President of Morality in Media
New York, NY, December 29, 2009
Over the Christmas weekend, my wife and I went to see “The Blind Side,” a film about an affluent white family in Memphis who took Michael Oher, a homeless African American youth, into their home and made him part of their family. As a result of the Tuohy family’s out-of-the-ordinary Christian kindness, Oher turned his life around and became a success on the football field and in the classroom.
For those who aren’t football fans, the film is entitled “The Blind Side” because Michael Oher became one the nation’s top left offensive tackles while playing at the University of Mississippi. It is the job of the left offensive tackle to protect the quarterback’s “blind side” from defensive players whose job it is to get to the quarterback when he drops back to pass. In a day when quarterbacks drop back to pass frequently, the left offensive tackle position is considered one of the most important; and talented, motivated players are highly prized.
I must say that I was tempted to see the film weeks ago when my wife was out of town on a business trip. After all, she has never been a football fan! But we enjoy going to a theater together, and these days we seldom hear about a film we would like to see. That’s because Hollywood rarely makes a film for adults which has a morally uplifting message and that respects standards of decency. Furthermore, even though this film is about football, it is told from the perspective of the woman who opened her home to Michael Oher. It’s a film both guys and gals can enjoy.
If I may brag just a little, at one point in the film Michael Oher’s character lines up against another player during a football practice, while college coaches interested in recruiting Oher watch in anticipation. My wife asked, “What’s that?” I said, “It’s a one-on-one drill.” She then asked, “What’s going to happen?” I then said, “Watch.” At which point, Oher’s character fires out of his stance and knocks the defensive player back like he is a standup blocking dummy!
I can relate to that since I played left offensive tackle in high school and college and was better at it than most. In the interests of full disclosure I must also say that in my day (1963-1970) a good left offensive tackle wasn’t prized as he is today, and Michael Oher is a much better football player than I ever hoped to be!
I didn’t decide to write this brief missive, however, to extol the importance of a great left offensive tackle like Michael Oher. I am writing because I think there is a message in this film that those of us on the “religious right” need to hear.
The movement that became known as the “religious right” was launched in the late 1970s in response to the sexual revolution and growing attacks on religious freedom. In my opinion, the threat to children, to family life, and to religious freedom was real and merited a strong response, both then and now.
But as I look back, I think that those of us who joined the movement, whether as earnest volunteers or as reluctant draftees, had a “blind spot.” We saw the evil flooding in from the “right side” of the line (e.g., abortion, amoral sex education in the public schools, “gay rights,” pornography, the decline of standards in the mainstream media, hostility to religion in the courts, etc.), but for one reason or another didn’t see the evil coming at us from the “left side.”
Part of the “evil” on the left side was the result of the devastation that slavery, segregation, discrimination, the sexual revolution and the loss of our nation’s industrial base was having and would have on the Black community.
Part of this “blindness” may have been the result of racism; but from my experience with the “religious right” in New York City, that wasn’t the case. We welcomed participation from Blacks and Latinos.
Perhaps I am wrong, but I think the “blindness” was primarily the result of two factors. First, most whites had little day-to-day contact with Blacks, apart from places where people work. We didn’t know much about the needs of the Black community in general or Black families in particular and apparently didn’t think we had any responsibility to find out. Second, many were deluded into thinking that the federal government’s “Great Society” initiative, which was launched with fanfare in the 1960s, had solved (or would solve) the “race problem.” It didn’t.
Whatever the explanation, in the 1970s and 1980s many “morally conservative” Christians stepped into the political arena to defend moral and family values against growing attacks from the courts, media, schools and “gay activists.” In my opinion, we were right to do so, but we missed the mark when we failed to see other matters that needed our attention, like chronic unemployment, family breakdown, failing public schools, and crime in Black communities.
What I find particularly disturbing about our failure to “see” the dire needs in many Black communities is that so many African Americans are Christians. While Christians are called to do good to “all men,” we are called “especially” to do good to those who are of the household of faith. We are also called to lay down our lives for “the brethren” and to love not just in word but also “in deed.”
Over the Thanksgiving holiday my wife and I visited a large church in California. In literature handed out by ushers and during the service, much was made of an effort to assist a small village in a foreign country. This, of course, was well and good, but why wasn’t the church also partnering with one or more nearby Black or Hispanic churches serving in needy communities?
Towards the end of “The Blind Side” Sandra Bullock’s character talks about young African American males in Memphis whose lives were tragically snuffed out as a result of violent crime. Similar stories appear in the New York City newspapers, where I live, as they do in many other newspapers across the country.
As I was thinking about what I might write in this missive, I was reminded of a passage in the Book of Proverbs (24:11-12), which reads in part: “If thou forbear to deliver those who are drawn to death, and those that are ready to be slain. If thou say, ‘We didn’t know it,’ does not he that ponders the heart consider it? And he that keeps your soul, does he not know it?” Of course He does!
In response to my comment that Christians in the white community need to reach out to Christians in the African American community, a Christian friend responded by saying that Christians avoid doing so because problems in the Black community seem hopeless. He might have added, “And it can be dangerous too.”
In some cases, perhaps little if anything can be done. But with God all things are possible, and I think it is better to do whatever good we can than do nothing at all.
In closing, I would add that “moral and family” issues (the focus of the “religious right”) and “justice” issues (the focus of the “religious left”) are often interrelated. For example, I first learned about the “vicious cycle of poverty” (a justice issue) when I was in college in the late 1960s. That cycle is still with us, and one reason it is still with us is the breakdown of morality and family life, which in turn is linked to the corrupting influences of pornography and popular culture.