Written by Todd Mangum
Wednesday, 05 December 2012 00:00
It’s true. 19-year-old actor Angus Jones has recently converted to Christianity (as a Seventh Day Adventist) and, having joined a church in Hollywood, came on the internet video production ministry of Pastor Christopher Hudson and urged people who watch “filth” like “Two and a Half Men” to “please stop watching . . . I’m on Two and a Half Men. . . . I don’t want to be on it. . . . Don’t fill your mind with such filth. . . .” It’s a show that Jones has been on for ten years as the “half man” of “Two and a Half Men”; his character, Jake Harper, is the son of one of the two immature, narcissistic, sex-crazed men (originally, two brothers) who share a Malibu beach house, around whom the comedy plot revolves. For a fair summary of this story, see ABC news’ coverage: http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/charlie-sheen-stands-angus-jones/story?id=17827159#.ULfQl2c8rAw, which includes an interview with outspoken evangelical Christian, Stephen Baldwin, also an actor (and youngest of the Baldwin brothers).
It is interesting news for many reasons. Jones had no idea the media firestorm his remarks would create. The video went viral internationally. His comments were dubbed a “religious rant” and became the punch line of late night comedic routines; many celebrities “piled on” mocking him. Charlie Sheen, on the other hand, with his own beefs against the producers and personnel of the show under critique, applauded Jones’ courageous conviction and said he would be welcome anytime onto “Anger Management” (the show he started after leaving “Two and a Half Men”). Jones’ mother meanwhile told some reporters she feared her son was being “brainwashed” or at least “exploited” if not “manipulated” by the religious leaders of the Seventh Day Adventist church. Then, the day after the video caused such a furor, Jones apologized to his fellow cast members and crew and producers of the show, and said that his being cast on the show for the last ten years “has been a great blessing” and that he intended “no disrespect” to anyone involved with the show by his remarks.
It really is a fascinating story. But what to make of all this from an evangelical, missional Christian perspective? Here are a couple of thoughts, in no particular order.
Jones’ testimony of faith seems genuine, and should be applauded. Some evangelicals have had misgivings about the Seventh Day Adventists — are they a cult? (Some evangelical texts on cults have actually included Seventh Day Adventists among them — much to the outrage and protest of Seventh Day Adventists; and in most cases they have successfully gotten themselves removed from such a classification. They are a minority, but are members in good standing, of the Evangelical Theological Society.) By all appearances, Jones has experienced a genuine conversion; and as part of that conversion feels regret about the raunchiness of the show that he’s participated in, albeit that has also made him rich.
Most any evangelical Christian can appreciate the euphoria of his initial conversion; and the remorse and repentance he’s undergoing — as well as the awkwardness and difficulty of sorting through what’s been good and what’s been bad about his childhood and his life up to this point. He should be given our understanding and support for his testimony, no less so because he expressed himself admittedly clumsily.
2. He’s still a 19-year-old young man. Being a new Christian and a celebrity is a hard enough burden to bear; being under the glare of media attention while maintaining one’s Christian testimony is difficult enough as it is. Add to that his being a very young man; he should be given some slack and much grace in handling all this.
3. He is being exploited some by his church leaders — and that is regrettable. It’s understandable and not all the motives for it are sinister, I would assume. But it is reasonable to also assume that the church was hoping to cash in some on Jones’ celebrity, and thus rushed him into a spotlight unfairly and too early. Jones, unfortunately, is bearing the heaviest price for this misstep, but his “mentors,” if they are truly mentors, should have known better than to put him in such a position. Had they really had his best interests at heart, they would not have put him in such a position, or aired a video that could easily have been foreseen as ill-advised for such media attention.
4. He is right about “Two and a Half Men” being “filth.” Yes, I have seen episodes of the show but am not a regular watcher. The opening tune and premise drew me in a time or two, but then . . . well, it’s just too much. Sex (including frequent casual references to masturbation), drugs, promiscuity, bathroom jokes are clearly all regular fare for a show that — shockingly and depressingly from a Christian perspective — is consistently among the highest watched sitcoms on TV for ten solid years. That such a banal, raunchy show is so popular is truly unfortunate and disturbing — and Jones is not wrong to say so.
These are interesting times to be sure. I do not know if Jones will come back onto the show (in six weeks or so when he was originally scheduled to reappear); I hope he does not — but I know that’s easy for me to say in that I’m not the one sacrificing $300,000 an episode (you’re reading that number right) to play a relatively minor character on a show that is going to go on whether he agrees to play his character or not.
This sort of instance also demonstrates that we are in new territory, very different from the “culture wars” of a couple of decades ago. People are regularly “coming out” — some as gay or lesbian . . . and some as Christians; and though at different ends of the spectrum of the culture, typically, some of the dynamics are remarkably similar. It takes courage to speak out. On the other hand, these “coming outs” are received as off-putting, obnoxious, presumptuous, or arrogant by those not excited about such outspoken controversial positions being taken (at either end of the cultural spectrum) so publicly and in such an “in your face” way. Interestingly, we all can understand that in a way, too.
Perhaps we are at a point where we can recognize that “mass evangelism” tactics and publicity stunts may be a thing of the past — not to disparage at all the personal testimonies of those who happen to be public figures. More personal, more difficult, more intimate sorts of conversations shared in the context of deeper relationships already formed for other reasons may be what’s most needed now. And this gets to the heart of what a missional approach to cultural engagement and ministry is all about.
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.