From Arizona's controversial immigration law to Mel Gibson's recorded rants, I've heard a lot about boycotts lately—and I can't get over who's encouraging them. For me, boycotts conjure up my childhood, when trips to K-mart were rare because of dubious dealings, and the Waldenbooks chain was shunned entirely for selling pornography. Those are just the boycotts I remember, but they always seemed religious in nature.
So it was strange to learn at Salon about a movement under way within Hollywood to boycott Gibson's work over newly released taped "conversations" with his then-girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva (don't believe his rants were bad? Read the transcripts—then decide if you want to hear the recordings). Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams makes no reference to a particular moral or philosophical viewpoint as a context for her piece, but she nonetheless plunges into the moral and aesthetic quandary of shunning Gibson films altogether, musing that he might be "too talented" to boycott.
Yes, it was strange to see boycotts discussed in a mostly secular context, but not altogether surprising. If I were traveling abroad and asked for a summary of U.S. Christians' view of The Passion of the Christ and Gibson—especially after some of the charges made against him—I'd say that generally speaking, he got a pass. When The Passion came out in 2004, a friend invited me to a talk by a scholarly Jew who persuasively argued why he saw anti-Semitism in the film. I didn't know enough to confirm or disprove most of his points, but his argument seemed reasonable, without excessive reliance on emotional appeals. Yet among Christian friends, the buzz about the movie was unabashedly positive, often excited. We seemed too delighted that "our story" was getting major, positive play to engage the more troubling questions possibly raised by the film. It seemed disloyal to admit possible shortcomings, possible prejudice, possibl … sin.
Gibson's rant is not the main issue here. The issue is, what do our opinions of him and those like him—and our decisions of whether to support or shun them—say about our beliefs about humanity? If it were the case that The Passion were a praiseworthy film, and that Gibson were a racist, violent man, need acknowledging the one fact entail denial of the other?
Christians serve a God who had no problem giving words of truth and blessing to Balaam, a man described as angry and abusive to an animal and later reported as among the slain when the Israelites sacked Midian (contrast this with the mercy shown to Rahab and her family). Balaam's sin and inclusion in the subsequent judgment on the Midianites did not make his early words less true, but they do make an honest accounting of him more difficult.
Or, back to movies, take the 1997 Robert Duvall film, The Apostle, about a minister who discovers his wife has cheated on him, attacks her lover (leaving him in a coma), then starts a new ministry in a new town until his past is exposed. When I saw it in the theater, I was in college and at a place in my faith where I didn't like seeing such a flawed man depicted as a passionate follower of God. In my mind, he couldn't be so connected to God and so willfully disregard the basic tenets of his God's character. Either he was "walking with the Lord" and seeking obedience, or had fallen away and, in all his fervent moments of the film, was in denial about his spiritual state.
Looking back on the movie, of course, I can see the parallels to King David much more clearly. But King David has somehow never made me wince as much as Duvall's preacher did. The difference? In one man I see the Psalms; in the other, the sin. But in neither am I seeing much of the God who sees both, yet loves enough to pass the judgment of "death deserved" and run out to welcome home the prodigal son.
That's probably the greatest loss of all, in our tendency to snap superficial judgments of friends and exes, pastors and celebrities alike. Not only are we missing part of the truth about them, we're also missing a bigger picture of God revealed when we acknowledge the pain of seeing tremendous sinfulness and inordinate worth in the same dusty being. And, really, think of that—think of someone whose deeds you find repulsive, then ask yourself what future God would have for them. Is it a life at best lived in penance for his or her crimes to date? Or could even that debased, destructive life be transformed by God into something truly beautiful?
I don't know about you, but if the pain of admitting a person whose films/books/projects I really like is a pretty foul human being in ways that cannot be whited out—if the pain of that could show me just a bit of God's real beauty, I'd rather do the uncomfortable work than redo my shopping or entertainment plans—even knowing that divine beauty will make me give up far greater, harder things.
Anna Broadway is a writer and web editor living in the San Francisco Bay area. She is the author of Sexless in the City: A Memoir of Reluctant Chastity.