What's the Digital

Filtered by Faith

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

—Philippians 4:8, ESV


It’s evening; you’re at home with family in front of your new flat screen TV. It’s connected to the latest streaming services, such as ROKU, AppleTV, Netflix, AmazonfireTV, and others. When you press the remote’s “on” button, dazzling, colorful images seemingly set your living room ablaze. From the powerful, full–ranged speakers, exciting music fills the popcorn–scented air. The movie you’ve all been waiting to see finally appears and immediately captures your attention. Everyone snuggles up now, because—it’s “showtime!”

However, less than ten minutes into the star–studded production, one of the stars says something awkward. Another one does something inappropriate, a group of them perform a shocking scene. Your family feels uncomfortable now and tries to mask their feelings with nervous laughter and more popcorn.

At this point, you’re thinking, Why is this in the movie? How am I going to explain this to the kids? At the same time, they’re wondering, Should I ask Mom or Dad what that word means? 

Skip, mute, repeat

Today, thanks to a service called VidAngel, you no longer have to accept the unacceptable in movies and TV. VidAngel provides a way to skip or mute things you don’t want to see or hear in movies and on TV shows. VidAngel uses a filtering system to skip distasteful clips, and mute unwanted language, all in the privacy of your home.

During a 30–day free trial, subscribers learn how to remove content from categories, such as “Language” or “Violence.” Through a programmable system, content from sub–categories, such as “Profanity” or “Graphic Violence” can be circumvented.

By using individual filters, viewers can skip or mute content, including specific words or certain scenes.

In addition to screening secular movies from major studios, VidAngel also offers its own high–quality original content such as “Dry Bar Comedy,” the world’s largest library of clean comedy. Subscribers can also learn more on current financial events in a program called, “Life on Bitcoin.” Specifically Christian series such as “The Chosen” by Dallas Jenkins, are all free.

“VidAngel is great if you have HBO GO, Amazon Prime, or Netflix,” says Ryan Dobson, son of Dr. James Dobson and host of his own show called, “Rebel Parenting.” Ryan Dobson has also launched a new series based on his dad’s early productions. It’s called “Building a Family Legacy” and includes new material from his dad’s interviews with guests.

“It’s a parent’s dream,” Ryan says of VidAngel. “What’s interesting is how we watch movies and it even cuts phrases that uses the Lord’s name in vain, such as ‘OMG.’ We as a family, don’t do that. I’m allergic to that phrase.”

Sharing family values

Dobson says filtering gives him and his wife Laura an opportunity to share their values with the kids. “When VidAngel makes those cuts, the kids notice. They ask, ‘Why is that so important to you, Daddy?’ It’s then my job to say why. ‘Because we respect and love the Lord. I have a relationship with Jesus. He died for me. Because of that, I don’t want His name taken in vain in front of us.’ That now means that my kids get to see me put my money where my mouth is.”

Dobson says many people believe that if they filter shows with violent, inappropriate scenes, there will be little remaining to enjoy. But studies actually reveal a surprising reality. “If you put every filter VidAngel offers on most shows, on average, it cuts only about 2 ½ minutes, maybe 3 minutes out of an entire program. That’s about 1 percent of a 30–minute program!

“It’s almost nothing, but it changes who you are,” says Dobson. “You don’t have those images stuck in your brain. You’re not comparing your spouse to certain people on screen. You’re not comparing your life to their lives. You’re not hearing those words being used in your home. That’s a big deal.”

Friendly fire?

So why did Disney, the renowned family–friendly organization, seek an injunction against VidAngel in 2016? Dobson believes there is an underlying ideological struggle going on in Hollywood that goes far deeper than the “bottom line” and reaches the very foundation of our values as a society. “R–rated movies make up 80 percent of all movies produced, yet G and PG movies are responsible for 70 percent of all income from movies,” says Dobson, a fact that is confirmed by leading movie revenue analysts. “They are not just trying to make money. If they were, they’d produce more family–friendly entertainment.”

When news about the Disney vs. VidAngel lawsuit broke, the support it received from subscribers was overwhelming, said Neal Harmon, CEO of VidAngel. In an open letter to supporters he wrote, “VidAngel believes in personal freedom. Producers and directors should have the personal freedom to create whatever movies and TV shows they choose. We condemn censorship of their content in the public sphere.

“But individuals in the privacy of their homes should have the personal freedom to watch that content and the way they choose. That right is protected by law. That’s why VidAngel does not claim to be a moral authority. We will never tell you what to watch or what filters to use when watching a movie or TV show. You have the choice to watch however you want. VidAngel is here to facilitate your personal choice.”

The original 2016 preliminary injunction against VidAngel was ruled “permanent,” but with modifications. Since VidAngel shut down its old system in January 2017, it has never used it to offer any provider’s content. Instead, the company pioneered a new system, void of Disney’s content.

“We advised the court that we had not used the old system in any way for more than 32 months and ‘unequivocally’ committed never to use it again, absent a change in the law,” wrote Harmon. Nonetheless, the judge issued a new injunction, which included “parents, affiliates, and subsidiaries” of Disney.

Harmon wrote, “As we have done in the past, we will proceed with the utmost caution. We are removing the titles that are seemingly subject to the injunction.”

Harmon encouraged VidAngel fans to support an effort to pass a Family Movie Act to permit filtering of all movies. “Let’s re–double our efforts to seek a solution,” wrote Harmon.

by Warren L. Maye

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