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Why ‘How to Get Away With Murder’ shocked me

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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How to Get Away with Murder official key art with Viola Davis, who plays the lead character Annalise Keating, a brilliant criminal defense professor who becomes involved in twisted murder plot with her ambitious law students (Credit: ABC)

Viola Davis is a terrific actress, with two Tony Awards and two Academy Award nominations.  When she was announced as the lead in ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder, the show became one of the most anticipated in the new television season.  My wife and I watched the pilot last week, expecting brilliant acting and an interesting plot.

What we didn’t expect was a gay sex scene, the most graphic I’ve ever seen.  It turns out, there’s more to come.  The show’s creator says, “I knew I wanted to push the envelope, especially with the gay sex.”  What’s his motive?  “To me, writing the gay characterization and writing some real gay sex into a network show is to right the wrong of all the straight sex that you see on TV. . . . the more people get used to two men kissing, the less weird it will be for people.”

My first thought was to write ABC’s executives to express my outrage and disappointment.  Then I imagined their response.  Viola Davis’s character had a sex scene earlier in the show as well, but I wasn’t nearly as shocked.  ABC would probably ask me why they should censor homosexual but not heterosexual sex scenes.  I realized this sobering truth: I have become so used to straight sex portrayed in the media that it no longer surprises me.  Now Hollywood wants to do the same with gay sex.  Tolerance leads to acceptance.  If you gradually turn down the light, your eyes adjust to the dark.

What does God think about the sexuality of our culture?  His word orders us to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18).  We are to “put to death what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).  He warns us against “the sexually immoral [and] men who practice homosexuality” (1 Timothy 1:10).  When Paul listed the “works of the flesh,” he began with “sexual immorality” (Galatians 5:19).

Ruth Bell Graham, the wife of Billy Graham, once commented on America’s moral decline: “If God doesn’t punish America, he’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”  Our culture has never needed moral and spiritual awakening more than we need such a movement of God’s Spirit today.

To that end, our ministry is providing an Advent guide again this year.  My wife, Janet Denison, has written Let Heaven and Nature Sing, focusing on the spiritual depth and meaning of our great Christmas hymns and Mary’s song from the Gospel of Luke.  Advent focuses on Jesus’ first coming in preparation for his second.  Here’s why this theme is so relevant to our cultural condition.

First, Advent calls us to personal holiness.  The One who came at Christmas now lives in us, making our bodies his Bethlehem stable (1 Corinthians 3:16).  He deserves a holy vessel: “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:7).  We cannot challenge our culture to a standard we are not modeling personally.

Second, Advent shows us the urgency of the moment.  Jesus came when no one expected him, and will return in the same way (1 Thessalonians 5:2).  Solomon warned that “the complacency of fools destroys them” (Proverbs 1:32).  When Jesus returns, “the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay” (Romans 9:28).  It is vital that God’s people pray and work for spiritual and moral awakening before it’s too late.

I hope you’ll order Let Heaven and Nature Sing today.  And I hope you’ll ask the Holy Spirit to make you his holy vessel.  Hebrews 12:14 calls us to strive for “the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”  Who will see the Lord in you?

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