Christians and The Walking Dead

By Jeff Laird

Can Christians watch The Walking Dead television show? Admit it, whatever answer popped just into your head probably started with "of course / of course not..." But the issue isn't as clean and easy as that. Christian liberty is the most tangled aspect of our relationship with each other. The critical part of correctly applying liberty is not using it as a weapon — don't encourage others to do what they are not convinced of, and don't create division because someone else does not share your preference.

Television shows such as The Walking Dead generate controversy in Christian circles for various reasons. Some believers feel comfortable watching, others feel watching is clearly wrong. Ultimately, this comes down to an application of Christian liberty. There are spiritual boundaries both on those who do and those who do not watch. A Christian needs to carefully consider what they are watching, and why, and make the choice they feel is right (Romans 14:5).

On the pro side, shows like The Walking Dead provide fodder for discussing moral and spiritual issues. The series offers a look into a dangerous environment without civil law or safety nets. Morality, group dynamics, and spiritual battles become more important and more vivid. Odd as it may sound, The Walking Dead even gives some insight into the Old Testament. The show explores how concepts like dissent, war, conformity, and criminal punishment work in a world where you're constantly under threat of destruction. What we label as cruel and restrictive in our comfortable modern world suddenly becomes necessary for survival during a crisis.

The tough decisions facing characters, and their flaws, are also food for thought. Just as the Bible shows unlikeable people, such as Jonah and Samson, so too can a TV show present us with characters we don't necessarily gush over. The program sometimes portrays otherwise good people making major mistakes, as did Moses, David, and Noah. Part of the food for thought in a show like The Walking Dead is how one judges the characters for their responses — and considers what would happen if we were in their place.

On the con side, The Walking Dead contains copious violence and gore. Even though this mostly comes from the monsters and not the living, it's a bloody show. Situations on the show can be extremely intense. Many of the topics are unsettling, even disturbing. Not the least is the central premise: that the bodies of the dead are reanimated and attack the living.

The show has portrayed — directly and indirectly — events such the violent death of children, cannibalism, dismemberment, war, disease, loss of loved ones, insanity, suicide, drug use, racism, illicit sex, rape, kidnapping, and mob justice. Those potent topics are all found in the Bible, as well. Still, it's one thing to read about such things, and another to seeing them demonstrated, or at least implied, on screen.

At the very least, The Walking Dead is totally inappropriate for younger viewers, or those who are sensitive to frightening, gory, or emotional images. That, in and of itself, gives many Christians pause. There's a reasonable line of logic which suggests that if a show's not safe for children, it might not be safe for adults, either. If it's damaging to one's spiritual life, or emotions, it might not be such a good idea (1 Corinthians 10:23).

In the end, though, there is nothing explicitly un-Biblical in shows like The Walking Dead. A Christian who feels they can watch the show without spiritual damage is free to do so (1 Corinthians 10:29). However, those who do watch need to be sensitive to brothers and sisters who don't (1 Corinthians 10:28). This is where the "stumbling block" concept comes up — it's inappropriate to encourage an unwilling or hesitant believer to violate their conscience (Romans 14:14-15).

Likewise, those who don't feel comfortable with the show need to be sensitive to brothers and sisters who watch it. A person's spiritual state is ultimately between them and God. When the activity isn't expressly sinful, and it doesn't seem to interfere with their Christian walk, then it's inappropriate to condemn a fellow believer for expressing their Christian liberty (Romans 14:12-13).

Most importantly, Christians on both sides need to look for guidance and clear thinking, not a way to justify their preferences or force them on others (2 Corinthians 13:5, Romans 14:4). Whether a person does or does not partake in a show like The Walking Dead, that choice ought to be made through a submissive and obedient approach to their spiritual life. Since each person must be convinced in their own mind (Romans 14:5), and anything not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23), watching The Walking Dead may well be permissible for one Christian, and yet a sin for another. Unfairly judging others for their choice, however, is not an acceptable option (Romans 14:22).

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Published 11-23-15