Are We Leaving or Staying in “Neverland?”

Bernie Diaz, March 13, 2019

Nothing can and should destroy the love of celebrity, money, power and popularity, more than hearing of the latest celebrity failure or fall from grace in America.

Too many ask, “Don’t sports celebrities and entertainers have it all?”

In my generation I knew better- even as a young man, having been part of the era of the “sex, drugs and rock-roll”, culture that was associated with tragic names like Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison, all victims of suicide and/or substance abuse.

If you’re alive and breathing in the U.S. you’ve heard by now of the latest if not among the greatest of such falls, this one of another ‘Star who Was Born’ – a very young one once, having flamed out- even posthumously (after death).

The aftermath of the Leaving Neverland documentary, a two-part, four-hour HBO film in which two men graphically and painfully detail their allegations that Pop music icon Michael Jackson sexually abused them when they were children, has tainted the Jackson legacy. To what extent will remain to be seen. 

While the Jackson family and estate has denied the accusations and is suing the cable network for $100 million, many observers and experts- including fans of all things Jackson, are coming to grips with the strong possibility that where there was smoke, there was fire.

Rather than focusing in on Jackson’s guilt or innocence here, which has been well-documented and debated over the last three decades, as the result of findings from one law-suit which resulted in Jackson paying out a $23 million dollar settlement in 1993, then an acquittal of criminal charges of abuse a decade later, we focus on what the impact of the speculation and possibility of the latest allegations concerning the late Michael Jackson, should have on Christians holding to a biblical worldview.

How should disciples of Christ feel about the one that was at one time nearly canonized as the “King of Pop” by the mainstream media and called “Wacko Jacko” by other cultural critics?

Can you ever download and listen to the Thriller album the same way again? I face the same dilemma in just having to decide whether or not to listen ever again to, or delete my Jackson 5 classics such as “I Want You Back” or “ABC” from my music playlist.

This is not a false dilemma to the conscience of a Christian if even secular music critics among others are wrestling with the same. New Zealand’s MediaWorks Broadcast group had decided to pull Jackson’s music from its radio stations (broadcasters in both Canada and China are considering the same) saying the decision is “a reflection of our audiences and their preferences,” while Radio NZ said the pop star’s songs would only be heard on the station if they’re “part of a news story or to provide color around a commentary piece.”

As the music has been dropped by the biggest radio networks in the country, The New York Times describes this as an “almost complete removal” of Jackson’s music from New Zealand radio.

Unable to watch Leaving Neverland myself (for more than one reason- not being an HBO subscriber is one), I have been greatly disturbed just reading the explicit reports and reviews of this film. I can’t see how one can become acquainted with this documentary on any level and not come away somewhat jaded and jarred by the Jackson persona. In fact, I would exercise extreme caution as a Christian to those who would desire to watch this film.

Can we make a proper distinction and appreciate on the one hand the talent and artistry of an entertainer like Jackson, who dazzled millions as a singer, dancer and songwriter whose influence has extended more than four decades, from an individual on the other hand, who was a perplexing, tragic figure accused by more than one victim of pedophilia? 

For those that cried out that “character counts” during the election of President Donald Trump, can they hold to the same standard when faced with having to follow, if not idolize and defend Jackson and his legacy?

The #MeToo era makes dismissing the many years of Jackson dodging suspicions of child sexual abuse ever more difficult in the wake of Leaving Neverland.

That film has raised many questions that many Christians are now wrestling with, such as whether or not it is morally wrong or right to enjoy Jackson’s songs.

“What is the relationship of morality to art?” asked Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a notable author and cultural analyst on his podcast The Briefing. “Can we enjoy art by discredited artists? What about enjoying music when we discover that the writer, the performer, the arranger, you name it, was somehow morally corrupt? Perhaps, even a child sexual abuser? What happens to the music?”

These are intriguing questions that thinking believers should mediate on. If the allegations about Jackson brought to bear by the movie are true, what could have been the root cause of this fall and what can we learn from it?

Pride. If Jackson, who once ironically sang, “You can’t touch me ’cause I’m untouchable,” on his last real studio album, committed the grotesque and sexually depraved crimes he has been alleged to have committed, the attitude of pride and entitlement, the root of all sin would explain much as to how he and his family have been accustomed like many other celebrities to be above ‘reproach’ as well as the law.

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Pro. 16:18, ESV).  

As one theologian put it: Pride causes some celebrities to forget that God was the one who gave them the talents and skills they possess. Pride causes celebrities to have too high a view of themselves, to think they are worthy of all the adulation they receive. … Too high a view of self leads to some celebrities believing they are beyond the possibility of failure, and so they make extremely foolish decisions with their lives, careers, relationships, marriages, finances, etc.     

Unfortunately, much of that pride is fed by the adulation if not outright idolatry from record, concert and movie ticket buying fans- Christians included, believe it or not, whipped up in virtual frenzies over the mere mention or sight of such fallible figures.

Ultimately, we must come to grips with the fact that human beings – much less celebrities like Jackson, are not spiritually, emotionally, or psychologically wired to receive worship.

Only God is worthy of that, and only God can be praised without excess. As Elmer Towns added, “When celebrities worship themselves or allow others to worship them, it results in arrogant pride and self-centeredness, which leads to disaster and tragedy.”

How do we process Leaving Neverland and the Michael Jackson saga as Christians? Give God the glory he alone deserves. We need to remind ourselves of our biblical self-image, recognizing that we are valuable because we are created in God’s image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-27).

Refuse to worship and adore fallible and often deceitful and indecent if not evil image bearers in the spotlight, recognizing that we are who are  Romans 3:10-23 people, can and should worship and praise the only true, merciful, gracious, and loving God that rescued us (born-again believers of Christ) from idol worship.

Have you or will you leave ‘Neverland?’

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