Hart is pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church, Grimes, Iowa.