“Art, Commerce, and Christianity” with Terry Mattingly

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On Wednesday, November 4, Terry Mattingly spoke at Greenville College during the Briner School of Business Founder’s Event. Mattingly is a journalist, author, and professor that is passionate about culture, music, and religion. He has taught journalism at several colleges and writes a weekly column for entitled “On Religion” for the Scripps Howard News Service in Washington, D.C. While Mattingly has an incredibly impressive resume, one must simply experience him to understand his passion for Christianity and media.

I attended Mattingly’s lecture for the Briner Opening, which was entitled “Art, Commerce, and Christianity.” This eccentric journalist’s perspective on Christian media was not only accurate, but extremely heartbreaking for those of us going into the media world. As a Music Business and Digital Media: Graphic Design double major, I want to be a part of popular culture, but the Christian media industry has unintentionally shed a negative perception of the overall quality of Christians.

Christian media has become it’s own genre of music, film, art, etc., but how did we get to this massive divide between Christians and the rest of the world? Why is it “shameful” for Christians to go into the mainstream media industry? Mattingly addressed some of these issues and questioned why we have labelled and categorized ourselves into such a small box.

He first discussed the issue of the perception that individuals cannot do mission work in the mainstream world. The Christian media world believes that they are spreading the gospel and bringing people to Christ, but they do not realize by keeping themselves in such a small box, they are simply preaching to the choir. They are not expanding their reach to the people who do not have Jesus in their lives.

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One of my favorite statements that Mattingly said is “All of God’s creation is worthy of mission work.” There is a perception that we, as Christians, are too holy to go into the secular world. There is no way that we would allow ourselves to stoop to their level. When was the last time a church collectively prayed for a Christian going to Hollywood? God created everything, therefore we are to use our passions and talents to reach out to everyone in this world. Not just the people who are already saved and people in developing countries.

This is a business issue. It comes down to marketing, business structures, and fundraising. These Christian media sources exist to make people feel guilty so that they donate to whatever missions trip they are organizing. We give the Christian filmmakers, songwriters, and artists a break because they are doing the “best” they can to serve God, when in actuality they are producing less-than-excellent work. The Christian media world has become complacent with mediocrity because its easier than the harsh truth that we simply may not be good enough to cut it in the mainstream market.

But why are we not pushing ourselves to higher standards? Why aren’t we doing the absolute best we can to show that Christians are not a substandard of society? Are we so arrogant that we cannot admit that others may be more talented than we are? If we are to truly make an impact for God in this world, we need to change our ways because being satisfied with the Christian media world is simply not enough.

Mattingly later discussed the concept of the “Christian Brick” or having enough “Jesus per minute.” In order for something to be accepted into Christian media, it must essentially hit people over the head with the Christian brick. And I personally don’t think that’s very effective. Some of the most powerful songs, movies, and art pieces say nothing about God, but in their very essence, glorify His beauty. I am a strong believer that all truth is God’s truth, and so therefore I believe all art and creative works glorify God in some way. I have seen the glory of God through movies and music that do not mention the name of Jesus. But you will never see them advertised in Focus on the Family.

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For example, I see God’s beauty in my top three favorite movies of all time, yet none of them mention God. In no particular order, they are “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” and “Moulin Rouge.” The first is about a freshman in high school that was raped by his aunt as a child and suffers from post traumatic stress, and is trying to find a friend. The second is about a middle-aged man who is a nobody at work and loses his job, but goes on an adventure to find a photographer. The third is about a French prostitute at the turn of the century who falls in love with a penniless writer. All three movies have moved me to tears about the beauty of this gift of life.

Why is it that these incredibly movies have helped me see God more than the films put out by the Christian film world? How did we get to the point where we stopped seeing things glorify God unless they hit us over the head with a Christian brick? And how do we solve this issue?

Mattingly’s solution (which I strongly support) is for us to simply go into the mainstream market, do the best we possibly can, and teach the new generation how to minister without hitting people with the Christian brick. We must form relationships, tell stories, be wise businesspeople, and teach the youth about service. Maybe then we will make a lasting impact on the mainstream world.

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