A Christian’s Response to Jersey Shore

With a record setting 8.9 million viewers last Thursday night, the fire-cracker, mostly-Italian twenty-somethings of Jersey Shore have captivated our culture with their curious slang and obnoxious behavior. The cast members (Snooki, The Situation and J-Woww to name three) have stacked up an impressive resume including appearances on SNL, The View and David Letterman, even scoring a spot on Barbara Walter’s 10 Most Fascinating People of 2010 list. President Obama, in the midst of the economy and foreign policy, is privy to their antics. Why?

Human behavior is entertaining. Extreme spontaneous behavior is arresting. The safely printed scripts of sitcoms lack the unpredictable intrigue of Jersey Shore. In the 90’s, Jerry Springer’s talk-show turned brawl-show inaugurated the gritty reality genre that hinges on lust, lies and lashing out. It assumes there is a segment of society who casts off civility and reasoning, allowing their feelings to culminate in indiscriminate fights, casual sex acts and a host of absurd behaviors. Catching these antics on film is gold…America can’t get enough. The drama, heightened emotions and spring-break lifestyle allows viewers to break from their less exciting realities and participate in extreme living without consequences.

Peppered throughout the mass of faithful followers are the haters, those who are appalled by the Jersey Shore crew. They’re vulgar, excessive and pointless. It is unthinkable that distinguished and sophisticated Americans would devote time and attention to so much nothingness and “total trash” as one reviewer put it. Fifteen years ago, a show with this caliber of content would not have seen air time.

Christians have the responsibility of responding rightly to cultural phenomena. Avoiding them completely breeds judgment and ignorance which hinders our ability to engage the lost world. Embracing them like familiar friends welcomes temptation and blurs the lines of holy living. What is the Christ follower to do with Jersey Shore?

First, recognize what’s really happening: lost sinners are sinning. It’s the fruit of an unregenerate life, captured on film. Why is this shocking? Separate from the Bible’s teaching, cultures adopt standards of acceptable behavior based on experience. With no absolute by which to measure, standards mean little and easily shift. Some non-Christians embrace a biblical moral code and some do not. Apart from the saving work of Christ, everyone pursues sin zealously. While Jersey Shore pushes many entertainment envelopes, humanity has always been “this sinful,” even if not parading it through the public square. One only needs to search Paul’s letter to the Corinthians for an equally graphic and blatantly sinful display. Christians should be unsettled and hope for higher TV standards, but not be surprised by what they see.

Second, keep sin in proper perspective. The word “sin,” a term used in archery, means to miss the mark. It doesn’t matter how close or distant the arrow lands to the target…a miss is a miss. Our bull’s-eye is God’s standard: perfection. It doesn’t matter if the mark is missed by a mile or millimeter. The bitter thought of a housewife and the vicious punch of an abusive father render them equally guilty before God, even though our world catalogues one as worse. It’s easy to sit on the couch and ridicule these people, forgetting that my calmer, lesser known sins, while not on TV for the world to view, are just as repulsive to Him. While Christians benefit from the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives to sin less, they are not sinless. Rather than post our sins proudly, Christians work to hide them and pretend they don’t exist. Behind closed doors, many are treading similar sands. Should we despise their sin? Yes, and our own as well.

Lastly, exercise wisdom in entertainment. What profit is there in watching this show? In keeping with the teaching of Scripture, Christians are to meditate on things which are praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), to keep their eyes from viewing worthless things (Psalm 119:37), to guard their hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and to love God with their entire mind (Mark 12:30). We become products of what we consume. While the effects aren’t immediate, over time, they impact our view of God and the world and how we live. Claiming that watching something won’t affect you is nonsense; no one can objectively measure the influence of entertainment on themselves. Is watching Jersey Shore wise? No. God is not glorified and nothing valuable is gained in being absorbed by a show that has as its chief goal to glorify the shame and sinfulness of mankind.

We must be careful as we acknowledge these things. Recognizing a wolf for what he is and avoiding him is different than charging his cave with a torch to string him up and list his crimes. Looking at Jersey Shore through the lens of Scripture is not judgmental but responsible. Condemning the individuals, as if we sinners created the law and can both save and destroy them, is wrong (James 4:12).

This may enrage some of you and validate the rest. For the enraged, check your heart and determine why this threatens you. For the validated, don’t be caught with a smug look. We are not better. Apart from repentance, God’s Word and meeting with the local church, Christians are more than capable of anything on Jersey Shore.  Instead of watching and copying them, we pray for and love them. Just like me, Snooki, The Situation and J-Woww were created in the image of God, and just like me, they need Him desperately.

-Emily

(image credit)

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9 thoughts on “A Christian’s Response to Jersey Shore

  1. Hi Emily,

    Just found this post by googling “Christian response to jersey shore.” I appreciated your article. I have a couple of questions that I wondered if you might entertain.

    Have you ever watched Jersey Shore? If so, how do square that with your own stance that it is unwise to do so, and if not, was it authentic to write a review about a show you’ve never seen?

    “The bitter thought of a housewife and the vicious punch of an abusive father render them equally guilty before God, even though our world catalogues one as worse.”

    Are you certain about this? Is it really just the world that makes the distinction of which sin is worse? I am not quite sure that every single specific sin is equal in God’s eyes. Although when it comes down to it we are all sinners and fall totally and completely short of God’s glory, so ultimately we are on a level playing field. But I’m not sure that living a life of drunkenness, promiscuity and selfishness throughout your twenties and early thirties is an “equal sin” to something like speaking harshly to your child in a moment of impatience. This doesn’t allow us to look down on the cast of the Jersey Shore- as I said, we’re all sinners so it is a level playing field- but I do think there is a depth and serious to the sin that is portrayed in this show that should not be minimized.

    What did you mean by asking people to check their hearts if they disagree with your opinion? Aren’t we free to disagree on these things without necessarily having our hearts in the wrong place?

    • Lisa Marie,
      Thanks so much for the response and questions!

      Have you ever watched Jersey Shore? If so, how do square that with your own stance that it is unwise to do so, and if not, was it authentic to write a review about a show you’ve never seen?

      Experience is not the gauge of wisdom (Matt. 10:16): I know that going to a strip club is not wise without having to do it. Having said that, Christians cannot be ignorant of culture. As we minister to others and engage the lost, we must be aware of what is influencing them and respond with gospel truth. The demographic I minister to watches Jersey Shore, so for that reason and this article, I watched three episodes. Yet, if I had watched 42, would you then say I cannot speak from my experience and caution others not to follow my path because I found it unwise or can I only give counsel if I’ve lived perfectly? That’s like saying I was once caught in a lifestyle of drug abuse, and even though Christ has saved me, I cannot tell anyone else that drug use isn’t wise. Your questions assume no one on planet earth can ever tell anyone that anything is wise or unwise: experience discredits me and no experience disqualifies me…..?

      Are you certain about this? Is it really just the world that makes the distinction of which sin is worse?

      Some of your observation is an elaboration of my main point (we are equally guilty). Certain sins are more consequential than others and God will deal with sins differently in the end as He has throughout Scripture. We must be cautious though…only He is the righteous Judge able to discern these differences. Your example highlights this problem:

      ‘But I’m not sure that living a life of drunkenness, promiscuity and selfishness throughout your twenties and early thirties is an “equal sin” to something like speaking harshly to your child in a moment of impatience.’

      What biblical text are you standing on to make this claim? 1 Timothy 5:8 says any man who fails to simply provide for his family is worse than an unbeliever, yet Christians don’t really believe this. The worst of humanity are living lives of drunkenness and promiscuity, right? Not what Scripture teaches. When we play God by trying to sort out sins based on our thoughts, feelings or experience, we get it wrong. Circling back to my original point, Christians have not been charged with minimizing the effects of their little sins and lamenting the huge impact of the sins of the world.

      What did you mean by asking people to check their hearts if they disagree with your opinion? Aren’t we free to disagree on these things without necessarily having our hearts in the wrong place?

      The quote you are referring to:

      “This may enrage some of you and validate the rest. For the enraged, check your heart and determine why this threatens you.”

      I did not ask anyone to check their hearts if they disagree with me; I asked the angry to discover why the information threatens them. Christians are free to disagree on lots of things. However, we often do not think through the disagreement and dismiss the other opinion simply as wrong because we don’t like it. Wise Christians have teachable hearts that when presented with hard information from a book or sermon, say, “Is it possible that I haven’t thought this through and this person might be right?” I have to do this about once a day. If I can’t, it’s my pride. In this case, is someone angry because I have taken something away from the gospel of Christ or is it because they want to keep watching JS without conviction? My goal is not that people would agree, but that people would think and not dismiss an angle they haven’t considered simply because they dislike it. God’s glory might be at stake.

      I hope this is clarifying and helpful.
      -E

  2. Hi Emily!

    Thanks for your thoughtful response to my questions!

    Your questions assume no one on planet earth can ever tell anyone that anything is wise or unwise.

    Honestly, the truth is that your answer assumes my intentions in that question:-P I was simply curious about whether you’d watched the show since you were writing a review of it, and you gave good reasons for having done so. I understand and agree with everything you said in your response, and I definitely do not believe that no one on planet earth can ever tell anyone that anything is wise or unwise, so no worries there:-)

    About my second question, this article by JI packer explains my view a lot better than I could. I did appreciate that you clarified that you do agree there are greater consequences to some sins than others, and God deals differently with different sins.

    Finally, thanks for explaining what you meant in your final paragraph- I guess the absence of a statement saying that it was okay to disagree with you made me wonder where you were at, but I understood what you meant once you explained it further. I have to check my heart about that at least once a day, too!

    Thanks again for entertaining my questions! You have a really great blog here- I’ll definitely be back!

  3. Incredible article!!! And great rebuttal to the questions at hand! I’m doing an essay for school and have full intentions of citing some major points you’ve made. Thank you for you time to expound on this epidemic.

    God Bless

  4. Emily,
    Sweet s**t, bro. Keep up the coolness! I loved when you talked about how awesome the show was, and how cool Snooki, JWOWW, and The Situation are, but you didn’t give any love to Vinnie, Ronnie, or Deana, WHAT IS THAT??? I know you only watched three episodes, but don’t worry! There’s room for improvement! You can watch the whole series and see how awesome the rest of it is anytime, thanks to the interwebs!
    Stay chill,
    Rolfie

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