EBH: An Update about my Correspondence with Focus on the Family concerning ‘Twilight’s Merits

As you may recall, a few weeks ago, John posted my concerned letter to Focus on the Family after their two-part program that essentially threw up caution tape around the Twilight Saga. After a week or so, I received a response. Below please find the letter Focus wrote to me, my reply, and the most recent response from Focus to my second letter. I’m not planning to reply further, as they clearly are getting more mail on the subject, and I feel a little sorry for Michael Krider, as he may just be the poor guy who drew the short straw and was assigned to respond to the Twilight backlash. I am intrigued by the line in the last letter that indicates  Focus is, as John supposed, taking heat for not being anti-Twilight enough for some folks. There are also, it seems, plenty of others who, like myself, feel that High School Musical is far more “dangerous” than Twilight. Maybe I’m just over-sensitive, but it seems that the FOF folks are more afraid of the crowd that wants them to start burning any book with fictional elements than they are of me. Oh well, now back to our regularly scheduled thoughtful discussion; for me, that means back to the Hunger Games post I’m working up for later this week and some more thoughts on reading , writing, and thinking.

FOF letter #1 March 26, 2010

Dear Elizabeth:

Greetings from Focus on the Family, and thank you for sharing your thoughts in response to our recent broadcast titled “Helping Parents Navigate the Vampire Phenomena.”  In light of your profession as a teacher of literature, your perspective is of great interest to us, and we appreciate your input.

As we read your comments, it was clear to us that you’ve analyzed Twilight from a literary perspective, and believe it has merit from that standpoint.  We also understand why you feel the books and films could prompt meaningful conversations, just as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has sparked imaginations and influenced discussions for centuries.  We certainly agree with you that people of all ages can often appreciate the beauty and the value of great literary and theatrical works from the past while still maintaining a firm grasp of reality.

Yet, it’s important to remember that the setting of the Twilight books and movies is contemporary, and teens (especially girls) are able to easily identify with the stories and the characters included in them.  While mature individuals might be intrigued by the Twilight novels and films for literary reasons, it’s all too easy for a young person to get caught up in an unhealthy fantasy of idealized romance.  Because the stories our youth embrace through movies and books can significantly influence the way they think about important areas of life, we believe it is best when these stories closely align with biblical truth about the meaning of real love, rather than the worldly view of romance and passion that the world so often promotes.

There’s another issue that we want to mention before closing: Twilight is about vampires.  While some might believe this is an insignificant detail, we see this as part of a growing trend that warrants our awareness and our caution.  From our perspective, it’s obvious that the current fascination with vampires is closely linked to our culture’s preoccupation with violence, death, and the darker side of humanity.  For this reason, one of the primary purposes of the radio program mentioned above was to help parents provide guidance for their children as they encounter vampirism in popular entertainment.

Again, thank you for writing, Elizabeth.  We value your feedback, and hope that our response has provided helpful clarification.  May God bless and guide you in the days ahead.

Michael Krider
Focus on the Family

My response  March 26,2010

Dr. Mr. Krider,

Thank you for your thoughtful response to my recent email.  I truly appreciate your taking the time to respond personally, and, as always, I appreciate Focus and its commitment to family.

I strongly agree that parents must be wary of many cultural trends; I actually wrote to Focus several years ago with my concerns about the popular fan fiction trends (even more rampant now)that can easily lead unwary young readers from a fun story based on a favorite comic book or literary hero to graphic violence and hard-core homoerotic pornography. My hope was not that parents would forbid their children to read stories written by other readers, but that parents would be aware of the trend and monitor the fanfiction read by their children. (I am not sure if that concern was ever covered on Focus. I did not receive a reply.)

While an aim of the two broadcasts last week may have been to make parents aware of the growing interest in the subject of vampires, that was not the impression that was created.  I am sure that many of the vampire books, movies, and television shows currently in circulation are very inappropriate for most young readers and viewers; I really can’t say, as, like Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, I don’t watch those movies or shows or read those books. She and I share an aversion for the horror genre.  In fact, the  “purists” among those who do enjoy that sort of thing are apparently revolted by the Twilight Saga, which they certainly recognize as having little to do with their take on vampires. In many ways, I fear the attack on Meyer’s work may be a bit like well-meaning parents or teachers  who would snatch the fantasy works of Lewis or Tolkien away from their children because these books include some of the same elements used by atheist writers like Phillip Pullman, or because these adults feel an interest in Lewis or Tolkien may  lead children to His Dark Materials (despite Pullman’s very public and very nasty comments about Lewis).  In fact, some Twilight readers may  find themselves repulsed by the “usual” sort of vampire-themed entertainment since it does not fit with the world Meyer has crafted. I really would have enjoyed more focus on how parents can talk to their children who are interested in Twilight in order to engage them with texts like Wuthering Heights rather than the plethora of low-quality dark fantasy materials being churned out by the media in an obvious effort to cash in on the success of Twilight.  We should all hope that the books we enjoy will lead us to richer and more complex reading. As the author of a book analyzing the influence of Milton and Spenser on the Chronicles of Narnia, I am clearly invested in this topic, and  as a teacher, I am constantly seeking ways to help my students become stronger, more thoughtful readers.

In addition, the real-world setting you mention, which has turned Forks, WA, into a tourist  trap (Meyer has commented that she would have used a fictional town as a setting had she realized the books would be so popular), may actually lead to some of the more positive discussions one could have with younger readers. (I personally would not recommend  the Twilight Saga to readers younger than high school, as, in its beautifully presented pro-life message, Breaking Dawn includes a violent birth as an important plot element.) It is all too easy for the popular culture to convince young people that chastity and traditional family values were fine and dandy when Jane Austen was alive, but “nobody thinks that way anymore”; Meyer’s protagonists do.

Perhaps Focus should consider a series on helping parents and educators to become more thoughtful readers themselves and to pass these skills along to their children and students. It is clear that in the media-drenched world our children encounter every day, they must learn to be savvy readers who can think critically, seeking to grow both spiritually and intellectually. While it is wonderful to use resources such as the excellent Plugged In, we must be able to evaluate materials for ourselves as well and not always rely on a “green light” from such resources.  This program or series might also help counter the unfortunate stereotype (fostered by the mainstream media) of Christians as mindless sheep rather than as the clever but gentle snake/doves Christ admonishes His followers to imitate in Matthew 10:16.

Once again, thank you so much for responding to my email and for Focus on the Family’s devotion to helping families thrive. May our Savior continue to bless you, your families, and  your vital ministry.

FOF Response # 2 April 12, 2010
Dear Elizabeth:

Hello from Focus on the Family, and thanks for writing to us once again.  Your friendship and your interest in our ministry mean a great deal to us.

We’re pleased that you shared additional insights pertaining to the messages communicated through the Twilight book series.  It was also thoughtful of you to explain why you believe parents and educators could use these novels as a springboard for discussions on topics that are relevant to young people.  Be assured that your input is genuinely valued.

When it comes to entertainment, we believe there’s room for disagreement, as well as dialogue.  As you mentioned in your e-mail, one of the significant benefits of literature is that it opens up opportunities for people to discuss values and important issues.  At the same time, this is a very subjective area, and no two people will read a book and respond to it in exactly the same way.

Along those lines, it may interest you to know that other people have contacted us and have shared opinions and ideas similar to yours.  And, we’ve also heard from individuals who think we have not taken a strong enough stand against certain elements in the Twilight novels.   We respect these diverse viewpoints, and we appreciate all the input.  Having said that, we assure you that it is not our purpose to tell people which books to read and which ones to avoid.  Instead, we want to provide information that will help them make these decisions for themselves based on the dictates of their own conscience.

Thanks for getting in touch with us again, Elizabeth.  Although our views on Twilight differ from yours, please know that we appreciate the time and energy you’ve invested in communicating with us.  May God bless you in the days ahead.

Michael Krider
Focus on the Family


  1. Arabella Figg says

    To sum up, your input is appreciated, but not deemed valid; it doesn’t fit into the narrow criteria used to determine worth and what is “safe.” They respect your opinion as long as you don’t expect them to take it seriously.

    As you’ve identified yourself as a literature teacher at a secular college it’s easy to dismiss you. Literature easily means “liberal arts” with the emphasis on “liberal.” So they isolate your opinion to literary appreciation, not a forte of the conservative Christian culture. Only “mature individuals might be intrigued by the Twilight novels and films for literary reasons.” FOF isn’t,, they make clear. And young people can’t be trusted.

    The FOF devoted aren’t independent thinkers and are not encouraged to be (thus they’re unlikely to read for themselves—see Harry Potter). Instead they rely on FOF as thediscerning cultural gatekeeper and read through that lens. Conservative Christians practice dispensationalism far beyond theology; they also practice it culturally. Only “the past” is safe.

    For example, apparently Romeo and Juliet is “safe,” because the story of hot-blooded young people is at a remove due to 400 years, Elizabethan costume, and poetic language. But if the story is told in a vivid contemporary way, it suddenly becomes dangerous. This completely ignores that Romeo and Juliet has survived because it is a universally relatable story transcending time, place and language, and has been the platform upon which many stories have since been built. So at what point, then, does a work become old enough to not be a threat to young people?

    This carbon dating is also used with music. Pre-20th Century “classical composers” are revered, no matter how deplorable their personal lives, while contemporary classical music is dismissed because it may be unacceptably discordant or in minor key (these are deemed “bad”), even if composed by thoughtful, devout Christians.

    According to this logic, difficult concepts are only “safe” if they arrive in antique vehicles from the traditional Western Canon Factory. We accept the treasures of our western culture only if they have lost the immediacy that made them controversial or punchy in their day.

    Thus, the only safe author is a dead author. Unless it’s a contemporary author sold in Christian bookstores, especially if they write novels that take place among the Amish, who may not use zippers, but do live with a very conservative, prescribed faith system. That these “love stories” may also be fantasy to contemporary young people is not considered. That Christian young people don’t read them, preferring Twilight, is ignored all together, along with the reasons for their preference.

    Instead of thoughtfully considering just why vampires have become so popular, and what that may say about spiritual longing in our age, FOF determines that such stories are “closely linked to our culture’s preoccupation with violence, death, and the darker side of humanity” (as if these things are common only to our times). Your comments about Twilight not being about vampires are ignored.

    Mr. Krider writes, “as you mentioned in your e-mail, one of the significant benefits of literature is that it opens up opportunities for people to discuss values and important issues. At the same time, this is a very subjective area, and no two people will read a book and respond to it in exactly the same way.” Can’t you say this about the Bible? Let’s have holy wars with our doctrine guns, but be afraid to discuss literature because we may step on some toes.

    They agree to disagree, but won’t concede you an inch.

    “… we assure you that it is not our purpose to tell people which books to read and which ones to avoid. Instead, we want to provide information that will help them make these decisions for themselves based on the dictates of their own conscience.” Uh-huh.

    Their response doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

  2. mentis splendidus says

    Professor Elizabeth,

    I appreciated your finely crafty and well argued letters to FOF. Perhaps you have given them some palatable fodder to chew on that may one day result in gas-free digestion.

    I haven’t read the works of Mrs. Meyer, but anytime a modern author writes to encourage young women (and young men too) to avoid the example of Jezebel and, if failing that, to not slaughter their children is a cause for rejoicing. Such occasions are all too few nowadays.

    Arabella, I must say you have shed new light on FOF for me. I once thought of this crowd as a passel of theologically minded people who encouraged building strong families based on a traditional interpretation of the Bible. Now I see them for the evil horde that they are, thanks to you. Indeed, they must be communists.

    And your take on “conservative Christian culture”: positively breathtaking! This gang is definitely your “forte.” I mean you have them figured out. I never knew they were all so “narrow” and that a cultural gate-keeping politburo controlled their thinking. And to think they have been running around willy-nilly all this time blasting away with their “doctrine guns” is maddening. Where is Joseph McCarthy when you need him?

  3. Mentis (from Elizabeth),
    Thanks for your kind comments on my letters. It was not easy writing them since I (and I think Arabella, too) recognize the worth of FOF, particularly in providing resources to support families in difficult seasons of their lives.
    I don’t think Arabella is trying to paint the whole group with a tarred brush and a bag of feathers in the other hand. Rather, it seems she is pointing out the dangers of any group being seen as the necessary rubber stamp of approval for what we read or watch, so that people carrying around books that have not met that approval get narrow-eyed stares and are treated like pariahs (that litmus test John often refers to). And really, I’ve gotten that stare for carrying around Harry Potter, but not Spenser, whose work is also littered with magic!
    While I appreciate their input on entertainment, especially their movie reviews for films I consider for the kids(I’d like to know going in just how much swearing in in that movie, for example!), I don’t see the FOF seal of approval as necessary for anything I read or watch. Unfortunately, that is what many people do, as Arabella points out. They think if FOF likes/dislikes it, they must do the same, rather than taking FOF’s input into consideration as they make thoughtful decisions for themselves.
    Ironically, just as some folks at FOF worry that certain books will make readers into mindless followers, some of FOF’s followers can be just as mindless, just as un-critical in their thought.
    Arabella doesn’t say they are an evil horde, just that they are flawed human beings like the rest of us, so it’s a bad idea to treat their every word as Gospel (and some people really do assume anything from FOF is scriptual without ever checking for themselves.)

    Interestingly, FOF is now really pushing this movie coming on Sunday night, which does sound very wholesome and positive, but the FOF program yesterday kept harping on Walmart, the movie’s primary sponsor, as a wonderful, positive, family-focused partner.
    As far as I’m concerned, Walmart is a necessary evil (the Buy N Large chain from WALL-E) which is far more capable of destroying families with its emphasis on more and more “stuff” and questionable employment practices than is Twilight. And, of course, Walmart makes a killing on Twilight movies and merchandising! (not to mention all those tabloids) To quote the little wooden-eyed fellow from Pirates of the Caribbean: ‘Now that’s what you call ironic!”

  4. maggiemay says

    Arabella, thanks for the great line about the Amish stories, I laughed so hard. I’ll admit I used to be a big supporter of FOF and one of their mindless cultural followers. I didn’t become any kind of serious reader until later in life, unfortunately. My daughter has attended a well-known evangelical college(which doesn’t allow R rated movies in the dorms), but is leaving after two years for a private liberal arts college supported by a mainline denomination. Life just doesn’t happen according to FOF’s perfect little evangelical plan, most girls are reading and loving Twilight and we moms had better be prepared to discuss all of it with them. Thanks to Elizabeth for guest-posting!

  5. Arabella Figg says

    Maggiemay, I just now saw your comment. A big thank you to both Elizabeth and you! My comment arose from a lively discussion I had with my husband about this post; some of my points were his (shame on me for not crediting him) and I extrapolated upon them along with my own. I still wonder how old or archaic in style something must be to make it “acceptable” or “safe” for contemporary Christians. And who decides on the carbon-dating.

  6. randy vandyke says

    At college, they always spoke of nuance. Here we have the crudest of stereotyping. Here we have vitriol aimed at FOF for saying that books about the vampires are a concern. I never understand how unkind people can be toward one another. The professor said that she hasn’t read or seen most vampire books or movies. The horror genre itself is a red flag for me. Most vampire stories contain an element of sexual tension; many border on pornographic. The only reason I would go near Twilight is because of Bram Stroker’s book and John.

    Please reread the Professor’s letter. It contained respect and dignity. It was not “put on” respect or cosmetic dignity, but rather attitudes that come from the heart. If you savor a word aptly stuck in someone’s back, if you can’t wait to get to your computer to compose a snide post or email, you’re in a bad way. There are no “safe” places to be impolite.

  7. Arabella Figg says

    Gee, randy vandyke, tell me what you really think! I’m pulling the shards out of my back right now to open up space.

    I have yet to have a critic on this post who has actually (and politely) delivered a serious answer to the points I raise about the carbon-dating of literature. Should anyone do so, I’ll be interested in that disucssion.

  8. randy vandyke says

    I had hoped my tone was gentle. I meant it to be and I mean to be now. Have you actually listened to the two broadcasts, by the way. In the second day of the program they make the point twice that they are not in the business of telling people what to watch. After that they proceed to give advice to those who choose to read or let their children read the books. Arabella have you visited Plugged In, FoF’s entertainment site? They interact and say good things about all sorts of music. My daughter is a Taylor Swift fan; she used Plugged In to persuade me to let her listen. I have since listened to some on the songs and talked with her about “stirring love before its time”. Of course they positively review CCM albums and tracks too. There are other sites that do the same. Just google it.

    By the way, how would Anna Karenina stand as a classic rebuttal to Romeo and Juliet?

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