Although there have been rumors about supposedly gay characters in Disney films of the past, Disney is officially introducing a gay character in its upcoming live-action film, Beauty and the Beast. The issue is not the mere existence of a gay character, for gay people are obviously as much a part of our culture as anyone else. The question is whether Disney uses this character as a way of promoting a certain view of sex and relationships that Christians may find objectionable.
Christians will be tempted to respond in a number of different ways. I don’t pretend to have the right answer for how Christians should respond. In fact, I am not sure there even is one right answer for Christians to embrace.
Nevertheless, here are six thoughts for reflection:
1. We should not be surprised. Given how our culture has become more accepting of homosexuality, and the 2015 SCOTUS ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states, we should not be surprised at all that Disney introduces a gay character into one of its classic films. In fact, any Christian who is surprised has simply not been paying attention to culture.
2. The fact that Disney introduces a gay character NOW is very telling. There were obviously extensive discussions within Disney leadership about whether they should introduce a gay character now, and if so, what the narrative of this character should be. Disney certainly weighed the potential economic backlash from such a move and decided that the benefits outweigh the costs. Regardless of our personal thoughts on why Disney did this, we should not miss the larger cultural indicator this movie represents.
3. Entertainment is a powerful form of persuasion. We must not forget how powerfully movies and other forms of entertainment shape how people think about the world. And they especially influence young people, which is the target audience for this new film. As John Stonestreet and I lay out in our book Same-Sex Marriage, the largest forces that have shaped how our culture views marriage and sexuality are such as shows like Will & Grace and Modern Family.
4. We need to be thoughtful in how we respond, not reactive. It is tempting for Christians to respond in anger, fear, and disgust. Like some designers who have refused to dress Melania Trump (and many Christian efforts of the past), there is a temptation to mount a boycott against Disney. But before doing so, we ought to really reflect on whether this would be effective and also what message it communicates to the broader culture. Whether it is intended or not, boycotts often communicate an “us – vs. – them” mentality. Is this what we want to communicate to non-believers in our wider culture and also to kids within the church who wrestle with same-sex attraction?
5. Ask what motivation Disney may have for doing this. It may be tempting to think that Disney executives have an anti-family and anti-Christian motivation. Some may. But I find it hard to believe that this is their primary motivation. In fact, I think many are motivated to genuinely help kids who wrestle with their sexuality. They probably believe this is truly the compassionate thing to do. Do I disagree with their worldview and methodology? Absolutely. But can we still be charitable towards their motivations and find common ground on the desire to help kids with same-sex attraction?
6. Use this as an opportunity to teach kids a biblical worldview of sex and marriage. As the new release of Beauty and the Beast makes clear, there are prevailing ideas in our culture that are at odds with Christian morality. This, of course, is not new today. It was true in ancient Rome and it will continue to be true in the future. As Christians, we are not responsible for how non-believers think and act, but we are responsible for how we respond and for helping those within the church think Christianly (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
Will you use this as an opportunity to help students today wrestle with these big questions: What is a biblical view of sex and marriage? Why does the Bible reserve sex for marriage between one man and woman? How should Christians think about movies with elements at odds with the Christian worldview? What is a truly Christian response to a film of this sort?
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org, where you can find the original version of this article.