The memoir Fun Home, by lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel, made news this summer when a Duke University student chose not to read the book as part of the freshman reading program. He shared his decision with classmates in a closed Facebook group, citing passages of the graphic novel that included illustrated sex scenes. By the time national media picked up on the news, the controversy mushroomed into a debate over Christian censorship.
Despite the exaggerated headlines, the Duke freshman at the center of the story doesn’t take issue with narratives from LGBT authors or ideas that oppose his worldview. As he explained in a nuanced and reasoned Washington Postessay, his decision not to read Fun Home comes out of a distinction between words and images.
When I was a college freshman, my psychology professor showed a documentary about sex. His matter-of-fact warning that the film was “explicit” didn’t prepare me for what appeared on the screen. Within a few minutes, I made my way to the back and left the room. Thirty years later, I still remember the images. So I sympathize with the Duke student.
After praising his essay and sharing it with my own students, I found myself in the midst of a bigger discussion about Fun Home, cultural engagement, literature, pornography, and Christian responsibility. Works that explore issues of sex and sexuality need not be entirely off-limits to Christian readers; in certain cases, we stand to gain valuable insights about the consequences of sexual and relational brokenness from them. At the same time, we must not allow our exposure to sexual sin (whether through art or in real life) to turn into participation in it. As Christians, where do we draw the lines? And ...1
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