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Cancel Culture, Boycotts, & Rainbow Flags (The Chosen Controversies)

Updated: Jan 28

An online instigator recently began calling for a boycott of The Chosen. The reason? A random, low-level camera operator had a small rainbow gay pride flag attached to his camera, which could just barely be seen in a video documenting the filming of The Chosen Season 4. The instigator (who I'm not naming because he doesn't deserve the recognition) made the slanderous claim that this was proof that the creators of The Chosen had given in to "the Woke mob" and deserved to be boycotted.


As I'm sure you can already tell, I hold very little respect for this supposed "controversy." The instigator is just seeking attention for himself by leeching onto the popularity of The Chosen. And yet people have already begun emailing me asking about this nonsense, and so let me lay out a few reasons why you shouldn't join in this boycott.


The image of a small rainbow flag pinned to a camera that generated the controversy
The image of a small rainbow gay pride flag pinned to a camera that generated the controversy

Practical and Legal Factors

On a production as large and complex as The Chosen, employees and contractors are hired from a variety of religious backgrounds and lifestyles. There are practical reasons why this is necessary. A production like The Chosen might not always be able to find practicing evangelical Christians who are skilled and experienced enough to fill every role. It's also likely that certain aspects of the production are sub-contracted to smaller companies that have their own employment rules. Moreover, for a production as large as The Chosen, policing the beliefs, lifestyles, and personal effects of every minor employee and contractor would be onerous and draconian.


There are also legal factors to consider. Since The Chosen is a for-profit business and not a church, it's illegal for it to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, particularly for a low-level, functional positions like camera operators. It would also be illegal for it fire the man because he displayed small gay pride flag. The show would get sued. And that's a good thing. The same laws that protect a man from getting fired for wearing a gay pride pin also protects Christians working in secular organizations from getting fired for wearing the cross. We live in a free society where you can't just fire people because they think or live differently than you do.


Affirmation vs. Biblical Tolerance vs. Persecution

When the instigator attacked The Chosen on Twitter, the Twitter account of The Chosen replied:

Just like with our hundreds of cast and crew who have different beliefs (or no belief at all) than we do, we will work with anyone on our show who helps us portray or honor the authentic Jesus. We ask that audiences let the show speak for itself and focus on the message, not the messenger, because we’ll always let you down.

In response, some people began claiming that The Chosen was affirming sin. They're wrong.


I hold to a traditional biblical sexual ethic. I believe churches, parents, and other institutions have a responsibility to articulate what the Bible teaches about sex and to not condone sexual activity outside the confines of biblical marriage. I'm against affirming any practice that the Bible says is sin and claiming that it's acceptable behavior for Christians. But I don't see anything like that in the above response.


What The Chosen Twitter account said was that - as a business - The Chosen is willing to work with people from a variety of beliefs and lifestyles. This is what biblical toleration looks like. We are not called to ostracize non-Christians and refuse to work with them on account of their beliefs or lifestyles. Local church congregations sometimes do need to excommunicate Christians who are living in persistent sin, but that's a very different thing.


Paul makes this distinction clear:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

It's not our business to try to punish non-Christians for being non-Christian. Judging them is God's business. Nor are we called to "go out to the world" - i.e. to separate ourselves completely from non-Christians and only work with Christians. Instead, by working alongside our non-Christians neighbors with love, wisdom, and gentleness, we are meant to be salt and light, pointing them to the beauty of the Gospel.


The creators of The Chosen have not affirmed the lifestyle of the camera operator. They have simply chosen to tolerate working with him in spite of his lifestyle. But that's not enough for the boycotters. They want to punish and persecute this non-Christian by trying to get him fired from his job. I don't see any biblical precedent for that. And I struggle to see how that reflects the lowly and gentle way that Christ reached out to tax collectors, sinners, and Gentiles.



The Witness of The Chosen

As I've already noted, I think it is the responsibility of Christian institutions to pass on biblical beliefs about sexuality - among many other things. Preachers and parents shouldn't be so worried about offending secular sensibilities that they avoid articulating biblical teachings. But there are times for boldly proclaiming biblical truths that are offensive - and there are also times for winsomely building bridges and sharing the parts of the Bible that are intriguing and attractive to outsiders.


The Chosen is an adaptation of the Gospels and there is no direct discussion of homosexuality in the Gospels. That doesn't mean we should ignore the clear teaching about sexuality that is present in both the Old Testament and the letters of Paul. And it also doesn't mean that Jesus was apathetic about the issue or had a view at odds with Torah. But what it does mean is that you can do a 100% faithful adaptation of the Gospels without addressing homosexuality. An adaptation of the Gospels doesn't have to be used as ammunition in the culture war between anti-woke conservatives and woke progressives. It can - should - focus on what the Gospels themselves focus on: the beauty of Jesus, faith, and grace. In doing so, it can build bridges that can help non-Christians engage with some of the biblical teachings that they find more difficult.


The production of The Chosen itself also has the potential to be a space for Christians to build bridges with non-Christians. The presence of non-Christians on the set of a biblical adaptation means that they will be exposed to the gospel. I don't know why we'd want to kick a non-Christian off the set, or single him out for public shame and persecution based on his beliefs or lifestyle.


The Hypocrisy of Christian Cancel Culture

Over the past several years, I can't even count how many times I've heard Christians complain about cancel culture - and for good reason. Cancel culture is a vicious, destructive, and unbiblical. So it baffles why the same Christians who have been most vocal about criticizing cancel culture now want to imitate its worst practices. Imagine if the situation was reversed. What if a Christian camera operator on a Hollywood set had a small, inconspicuous cross or a Christian flag on his camera and he got fired - or it led to the boycott of the film by secularists. Christians and other conservatives would be livid - and they would have every right to be. In a diverse society, the beliefs and lifestyle of a low-level, functional employee, like a camera operator, shouldn't affect his employment and they also shouldn't be held against the company he works for.


The instigator calling for the boycott claims that he's just holding The Chosen accountable. But this isn't the biblical model for accountability. Jesus lays out a clear process for how Christians hold other Christians accountable:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:15-20, ESV)

Unlike cancel culture, biblical accountability is personal, not public, local, not directed at people you don't even know, and truthful, not based on exaggeration and slander. And the goal of accountability is to deal with concrete sin perpetrated against someone. Who did the creators of The Chosen sin against in this situation? Who would have even noticed the presence of a tiny rainbow pride flag on a random camera operator's equipment if the instigator hadn't been searching for ammunition he could use to defame The Chosen?


If the congregations in which the creators of The Chosen participate believe a sin has taken place, that's their business to deal with. It's not the business of some random influencer with no immediate knowledge of the situation or people involved. Moreover, the biblical means of accountability is not boycotting a business; it's exhorting individuals in private - and eventually removing them from church membership and denying them communion if they refuse to repent.


How to Judge Artwork

As I've argued in other places, a film or show like The Chosen should be judged on its own merits and not the merits (or demerits) of its contributors. This is especially true with regard to minor, functional contributors like cameramen, who have virtually no influence on the message or worldview of the artwork, but it's even true with regard to primary contributors like directors and actors.


If you disagree, I challenge you to list out all of your favorite books, movies, songs, shows, and other art. Now go and research the personal lives of all the figures that contributed. To be truly consistent with this situation, you'd have to look into the lives of every minor contributor but, to make things simple, just focus on the big names involved. Just see how many of your favorites are made by artists who had unbiblical beliefs or engaged in some form of sexual immorality (which, keep in mind, includes heterosexual activity outside of marriage and unjustified divorce and remarriage) or who practiced slavery or racism or anti-Semitism or who were violent, deceitful, or greedy. You're not going to have many favorites left.


On Twitter, a couple of the cast members from The Chosen responded to the instigator in a manner that some might be construed as affirming homosexual practice. It was ambiguous, so I don't know for sure what those actors actually believe and, honestly, I don't care. Unless their personal beliefs about sexuality influence the final product in a substantial manner, why does it matter? The show is what it is. The beliefs of its contributors can't magically turn it into something else or alter its meaning or message.


Talismanic Thinking

Some people seem to think that the presence of a small pride flag on the set of The Chosen can somehow pollute or defile the show. It's almost as if they view the flag as a talisman with magical powers. There's no innate power to the mere presence of an object on a movie set. It doesn't mean the show is magically going to contaminate those who watch it. That's not biblical thinking - that's a superstitious, pagan way of viewing the world.


The De-formative Effect of Slander & Outrage

Instead of worrying about talismans, Christians need to worry about what can actually defile us. According to Jesus:

“What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23, ESV)

James also notes:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27, ESV)

And Proverbs has all kinds of warnings against anger and slander, like:

A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression. (Prov. 29:22, ESV)

or

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. (Prov. 6:16-19, ESV)

I'm concerned that some Christians, who (rightly) are worried about the church being polluted by the world's unbiblical sexual practices, sometimes fail to see how the church can also be polluted by anger, falsehood, and gossip. These are also ways of the world that the church must stand against. Undeserved, unmeasured, misdirected outrage has the power to corrupt our souls and turn us into desiccated husks, incapable of mercy, grace, and love. It's much more dangerous than whatever small personal effects a non-Christian may carry around with him on the set of a TV show.



The Need for Discernment

The Bible calls us to be discerning about the voices we pay attention to. In discussing what leaders we should listen to, James points out:

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18, ESV)

A man who makes a name for himself by instigating needless controversy and making slanderous accusations may be wise according to the ways of this world but he does not have the true wisdom that comes from above. Brothers and sisters, we should not listen to men like this. They are manipulative deceivers and have nothing to offer us but disorder and conflict. They may put on airs of being merciful and caring but their actual conduct betrays them. Do not let them deceive you and turn you against a work of art that is beautiful, truthful, and good.


Update: Dallas Jenkins responds to the Pride Flag Controversy

Dallas Jenkins recently shared his own thoughts on the controversy related to the rainbow pride flag.


 

If you liked this post, you might want to check out some of my other posts on The Chosen and Bible adaptation. I have Bible studies/discussion guides for each episode of The Chosen Seasons 1-3, blogs exploring how The Chosen adapts key biblical figures, and articles exploring the controversial nature of adaptation. I hope you enjoy them!


The Chosen Season 4


The Chosen Season 3


Adapting Biblical Characters Series


Exploring The Chosen with Youth or Small Group [Discussion Guides]

Season 3

Season 2

Season 1

Specials


The Chosen Controversies Series


How to Discuss The Chosen - and Why


Themes & Theology of The Chosen [Exclusive for BMC Members]

Season 4


Season 1

Specials


Artist Interviews (The Bible Artist Podcast)


Mailbag Q&R


The Chosen Thematic Viewing Guides


Beyond The Chosen


Other Bible Adaptations