Censorship. Every time I hear this word, something deep within me groans. Oh no, hear it comes again. It pits people against each other, invites judgment, kills creativity, and leaves artists afraid of the church. Censorship. It just sounds like the scrape of bars being wedged to cover a window.
The Christian faith is based on a grand narrative—a lovesick God rescuing his beautiful bride, a warrior king reclaiming surrendered territory. The story is epic, romantic, rings with the promise of a true happily ever after. But there are places in the story that are also ugly, gory, grotesque. We haven’t reached the happily ever after just yet. The bride—we’ve given our heart away, slept around, shed blood, drank ourselves into misery and certainly cast more than a few blasphemies toward heaven. But the church—we try to cover that up, refuse to acknowledge the way things were, the way our hearts can still tend to be.
We try to wipe the slate clean…but then we lose the story.
Without obstacles, story wouldn’t exist. The plot would flop. No one sighs with contentment when they close a book where the prince proposes and he and the princess marries, end of story, no complications, no opportunities for the prince to prove what his love for the princess can overcome. No one even reads those books. They don’t get published. They’re boring.
I’m not trying to justify sin, arguing that because it makes for an interesting story it suddenly becomes acceptable or even necessary. But I am saying that it’s part of our story, and it deserves to be told.
The ugliness of sin is ugly, but I find it makes the grace of God so much more breathtaking. And the ugliness is part of my story, part of our story. So when it comes to censorship, I think the church is so afraid that they miss the beauty and poignancy of their own story. I think that censorship doesn’t matter as much as we think it does.
I respect personal censorship; I have bridges I refuse to cross as well. But I also think that a swear word can carry a powerful message if used in the right context. I also think the power of that message will be lost if it is tossed around at every stubbed toe or overslept alarm. So, I think there is a balance.
A lot of what the church wants to censor, they probably have a right too. Besides being vulgar, it’s just bad art. Every time modern media wants to spice up a story they throw in a few more expletives and/or a sex scene and hope the movie or the book gets better. But they don’t craft the plot, hone the characterization, ask themselves if their characters really want to cuss or get laid or if they have something more unique to say. Most stories would be better without the jacked-up ratings.
However, there are moments when ugliness needs to be allowed to reveal itself for the sake of the story, because the world is broken and cries out for honesty, because it makes grace look more beautiful, more powerful. But the church is scared to allow the ugliness to speak because they think it is just part of the overwritten mass of moral smuck. I find the loss sad. And I find the tension difficult when I choose something edgy for my work with careful purposefulness—because it serves the story—and still find the church ready to shy away.
As an artist, I find it my job to challenge the church, to tilt her perspective, push her to find beauty in something outside of her Sunday morning box. But it’s also my job to respect her, to honor where she is at, to compromise and know what my audience can handle, to be gracious towards those who still don’t want to look.
I don’t really know where the lines should be drawn. I don’t want to be the one to draw them for everyone else, and I don’t want everyone else to try and draw them for me. I don’t think it should be about lines. It should be about story. And when we can’t see the narrative through all of the fences, we are missing a piece of the redemption process God wants us to experience. But I’m still learning, so these are just my thoughts.