Is Pretend Kissing a Real Problem?
Q: I am a Christian who also happens to be an actor. Recently I was asked to do a stage kiss. It was nothing intense, only something to suggest the relationship between my character and her husband. I am really trying to seek the truth to set up my own boundaries in my career, so I do not let the wrong influences into my life. Can you please tell me if this is wrong, and what God has to say about this?
A: A Christian involved in acting should probably begin by asking an even more basic question: “Is acting actually a form of ritualized, institutionalized lying and am I sinning by assuming a character other than my own?” Does pretending to be someone else, even if one agrees with the story being told, equate with the Exodus 20:16 prohibition against bearing “false witness”?
Some people strongly hold this position. Even a children’s Christmas pageant would be off-limits, since “little Tiffany” certainly isn’t the Virgin Mary and “Bobby and Billy” have never seen sheep, so they’re lying if they act like shepherds. Some similarly oppose all forms of literary fiction, since short stories and novels also “lie” by inventing characters and situations independent of actual people and events.
However, as I’ve previously noted, even the Scriptures use fiction (parables, allegories, and the like) to illustrate truth. However, these are always crafted not to deceive or manipulate but to enlighten the hearer. I think that dramatics, if it follows a similar philosophy, is likewise innocent of deceit.
You, however, don’t seem overly worried with possible “lies” you might be telling your audience. You’re addressing bigger concerns. One is the possibility that as you inhabit a character, you could start lying to yourself. This happens when an actor blurs the boundaries between self and character and begins to believe that the fictitious thoughts and situations are real and are part of the actor’s own life.
Depictions of human passion are even more touchy, since one’s emotional pretense can begin to become one’s actual condition. Some years ago, I saw a study stating that pretending to be happy and forcing a smile on your face can, within a fairly short time, make you start feeling happier. I’ve also read of actors whose pretense of anger became actual rage by the time they finished a scene.
Similarly, if you pay attention to their biographies, you’ll find a number of actors whose real-life romances began as stage or film pretenses. Sadly, many of these fictional flirtations eroded real relationships, ending engagements and destroying marriages. Do you think it’s a coincidence that the divorce rate in the Screen Actors Guild is probably higher than that of any other labor union? Why else do we marvel that some actors remain faithfully married for upwards of twenty years?
Yet acting only magnifies some of the frailties all of us endure in our mortal flesh. Putting sinners in proximity with each other constantly risks sinful interaction. It’s not only actors who fall in love (or lust) with coworkers — it happens in hospitals, burger joints, and even churches. Most of us have heard of — or even know — pastors who leave their families and take up with their secretaries or other parishioners.
Self-control is listed among “the fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23. It is commanded to all Christians, especially regarding our sexuality (1 Corinthians 7:5-9). Scripture also singles out the clergy (cf. 1 Timothy 3:2) because God knows that even those called to speak on His behalf too often listen to the lies of their own hearts instead of the truth of His Word.
Have I led you to reconsider your acting career? That wasn’t my intent. However, I did want you to reconsider who you are as a child of God and to learn to constantly evaluate your thoughts and feelings under His light. If you are strongly convinced that you can and should be serving Him through the vocation of actor, what will you do to keep yourself open to Him? Will you also invite Him to keep you closed to temptation, particularly those common to the craft?
If you greatly risk succumbing to wrong passion during your pretense, I think you need to reevaluate your career choice. If you cannot convincingly portray strong emotion without being taken prisoner by it, you’re certainly at risk. However, if you can convincingly illustrate Truth even through the illusion of the stage, then I hope and pray that you’ll find roles that play to your personal strengths while also bringing glory to God. Even as He created us to be good and holy, so may you create characters who confront our wicked natures yet point to His abiding love and the redemption that is ours through His Son.
Kissing scenes from Hollywood’s Most Memorable Movie Kisses at MSNBC include From Here to Eternity, Lady and the Tramp, and Spider-Man.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.
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Newspaper column #545