In 2008, when I was facing a daunting medical battle, I began to watch a little show called The Bachelor. I didn’t really question its content and focused on its entertainment value. It afforded me a bit of an escape from my torturous reality and I considered the insipid saga of romantic pursuit to be fairly harmless.
As the next season began, so did some misgivings.
But I told myself that I could still watch the show, and that I’d preserve my moral integrity by loudly condemning the immorality I saw. How precious of me—claiming to uphold the values I believe in by deliberately tuning in to ABC on Monday nights and excoriating the behavior I was voluntarily watching.
Then Sean Lowe’s season began. Details of the new bachelor’s character and faith were reported to me by some of the wide-eyed girls I mentored. That’s what got my attention. Barely into their teenage years, they were eager for the show to start up again, extolling the virtues of the new Bachelor, a young man from a solid family, whose pecs launched an online frenzy and whose tweets about his church, his pastor and his favorite Bible verses assured star-struck viewers that he was a good Christian boy.
Exactly the type of man they were looking for. Right?
As I began to consider the true content and messaging of the fare I was allowing into my life as entertainment, I could no longer just tsk-tsk my disapproval for the media phenomenon garnering millions of viewers every week. I realized when those young ladies began to vaunt Sean’s godliness that the show wasn’t just setting new television standards…
It was erasing and replacing moral standards in impressionable young minds.
Every time I spoke casually about The Bachelor to students who considered me a mentor, I was unintentionally conveying that what I saw on the show was okay. Just mindless fun. I was normalizing (and glamorizing) behaviors and moral choices I would have found aberrant in “normal” life.
And here we are in 2019 with a new bachelor, Colton Underwood, ready to face off with a gaggle of semi-clad, often-inebriated women. His appeal—aside from obvious good looks—is that he’s a virgin. And, according to multiple sources that quote him directly, a devout Christian.
So this season, the show won’t just be about a Bachelor seeking love in a (barely) PG-13 televised brothel…er…mansion. It will be about a good Christian boy deciding which of his seductresses will “earn” his virginity. And it’s expected that millions more than usual will tune in to find out how and with whom it will happen.
Teenage girls will watch. Mothers will have it on in the background with their children in the room. Young men just beginning to consider what manhood is will pretend not to pay attention while the sordid antics play out on their TV screens.
People who share my faith will offer faint disapproval while tuning in with religious fervor to watch a fellow-believer engaging in relationally, morally and even psychologically risky behavior.
Let me be clear: I am in no position to judge the authenticity of the faith of a TV personality.
I can, however—without the slightest hesitation—point out glaring inconsistencies of belief vs. behavior. Can people with Biblical values willingly immerse themselves in a whirlpool of sexuality, seduction and deceit and still be seen as Christian role models? Can they engage in physical intimacy with several “contestants”—whom they barely know—at the same time, participate in full-bodied, scantily-clad make-out sessions, and still claim (as Sean and others have) that God is condoning this unusual method and using it to guide them toward the wife or husband of His choosing?
Apparently, yes. In many minds, they can. And Colton is about to prove it by auctioning off his virginity to the loveliest (craftiest?) woman in the mansion—probably while tweeting Bible verses, as his predecessor did.
I believe there’s a subtle difference between scripted fare and ‘reality’ fare when it comes to entertainment. We can somewhat distance ourselves from the immoral messages of scripted TV shows in which actors merely act out the scenarios written for them. It’s fiction, right? The crimes and debauchery don’t belong in the real world.
In contrast, the dangerous lure of reality TV is its barely-veiled subtext: “This isn’t fiction—it’s real life. It’s normal. It’s great fun and you should try it too.”
Shows like The Bachelor have the power to bring morally-anesthetizing, vulgarity-normalizing forces undetected into our homes—and you may find yourself, as I did, easily and mindlessly watching a Christian bachelor engaging in real-life promiscuity without batting an eye or questioning his integrity.
What can we do?
We can begin by countering the unspoken message of shows like The Bachelor in our spheres of influence. Young people who know and trust us need to hear us using real words, not euphemisms.
- This isn’t love. It’s promiscuity.
- These aren’t contestants. They’re real people willing to steep in a pool of sexual seduction in front of millions of desensitized viewers. They’re men and women who will use sensuality and manipulation to make the star of the show choose them, often exhibiting a level of depravity we’d find intolerable in any other context.
- And that Fantasy Suite in which the bachelor holes up with three lucky winners on three consecutive nights, ostensibly to have sex while the cameras stop rolling? That’s not fantasy. It’s something that approaches voluntary prostitution. And this year, it will be a self-proclaimed Christian man willingly “trying on” eager women willing to shed clothing and decency for a dubious chance at televised marriage and fifteen minutes of over-exposed fame.
We need to speak to the young people whose respect we’ve earned about the influences they allow into their minds.
We need to tell them how we’re susceptible too, how we understand how easy it is to be enticed. Then we need to lovingly point them toward the good and honorable choices that will allow them to mature into adults of integrity—relationally responsible and sexually discerning.
And we can start by communicating this:
- If he is dating multiple women at the same time, walk away. (He’s a jerk.)
- If the only way to “get” him is through sexual manipulation, walk away.
- If invitations to physical intimacy precede true relationship, walk away.
- If he claims to be a believer yet displays lack of judgment, lack of integrity and lack of character, walk away—no matter how hot or glamorous or Christian he may proclaim to be.
A man after God’s heart will respect you.
A man after God’s heart will value you.
A man after God’s heart will honor you.
A man after God’s heart will protect you.
A man after God’s heart will better you.
A man after God’s heart will strengthen you.
A man after God’s heart will devote himself to only you.
Anything less is unworthy of your time, your effort, your compromise and your heart.
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