'The Blind Side' Sparks Controversy as Christian Retailer Draws Criticism

Ralph Nelson/Alcon Film Fund

Two years after the film's home video release, LifeWay has come under fire for pulling the PG 13-rated DVD from its shelves due to profanity and the use of a racial slur.

The Blind Side was removed from the shelves of one of the nation’s leading Christian retail chains after a pastor complained of profanity and a racial slur used in the film, and the decision has sparked debate within the community.

Even though the Oscar-winning movie has been off the shelves at LifeWay Christian Stores for more than a month, writers are still weighing in, and more often than not they are ridiculing the decision.

On Friday, for example, televangelist Rod Parsley wrote that LifeWay was sending an “ominous” and “unbiblical message” that Christians “must be sheltered from the world’s realities.”

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The Blind Side, of course, is based on the true story of Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, a white, well-to-do Christian couple who adopted Michael Oher, an oversized black teenager from a Memphis ghetto. Oher became a star college football player at Ole Miss and now plays in the NFL for the Baltimore Ravens.

The film earned Sandra Bullock an Oscar for best actress and raked in $256 million at the domestic box office, and Hollywood has made a few attempts at emulating its success, as with Soul Surfer, about a surfer who credits her Christian faith for her comeback after a shark chewed her arm off. The TriStar Pictures film with an $18 million production budget brought in $44 million at the domestic box office.

It was widely understood that Christians were near-universal in their embrace of The Blind Side and their hope was that it would encourage copycat product from Hollywood, though LifeWay‘s decision throws some water on that notion.

The 165 LifeWay stores are operated by LifeWay Christian Resources, a non-profit entity that had been criticized for more than a year by Rodney Baker, a Florida pastor who objected to some of the language in the PG 13-rated Blind Side.

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As the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting approached last month, where the SBC was set to make The Rev. Fred Luter the first black president in its history, Baker pressed for a resolution that “expresses dissatisfaction with The Blind Side and any product that contains explicit profanity, God’s name in vain, and racial slur.”

LifeWay, which had resisted complaints by Baker in the past, decided to defuse the issue by yanking the movie from its store shelves. While vague in the statement it emailed to The Hollywood Reporter, it seemed that LifeWay was mostly motivated by the negative depiction of some of the black characters in Blind Side, as well the single use of a racial slur.

“After selling the movie for nearly two years, LifeWay decided last month to stop carrying it because of the likelihood it would be the focus of debate and division at our annual denominational meeting,” LifeWay said. “We were electing the Southern Baptist Convention’s first African-American president and did not want to distract from that historic moment.”

Warner Home Video forwarded THR's request for comment to a Time Warner corporate spokesperson, who did not respond.

After Luter was elected on June 19, he told the Christian Post that he supported Baker’s efforts and LifeWay’s decision to pull the DVD from its stores and its website, where a search for The Blind Side today instead delivers a description of Oher’s book, I Beat the Odds.

And despite Luter’s defense of LifeWay, the controversy remains lively.

Christian author Eric Metaxas, who has written scripts for Veggie Tales, wrote this month that he was “kind of upset” at LifeWay.

“I think it’s insane,” he wrote. “For outsiders looking in, the moral of the story is that ‘there is no pleasing Christians. They always seem to be looking for something to be mad about.’”

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Later, John Stonestreet of The Point Radio, warned that LIfeWay’s actions could discourage talented filmmakers from telling meaningful Christian stories.

“As Christians, we too often dismiss good art and accept mediocre substitutes just because they’re labeled ‘Christian.’ We’ve created for ourselves a kind of ‘artistic ghetto,’ and are willing to preserve it even at the cost of quality,” Stonestreet said.

At the Christian Post, columnist Jim Denison asked: “If Christians shouldn’t see The Blind Side, what movies depicting life in our culture should we see? If Christian publications have uniformly endorsed the movie, why are Southern Baptists deciding three years after its release to make this an issue?”

Not all the online feedback was negative, though. The Berean Library, a site that claims to identify false teaching in Christian bookstores, praised the decision, claiming that Blind Side was blasphemous and not deserving of a spot on LifeWay’s limited shelf space.

“Seeing its weak, watered-down, warm and fuzzy, you-can-be-a-success-in-life teaching about the gospel faith was a bummer,” a blogger wrote of Blind Side. “Hopefully, the true gospel is living in this family’s life. However, I did not get that impression from the movie.”

Email: paul.bond@thr.com

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