I once read a memoir by a man who, as a teen, had been a Shabbos goy. A Shabbos goy is a non-Jew who performs some of the Sabbath-day functions that that are forbidden to the devout. Traditionally, a Shabbos goy would extinguish candles and lights, or he would stoke up a fire on a cold Sabbath morning, all actions considered work by strict interpretations of Jewish law. But since those regulations pertain only to Jews, some would hire Gentiles as a means of circumventing the law. The primary task of this young man was to sit in an elevator and push the buttons. Pushing buttons involves closing an electrical circuit and this was considered a violation of the Sabbath within that community. They outsourced the work to him.
Christians quickly identify this as hypocrisy, an adherence to the letter of the law that violates the spirit of the law. It’s hard to find an ethical difference between actually pushing a button and hiring someone else to do it. And, in fact, many Jews see it this way as well and most communities have dropped the very notion of the Shabbos goy. However, I think some Christians may have picked it up, or something like it at least. Our concern is not Sabbath-day functions, though. Our concern is enjoying entertainment, and to enjoy entertainment we need to hire people who disregard the law. We let them violate the law so we can enjoy the benefits.
I want you to imagine a scenario with me. A good friend of yours has begun to make a splash in Hollywood. She’s been in a few minor productions in the past, but has just finished filming her breakout role. She is one of your closest friends, she is a member of your church, and she is married with a couple of young children.
Her show begins to air on Netflix. Like millions of other people, you sit down to binge it over the weekend. You’re forty minutes into the second episode when it happens. The cameras move to a bedroom and, before you know it, you’re watching your friend act out a sex scene. She’s kissing some guy, taking off his clothes, mimicking pleasure. The cameras roll, cutting from angle to angle as her shirt comes off and they tumble naked onto the bed. It lasts a minute, maybe less. It’s not the most explicit scene in cinematic history, but it’s explicit enough. In that short minute she has publicly displayed her body and she has simulated having sex with a man who is not her husband. Maybe you watched it, maybe you fast-forwarded it, maybe you turned your head. For our purposes it doesn’t matter.
Remember, this actress is a close friend and a member of your local church. Like you, she has taken a membership covenant that says something like this: “We will seek, by Divine aid, to live carefully in the world, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts”1, or “We engage to walk circumspectly in the world and to be exemplary in our deportment,”2 or “I will practice complete chastity unless married and, if married, complete fidelity within heterosexual and monogamous marriage.”3 Membership in your church requires some kind of covenantal commitment to live in ways that are fitting for Christians and to refuse to live in ways that are not. And of course, the covenant says that those who give themselves over to sin and refuse to repent will, in due course, be removed from membership.
With that in mind, here’s the question I want to ask you: Did your friend sin when she acted out this scene? Was it a violation of her membership covenant? Was it a violation of biblical principles? Was it a violation of her marriage vows? Would you say she sinned in such a way that it would now be appropriate for another believer to begin a process of confrontation and restoration like Jesus lays out in Matthew 18:15-20?
I believe most Christians would agree that it was sinful of her to film the scene. It was sinful of her to participate in a production that required her to simulate sex with someone who is not her husband. It was sinful of her to bare her body before the cameras for the entertainment of others. It was sinful of her to allow another man to run his hands over her naked body and sinful of her to reciprocate. For these reasons and many more I believe most churches—churches with meaningful membership and a high view of personal holiness—would confront her and call upon her to repent of this sin. They would do this out of love and genuine concern.
At the end of our scenario, this is what we need to consider: When we watch sex on the silver screen, we are asking unbelievers to behave in ways we would never tolerate among ourselves. Yet we tolerate it so we can enjoy entertainment we otherwise couldn’t enjoy. We outsource our depravity so we can live within the letter of the law, even while violating the spirit. We are hiring our own equivalent of a Shabbos goy, aren’t we?