Category Archives: Media

Ralphie vs. George Bailey

This morning James Emery White sent out an insightful blog concerning two movie favorites. I thought I’d share it with you. AND … your thoughts are always welcome. -J. P.

A couple of years ago a film crew from our church hit the streets of Charlotte, North Carolina, to produce a “person on the street” video asking people “What comes to your mind when you think of the Christmas story?”

Number one answer?

“The movie.”ralphie-head-logo

Yep, the 1983 “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid” tale from 1940’s Indiana of a nine-year-old boy’s desire for a Red-Ryder Carbon-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle BB-Gun (and, lest we forget, with a compass in the stock).

An intriguing editorial in Time magazine at around the same time noted how A Christmas Story had become the quintessential American film for Christmas, replacing It’s a Wonderful Life. Titled “Generation X-Mas,” it chronicled how an “upstart film became a holiday icon for the post-boomer set.”

As for George Bailey?thanksx-topper-medium

“Not so into him anymore.”

Those from older generations stayed with Bedford Falls, along with Macy’s (Miracle on 34th Street) as their favorite film destinations. But respondents a bit younger, from 18 to 41 years old, granted the “major award” to Scott Fargas, Flick and the Bumpus’ dogs.

Time suggested this as one of the “pop-cultural shifts” such as football overtaking baseball, or salsa defeating ketchup, that “signal bigger changes.”

Perhaps because A Christmas Story is everything It’s a Wonderful Life is not – “satiric and myth-deflating, down to the cranky store Santa kicking Ralphie down a slide.”

Or perhaps it is because of the changing relationship between the community and the individual. Whereas the older films position Christmas as that which “uplifts the suicidal, raises every voice in Whoville, [and] renders peace between Macy and Gimbel,” A Christmas Story “inverts the moral.”

Now it’s the individual Christmas experience that matters. Getting the BB-gun, instead of protecting the local Savings and Loan for the poor, is the point. Or as Time put it, “It’s the individual Christmas that matters. Bedford Falls can take a hike…[it’s not about] angels’ getting their wings. Christmas is about the kids getting their due.”

But perhaps we can go where Time could not.

The great divide between It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story is more than just the radical individualism that marks our day, but what has spawned such individualism. The real divide between the two films is that one retains the idea that Christmas is about the birth of the Christ child, and one does not.

Unless I have missed it, A Christmas Story does not have a single reference, symbol, picture or event that would suggest Christmas is about the birth of Christ, or has religious significance of any kind. A brief snippet of “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is revealed in a downtown scene, but that’s about it. No nativity scenes, no church services, no Christian music – even the department store, Higbees, honors the season not with shepherds or wise men, but with characters from The Wizard of Oz.

It’s a Wonderful Life, on the other hand, was rich in Christian idea and ethos, from traditional Christmas songs celebrating the birth of Christ (the climax of the movie is marked by the spontaneous outburst of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”) to the central character of an angel.

Yet this reflects more than the choice of one movie over another.

An analysis of 48,000 hours of programming by the NRB (National Religious Broadcasters) found that 90 percent of holiday programming did not have a significant spiritual theme; 7 percent had a religious or spiritual theme, but did not refer to Jesus or the biblical story of His birth.

Jesus was the focus of only 3 percent of all Christmas programming.

I’ll confess that A Christmas Story has become one of my favorite movies. The nostalgia of the time, and the way it reveals how Christmas often “works,” runs deep and familiar.

But when I watch it, along with millions of others, I remind myself that while it is Christmas story,

…it is not the Christmas story.

For a taste of that, I need to go back to Bedford Falls.

For a full course meal, I need to go all the way back to Bethlehem.

James Emery White


Adapted from James Emery White, The Church in An Age of Crisis (Baker).

“Generation X-Mas: How an upstart film became a holiday icon for the post-boomer set,” James Poniewozik, Time, December 10, 2007, p. 90. Read the article online.

National Religious Broadcasters analysis can be found in the Winter 2004 edition of Enrichment, and also on the website of Preaching Today (a service of Christianity Today magazine). The website for the NRB is

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.



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Filed under Christmas, Film analyses, Jesus, Johnny Price Mindfield, Media, Religion

Emmy Follow-Up: Hatfields and McCoys

The tragic feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families was recreated on The History Channel and aired this past Spring. Starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton as “Devil” Anse Hatfield and Randall McCoy, respectively, the three-part miniseries drew 62-million viewers.  

Nominated for 16 Emmys, last night Kevin Costner won for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series and Tom Berenger won for Best Supporting Actor.

This localized Civil War, which ran between 1880 to 1891, was fueled by initial transgressions ranging from suspected murder to a stolen pig. But it was rooted on both sides by the basest of sins: pride and an unwillingness to forgive or show mercy. And as a result the feud claimed more than a dozen members of the two families, drew national attention, and prompted the governors of both Kentucky and Virginia to call up their state militias to restore order.

If you’d like to read a good overview of the conflict, go to:

There is a significant – and ultimately ironic – theme that threads its way throughout this saga, a spiritual one.

Anse Hatfield is a man who has no use for God, goes to church only when his wife “drags” him there and when, during the Civil War, he’s encouraged, in the thick of battle, to “make your peace”, he responds, “I never courted God before … I doubt he’d hear me now.”

Randall McCoy, on the other hand, goes to church regularly, talks about God, talks to God (at least in emergencies) and quotes Scripture.

But he seems rather selective in his reading of Scripture, knowing nothing of the call to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4: 31, 32)

Hot-tempered, McCoy also ignores:

Matthew 5:44 – “Love your enemies, and pray for those that persecute you.”

Mark 11:35 – “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him… “

Romans 12:20, 21 – “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

I John 3:15 – “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”

The stark difference between these two men is evident in one particular confrontation:

McCoy: “Devil Anse Hatfield, I rue the day I saved your life. May God damn your eternal soul.”

Hatfield: “That may be, Randall. But I don’t remember God saving your ass that day. We saved each other because that’s what men do in war. Now this all here: this all sits the way it sits cause of us and nobody else. You feel the need to bring up God one more time, whose side he sits on [cocks rifle] you won’t be makin’ the ride home.”

As the violence escalates over the years, costing the lives of some of his own children and the sanity of his wife, McCoy begins to abandon any claim he might make for the goodness of God.

“I prayed to a merciful God who showed us no mercy. Is this his will? My children dead? My wife hurt and my house burned? Where was God? If this was his will, what kind of God is that?”

Having turned more and more to drink, McCoy shows up for what turned out to be the final confrontation between the two families: The Battle of Grapevine”, in 1888. Completely drunk he cries out, “The law be damned! Hatfields be damned! God be damned! Damn you all to Perdition!”

It’s a relatively short skirmish and both Ansel Hatfield and Randall McCoy live through it, although Hatfield’s youngest son is killed.

After that, it is Hatfield who decides enough blood has been spilled. It is time for the fighting and killing to stop. And in a somewhat heartless manner, he brings it all to an end.

Years later, Randall McCoy, in a deranged, drunken outburst, ends up perishing in a house fire.

Ansel Hatfield, on the other hand, is shown having come to a faith in Jesus as his Savior and being baptized in the river.

These two men, to the extent that their lives were accurately portrayed, demonstrate some very important dimensions of the Gospel.

Regarding Randall McCoy:

1)      Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 7:21)

2)      He also said, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”(Matthew 12:34)  and

3)      “By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:20). Then,

4)      The Scriptures describe the fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22, 23)

Regarding Ansel Hatfield: He exemplifies Jesus’ parable recorded in Matthew 20. No matter how late someone responds to Jesus’ invitation, he is as welcome as the one who came first.


Filed under Art, Christian benevolence, Evil, Film analyses, Film analysis, Jesus, Media, Religion, Television

On Chick-fil-A: Another’s Perspective

With controversy continuing to swirl around Chick-fil-A, the following blog, posted last week by James Emery White, has some important insights.

The Chick-fil-A Mirror

Every now and then an event comes along that offers a unique reflection of our world. A mirror, if you will, of what our culture has become.

One took place this past week through the catalyst of three words from the CEO of a restaurant chain:

“Guilty as charged.”

Dan Cathy, president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A, gave an interview to Baptist Press. Correctly saying that there is no such thing as a “Christian business,” he did offer that organizations such as his can operate on biblical principles “asking God and pleading with God to give us wisdom on decisions we make about people and the programs and partnerships we have.”

Then came the match that lit the fire.

When asked about the company’s support of the traditional family, Cathy simply said, “Well, guilty as charged.”

He then went on to say, “We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business…our restaurants are typically led by families…We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families.”

Gasp! How dare he say that when it comes to families, his support goes with the historic, traditional understanding of millennia that reflects his Judeo-Christian values.

At least that seemed to be the collective response from such cultural epicenters as the media.

The Baptist Press interview was picked up by the Huffington Post, Associated Press, USAToday, Los Angeles Times and more – most with the phrase “anti-gay” in the headline – fueled by the “revelation” that the privately-owned business donated to Christian groups that opposed homosexuality.

[Of course, overlooked were the millions of dollars Chick-fil-A gives each year to other charitable causes. For example, they fund foster care programs, schools of higher learning, and children’s camps. They provide scholarships for the employees to attend college, and this past Friday, they provided free meals for the police force in Aurora, Colorado.]

Many on twitter and in the blogosphere immediately labeled them a hate group.

Yes, a hate group.

Then the mayor of Boston vowed to block Chick-fil-A from opening a restaurant in the city because it is a business “that discriminates against a population.”

The Jim Henson Company of Kermit and Miss Piggy fame said they will stop providing toys for the fast food chain’s kids’ meals because the company won’t endorse same-sex marriage. They plan on donating money already received from Chick-fil-A to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

Ed Helms, star of the sitcom The Office, publicly promised a personal boycott.

Okay, let’s put our big-boy pants on for a minute.

Cathy never uttered the words “anti-gay” in the interview. All he did was state, when pointedly asked, his support for the traditional family as outlined in the Bible.

Further, the company made it clear following Cathy’s comments that they had no intention of entering the policy debate over same-sex marriage, and that the Chick-fil-A “culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.”

And indeed, there has never even been a hint of discrimination in Chick-fil-A’s history.

So Chick-fil-A is not a hate group, does not discriminate, and is not actively working in the realm of public policy.

It just has personal core values.

But my, what a mirror this has provided, and the reflection is worth noting in detail.

Fifty years ago, any support of homosexual practice would have ended your business. Now, the threat to your business is support of the traditional family.

It is a fascinating progression that has taken place in American culture.

First, classical Christian orthodoxy was marginalized.

Second, it became ostracized.

Third, it became demonized.

Fourth, it became penalized.

And now the move would seem to be to have it criminalized.

Defining discrimination as disagreement, and then disagreement as a hate crime, is one of the more frightening developments of our time.

But developed it has.

As the Baptist Press reporter has since said of the tempest over Cathy’s remarks, “I don’t understand why that’s a bad thing all of a sudden. It was not an anti-gay statement. It was a pro-family statement.”

But that’s the point.

That’s the reflection given to us in this mirror.

Welcome to our world.

James Emery White


“’Guilty as charged,’ Cathy says of Chick-fil-A’s stand on biblical & family values”; read online.

“Chick-fil-A steps out of public debate on gay marriage”; read online.

“Boston mayor vows to keep Chick-fil-A out of city”; read online.

“Some Chick-fil-A news reports called ‘distorted’”; read online.

“In Defense of Eating at Chick-fil-A”; read online.

“Huckabee launches ‘Chick-fil-A Day’ for Aug. 1”; read online.

“Muppets company severs ties with Chick-fil-A over gay marriage stance”; read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is A Traveler’s Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying through the Christian Life (InterVarsity Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.


Filed under Capitalism, Christian benevolence, Law, Media, Politics, Religion


As everyone knows by now, 24-year-old James Holmes is accused of killing 12 and injuring 58 in a shooting massacre Friday morning, July 20, in Aurora, Colorado, at a packed theater of moviegoers watching the premiere of the latest Batman movie. This has given rise to collateral discussions across the nation of at least three additional concerns: guns, the media, and God.


The country seems to be poised for another round in the debate of whether gun-ownership creates violence or prevents it.

Within hours of the massacre, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an ardent gun-control advocate,  said  “But maybe it’s time the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they’re going to do about it, because this is obviously a problem across the country. And everybody always says, ‘Isn’t it tragic?’”

“I mean, there are so many murders with guns every day. It’s just got to stop,” he said. “And instead of these two people, President Obama and Gov. Romney, talking in broad things about they want to make the world a better place. OK. Tell us how. And this is a problem.”

Bloomberg added: “No matter where you stand on the Second Amendment, no matter where you stand on guns, we have a right to hear from both of them, concretely, not just in generalities, specifically, ‘What are they going to do about guns?’”

Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas said he could not understand why there was apparently no-one in the theater with a weapon who could take gunman James Holmes out before he could create more mayhem.

“It does make me wonder, with all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying a gun that could have stopped this guy more quickly?” Gohmert asked.

As a gun owner with intentions of eventually securing a concealed weapon permit, I think Gohmert is asking the more pressing question.

Incidentally, support for gun control has fallen in recent years. Gallup says 78 percent wanted stricter gun laws in 1990, falling to 62 percent by 1995. By 2007 it was 51 percent and last year just 44 percent.


As the elections in November draw closer, we can – sadly – expect members of the news media to allow their objectivity to give way to personal bias in their reporting. However I’d be alarmed if we had a more egregious example than ABC  reporter Brian Ross trying to tie the Colorado massacre to the Tea Party on “Good Morning America” after discovering the Colorado Tea Party Patriots had a member called James Holmes.

Ross admitted on air that he did not know whether the two men were the same, but still went ahead with his claim that the tragedy in Aurora could be linked to the grassroots group.

ABC later apologized online and Ross tweeted, “Earlier I reported incorrectly that the shooting suspect might be tied to the Tea Party. I apologize for the mistake.” Those two statements would have been seen by just a fraction of the number of people who watched his original report and I’m unaware of any subsequent apologies made over the network.

Colorado Tea Party Patriots does have a member called James Holmes. But he is 52. The alleged shooter in Aurora is 24. The two men are unrelated.

Brian Ross needs to resign, or ABC needs to fire him.


Understandably, whenever tragedy strikes questions of God, his role and his goodness come to the forefront. As a follower of Jesus, here are five personal convictions:

  • God infuses every moment and every event with meaning and gives us confidence that He understands what we are going through. God’s knowledge of all events means nothing is insignificant to Him. If God knows when a sparrow falls, He certainly knows when we face tragedy (Matthew 10:29-31). In fact, God assured us that we would face trouble in this world (John 16:33) and that He has experienced our struggles personally (Hebrews 2:14-18; Hebrews 4:15).


  • God has sovereign control over all things, but it is important to remember that God is not the source of tragedy. The vast majority of human suffering is caused by sin, all too often the sin of other people. For instance, a mass murder is the fault of the murderer disobeying the moral law of God (Exodus 20:13; Romans 1:18-21).


  • While God is perfectly capable of stopping tragedies before they begin, sometimes He chooses not to. While we may not know why, we do know that He is perfect, just, and holy, and so is His will.


  • Also, the suffering we experience in this world does three things. It leads us to seek God, it develops our spiritual strength, and it increases our desire for heaven (Romans 8:18-25; James 1:2-3; Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 1:7).


  • Tragic events demonstrate much of their meaning in the way we react to them. C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” This does not mean that God causes tragedy, but that He uses our reaction to tragedy to speak to us.


Filed under Evil, Jesus, Media