I picked up the book Lone Survivor about two or three years ago. I read it and couldn’t stop thinking about the story for weeks. It’s a remarkable story and I recommend it to all who are in awe at the service our military heroes give–especially those in special forces.

The book turned out to be such a success they made it into a movie, which just had an unexpectedly huge weekend at the box office this past week. I find myself in a similar dilemma as Al Doan, who discussed his desire to see the film on a recent episode of the podcast This Week in Mormons. Do I go to the movie or not? It is rated R you know, so this means my cultural upbringing gets in the way and plays on my conscious.

My oldest brother … took me to the first Austin Powers movie. We should have known better.

My oldest brother is 9 years older than me and we always laugh about the time he took me to the first Austin Powers movie (rated PG-13 so it was legit…right?). We laugh about it now because we realize bad judgment was exercised all around. I should have known better and he should have known better. It was poison to the mind of a young teenager (and the mind of anyone else for that matter). But then when I would show up to a movie party and the suggestion was made to watch an “R-rated movie” I would gasp and say, “I. DON’T. WATCH. R-RATED. MOVIES.” I slept better at night knowing I was living up to the standard of my Mormon culture.

I say Mormon culture because the leaders of the LDS Church never meant to draw a line as to what movies you can’t see based on ratings, though there have always been guidelines about what is appropriate. Sure, President Benson mentioned the term “R-rated” in a talk in 1986, but I don’t think he meant to set a standard based on a secular opinion known as the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA).

WHY AM I SWAYED BY A MOVIE RATING?

And aside from that, as Geoff mentioned on the above This Week in Mormons episode, does Canada use the MPAA? Does the Philippines? Nope. Last time I checked, the Church is now an international body, and General Authorities don’t base direction on the motion picture industry’s primary lobbying group in the United States or any other country, for that matter–they have a Better Source.

If you need a good read on this topic, check out Elder Lynn G. Robbin’s BYU devotional talk he gave back in September of 2013. He stated:

“It is risky for the Church to draw a line. If the speed on the freeway is sixty-five miles per hour, how fast will people drive? Well, they will feel free to drive as fast as the limit. If the Church were to draw a line with movies, that would be like giving permission to watch everything up to the line. President Gordon B. Hinckley never drew a line. Neither has President Thomas S. Monson. But the prophets have taught us principles found in For the Strength of the Youth, such as the following:

Do not attend, view, or participate in anything that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way. Do not participate in anything that presents immorality or violence as acceptable.'”

Elder Robbins goes on to say:

“In 1986 President Ezra Taft Benson warned members of the danger of anything ‘R-rated’ or beyond. The members thought he had drawn a line. I know that because I have heard many members of the Church say, ‘Oh, we can watch that movie. It’s only a PG-13. The prophet gave us permission.’ They don’t say that last part, but that is what they are thinking, because they thought he posted a speed limit, so to speak.”

Stop relying on MPAA ratings

Thankfully, when the Austin Powers peeps decided to release sequels, my parents had the sense enough to ask me not to see those movies. “But it’s PG-13″, I remember saying. They drew the line (parents, not the MPAA) and I was obedient (and better off for it).

How did my parents know it was full of trash? Well, I guess they didn’t. Maybe the director saw the error of his ways from the first release and then made a movie about an English spy that wakes up in Walnut Grove, Minnesota (Little House on the Prairie reference)? I doubt it. All my parents had to go off of was previews seen on TV, a short blurb in the newspaper, and, of course, the increasingly flawed ratings system from the MMPA.

Rate it yourself with better resources

Twenty years ago it was helpful to have an organization like MPAA to give us a heads up. Today it’s just not needed. With websites like OK.com (LDS Church-produced) and kids-in-mind.com (not to mention the Parents Advisory section at IMDB) there doesn’t need to be surprises while sitting in the theater.

We all know that many PG-13 movies are trash (sorry Anchorman 2, I’m skipping out this round). By freely going to PG-13 movies just because they aren’t R, we are exposed to immorality and filth we know we should have avoided. Use these resources to make good judgment.

So Al, circling back to Lone Survivor, what are we going to do? Are we going to avoid it because it is R rated or because it has 143 F-bombs? ….tough call. ;)

There’s more to say on this topic so please comment below with your perspective. If you know of other resources you use to create your own judgment on media please share.