Disney has just announced that their eagerly anticipated remake of Beauty and Beast will feature their first clearly and openly gay character and love scene.
Already some Christians are in outcry over this news. Some are even boycotting the film.
As a gay Christian who holds to a traditional understanding of marriage, I often find myself defending the traditional view from the accusation of homophobia. Unfortunately, actions like the rumoured boycotts of Beauty and the Beast make this very hard.
I think there are numerous reasons why boycotting the new Beauty and the Beast will be harmful to the Christian gospel. Not least is that it reeks of hypocrisy - I struggle to think of mainstream films that portray heterosexual relationships in a biblical way yet we don’t hesitate to curl up and watch the complete series of Bridget Jones Diary or tune into Eastenders. To draw the line at a gay character is absurd. It presents a terrible image of a Church which already possesses a reputation of being entrenched and bigoted. I also think it models a terrible example to the next generation.
Boycotting the new Beauty and the Beast will be harmful to the Christian gospel
I came to faith through a church youth group. It was a great group and I developed deep new friendships with other Christian teenagers but I was also in silent turmoil. I desperately wanted to tell my new Christian friends that I was gay, but had no idea how they would react. In the end I summoned up the courage to talk to one of my closest friends. We’ll call her Alice.
Having opened up to her about the fact I was attracted to guys, Alice told me that she didn’t think she could be friends with me anymore. She told me that every time a gay person came on TV, whether a chat show host, or fictional character, her parents simply switched channels or turned it off.
Because of this, Alice had grown up believing she should cut off all interaction with gay people. In reality, I think her parents would have been appalled by this – they have always been welcoming and loving to me, even when my views differed significantly from their own. But the damage was done.
Boycotting this film suggests Christians are offended by the existence of gay people – even if that's not how the boycotter intends it. We need to be aware of how our actions and throwaway comments can shape views and form reactions. If Alice’s parents had taken time to talk about their beliefs and why they believed what they believed rather than just turning the TV off when gay people were on, I think her reaction would have been much more pastoral and measured.
Her reaction, a complete cutting off, was hugely painful to me in my vulnerable and fragile state. I have known many for whom initial reactions like this have been the trigger for abandoning faith and God or the cause of a belief that God hates them. It’s scary to think that our reactions can have eternal consequences for others or present an image of God so different from the example of Jesus, but it’s a reality we shouldn’t take lightly.
I’m so grateful that my story of faith didn’t end at that point – it easily could have. The pain and rejection was very difficult and caused me significant suffering at the time. It wasn’t the theology that hurt me. It was the way of reacting and treating me as a gay person – a reaction built upon seeing her parent’s boycotting of gay people on TV.
We need to prepare our children for the real world of competing views about sexuality
We are in the world for a purpose, that we might share the good news and introduce others to the wonderful and life changing Jesus. Of course we need to be distinctive, of course we need to recognise where we think Scripture differs from our culture. But we need to do this in a way that models love and friendship, not alienation and hypocrisy. What are we modelling to our children?
Think about it this way. If you choose not to see the film or stop your children from seeing it, that is your prerogative. But you should ask yourself, would I do the same for a film in which pre-marital heterosexual sex is shown (or implied)? Rather than the turn-off-the-tv approach that Christians can be guilty of, perhaps we should see the movie with our children then have an honest conversation about the scene in question, if necessary?
The fact is that our children are growing up in a society where gay relationships are a given. If we hold to a traditional biblical view of sexuality then we need to prepare our children for the real world of competing views about sexuality now, rather than try to pretend that LGBT issues don't exist, either in Disney films or in real life.
I’ll leave you with a line from another musical fairy-tale that explores the power and dangers of parenting. (Sondheim, Into the Woods)
Careful the things you say, children will listen.
Careful the things you do, children will see and learn.
Children may not obey, but children will listen.
Children will look to you for which way to turn.
Luke is a writer, speaker and creative working in the Christian charity sector