When I was somewhere around four years old I was the driving force behind my mom’s eradication of her Madonna tapes.
We were in church, in the meeting known as Sacrament Meeting, where the entire congregation gathers to partake of the sacrament and listen to speakers teach about different gospel principles. During a quiet moment little four year old me decided it would be a perfect time to stand up in the pew and serenade the congregation with a song I had heard playing on my mom’s radio.
Like a virgin…
touched for the very first time…
Like a vir-ir-ir-ir-gin…
My mom mas mortified and couldn’t get home fast enough to throw all of her Madonna music and other similar ditties in the trash. I’m working to learn my lesson from her mistake instead of repeating it for myself.
Once upon a time I mentioned that TH and I have specific standards for the type of media we consume. Unfortunately I brought this up to an audience that is largely unfamiliar with the full spectrum of the LDS religion, and so the idea that my husband (then boyfriend) would express dissatisfaction with what I chose to watch was pretty appalling to a lot of you. I guess I forgot that a lot of relationships in the United States aren’t built around a belief system with standards that are so rigid in so many areas. For many things in the Mormon church, certainly not all but many, a bar is set and members are told to at least meet that bar. How far past that guideline you want to aim is up to you.
The official LDS Church statement on media is this:
Whatever media we read, watch, or listen to has an effect on us. Church members are counseled to choose only entertainment and media that are uplifting. Wholesome entertainment promotes good thoughts and righteous choices and allows participants to enjoy themselves without losing the Spirit of the Lord.
Church leaders talk a lot about the care we should take in selecting what we watch. Every six months we have a worldwide weekend of meetings via satellite called General Conference and I always expect at least three speakers to mention the importance of turning a critical eye toward the ideas and images we let into our brain through the types of media we choose. While speaking to the men of the Church our Prophet, Thomas S. Monson said:
Don’t be afraid to walk out of a movie, turn off a television set, or change a radio station if what’s being presented does not meet your Heavenly Father’s standards. In short, if you have any question about whether a particular movie, book, or other form of entertainment is appropriate, don’t see it, don’t read it, don’t participate.
He was quoting from some Church material called the For The Strength of Youth pamphlet. This pamphlet is filled with information regarding the standards of the Church including statements on integrity, health, dating, and media. I used this pamphlet myself while growing up and trying to figure out what kind of life I wanted to live. A few key points from the media section:
Our Heavenly Father has counseled us as Latter-day Saints to seek after “anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” (Articles of Faith 1:13). Whatever you read, listen to, or watch makes an impression on you. Public entertainment and the media can provide you with much positive experience. They can uplift and inspire you, teach you good and moral principles, and bring you closer to the beauty this world offers. But they can also make what is wrong and evil look normal, exciting, and acceptable.
Music can help you draw closer to your Heavenly Father. It can be used to educate, edify, inspire, and unite. However, music may be used for wicked purposes. Music can, by its tempo, beat, intensity, and lyrics, dull your spiritual sensitivity. You cannot afford to fill your minds with unworthy music. Music is an important and powerful part of life. You must consider your listening habits thoughtfully and prayerfully. You should be willing to control your listening habits and shun music that is spiritually harmful. Don’t listen to music that contains ideas that contradict principles of the gospel. Don’t listen to music that promotes Satanism or other evil practices, encourages immorality, uses foul and offensive language, or drives away the Spirit. Use careful judgment and maturity to choose the music you listen to and the level of its volume.
This is the information I heard over and over growing up, and over time I’ve worked to redefine and implement it into my life. It’s not a perfect system, but I try to use both logic and the influence of the Holy Ghost to determine the way God would want me to live. I’m going to list some of the decision I’ve made regarding media consumption in the past, and some of the standards I’m living now, but now that this is not a finite list. There are areas where I could certainly do better, and I acknowledge that. I’m weak, and I often make decisions based on what I want, not on what I think God wants for me. My own feelings about the standards God wants me to live are often markedly different than what another member of the LDS Church determines. One year from now my decisions will probably differ a bit from what I’m listing. Hopefully they will be better, but working towards perfection is hard, and I mess up a lot.
Before you read the list, you should know that I personally rate sexual content as more dangerous for my relationship with God than violence. Certainly the ideal would be to have a media diet completely free of any vulgarity, sexuality, violence, or other “bad” things, but I’m not ready to commit to such a lifestyle quite yet. So I try to keep the sexual content that I ingest to a bare minimum. We believe the sexual relationship between a man and a woman is a sacred thing. Not only because of its ability to create life, but also the way it affects a marital relationship and when treated appropriately can form a unique bond between husband and wife that is hard to replicate in any other way. I try to limit the consumption of sexual media not only because of the belief I have about the sacredness of sex, but also because of the way it affects me personally. I try to keep my thoughts clean and pure, I work to control my temptations, and when I let more and more sexual content into my life I find that to be incredibly difficult. I do not find myself being affected the same way when violence is involved, and so I am much stricter regarding sexuality than violence. That weakness of mine is what drives much of the choices I make concerning media standards.
One other thing. TH and I strive to find a balance that will eliminate a double standard when it comes to how we raise our children. When our children are teenagers we never want to say to them “Oh you can’t watch this because you aren’t old enough.” If they shouldn’t be watching it, we shouldn’t either. It’s going to be easier to eliminate things now than it will be later.
On to some of the choices I’ve made in my life regarding media consumption standards.
The most well-known standard among readers is my decision to no longer watch Friends. Grey’s Anatomy got axed from my life as well. These are shows that focus a lot on the sexual relationships between the main characters, and That Husband urged me to think about the message such storylines send, both to me and my children. I’m sure I don’t need to list all of the other shows I avoid, just think of how often people in the plot sleep together and you can get an idea for yourself. At one point in time I mentioned that I had stopped watching the shows Bones and House after TH had expressed that he wouldn’t like them in the house. Since that time we’ve actually relaxes a bit about those shows. Is that for the better? Maybe not, but like I said this is an evolving system we’re using.
I stopped reading Post Secret. I love the concept, and I certainly don’t think that some of the bad things that happen to people should be repressed. It’s wonderful that so many people have found the help they need through that site. I just didn’t get a good feeling whenever I read it.
I’ve never seen an R rated movie. I think it’s been altered as the MPAA standards have relaxed over time, but when I was growing up the Strength of Youth pamphlet stated that R rated movies were to be avoided, no questions asked. I set that goal for myself and I’ve never given in (although I have a nice list of movies that I’d really like to see if I ever change my mind). I wrote about an experience I had at BYU where I was surrounded by other members who didn’t think the same thing about movie ratings, which you can read in my Formspring response here. I use the site Kids-in-Mind whenever I’m deciding if I want to watch a PG-13 movie or not and as a family we’ve agreed that anything with a sexual content rating of 6 or more on that site is something we would like to avoid.
I don’t read steamy romantic novels, and I’m really careful about what chick lit I will read. I stay away from Glamour and other women’s magazines that feature lots of sex tips. Those are all triggers for me.
Pornography of any kind is out, out, out. This isn’t something I came up with, this is a cut and dried, no arguing about it, worldwide standard for the LDS Church. It’s talked about twice a year at General Conference and many other times throughout the year by the leadership of the Church.
I avoid music that uses extremely vulgar language or excessive amounts. I admit to letting a few “damns” and “hells” pass by without a though. I’ve never listened to the song Birthday Sex and I’m appalled that such a thing played on the radio. I purchased the song American Boy, apparently having only heard it in it’s radio edit form, and was pretty mad when I realized it swears. I busted out my audio editing softward and took that f-word right outta there.
Recently I read the book Fight Club for book club. I’m one of those “once I start reading I hate not finishing” type of people, and so I forced myself to finish. I looked up the plotline on Wikipedia because I was having such a hard time with it that I didn’t see how I was going to finish. Once I knew the big secret behind the storyline I was able to force myself to finish. Now that I look back on that I wish I had just given up. It was too violent, too crude, and I don’t feel good about reading it. Lesson learned.
As I said, this isn’t a finite thing for me. I’m constantly learning and growing and striving to determine where I should draw the line. It’s a work in progress and it takes prayer and thought and listening to the whisperings of the Holy Ghost to help me learn how I can do better than last time with each choice I make. I’ve made mistakes and been lax in the past, and from that I know that I feel better when I am working to eliminate the bad and make room for the good.