I have been married thirty-five years and am the father of eight, two of whom still depend on me for support. I support my family by owning and managing a combination cafe and nightclub. We put on music and comedy acts, both local and nationally touring ones. During the last several years, I have grown increasingly worried about the content of some of this programming.
Occasionally we have a program suitable for families, but for the club to make money, most programs have to be aimed at adults. Nationally touring shows are booked through promoters, whose better offers often involve a package of two or more acts. I usually know pretty much what an act will be like, but sometimes I am surprised.
It is easy to exclude certain types of acts—for example, heavy metal, satanic “music.” Even if a promoter is pushing this sort of thing, I turn it down: “It brings in a rowdy crowd, with a real risk of damage to my place.” My concern is with programming that is harder to censor: immodest attire by performers, lyrics or skits that ridicule sound values, irreverence toward God and things religious, acts meant to appeal to gays and lesbians, witchcraft (it came as a surprise from a booked singer), approval and encouragement of hedonism, and so forth.
Besides providing a living for us, the business has another good aspect. Often after a show is over, and occasionally at other times, I get a chance to talk seriously with performers and others involved in the business. Many times, I can explain my faith and defend it. Not always, but often, people have shown more respect, at least while here, and a few performers have told me they see the point and will permanently eliminate objectionable elements from their acts.
If I program only acts I am certain are morally sound, I will soon be out of business. Those I deal with regard me as selective, and others in the business see me as setting the tone of the club, which they consider quite restrained. I do want to maintain a decent tone in my place, but freedom of speech and rejection of censorship put limits on what I can do.
What is my responsibility? If I sold the club, someone interested only in making money might book programming that would do even more harm to audiences. Would I be responsible for that, so that I may not sell? If I simply closed the club, it would be a great financial loss, since we not only make our living from it but have most of our money tied up in it and our home. Should I keep on walking this tightrope, trying to keep the club more or less decent, even while the acts available become more questionable year by year?
This question mainly concerns scandal, which the questioner must avoid. While he may intentionally book acts objectionable on various grounds, he should not intentionally program anything that appeals to patrons by involving objective immorality, supplying material for their sins, or confirming them in a sinful way of life. This responsibility requires a reasonable effort before booking any act to ascertain that it will be morally acceptable. If an act includes unexpected objectionable content, even though other responsibilities may justify the questioner’s tolerating what it would have been wrong for him to program intentionally, he should not tolerate a performance likely to lead some patrons into grave sin and/or undercut his Christian witness. If he examines his conscience and judges he has been transgressing the moral limits, he should stop doing so at once and reform the business so that it is operating morally. Then, but only then, may he sell it.
In general, you obviously take a sound attitude toward your business. You do not regard it simply as a way of making a living, but as an opportunity to bear witness to your faith, and you are concerned, as you should be, about the moral effect on patrons of the entertainment you offer. Since leading others into a grave sin, even a sin to which they are predisposed, is a grave sin of scandal, you have good reason for that concern.
You perhaps should extend it a bit further, beyond not doing your customers moral injury to benefiting them as much as possible. To do this, you must consider how good entertainment should fit into their lives. It should help them to relax, to celebrate, to communicate with one another, and so strengthen them and their relationships, and should send them back to their other responsibilities—at work, home, school, and so on—more ready to fulfill them.
In considering the morally questionable characteristics of entertainment available for booking, first make a distinction between (1) what is tasteless, vulgar, or religiously insensitive, and (2) what appeals to some members of the audience precisely by involving objective immorality (such as blasphemy or witchcraft) or by supplying material for sin (such as pornography) or by confirming them in a sinful way of life (such as entertainment meant to appeal to homosexually active persons by implicitly or explicitly approving their behavior). In trying to book programs that will be profitable, you may if necessary include some involving only the first. But the second you may not intentionally program, since in doing that you would intentionally lead your customers into sin by seeking their approval and enjoyment of the material, which either would be gravely sinful in itself or a near occasion of grave sin.
What does may not intentionally program mean? I do not think it means you must be certain every act you book is of good moral value. It means that when you know an act bases its appeal on something unacceptable, you may not book it. It also means you must try to find out whether an unfamiliar act will be unacceptable, and, if that seems likely, not book it.
Until you have made a contract, I see no reason why you should consider yourself constrained by concerns about freedom of speech and censorship. As the owner of the place, you have every right, not only morally but legally, to decide what you will and will not book; you are responsible for the tone of your place and have the right to be selective. Moreover, I am confident that a competent lawyer could draw up language for the contracts you make when booking acts requiring performers to observe your standards and to exclude specific sorts of behavior you consider morally unacceptable.
Even if you take due precautions and book only what you believe will be morally acceptable, a performer may confront you with content you could not have booked in good conscience. In that case, you could tolerate the performance and accept its morally bad effect on patrons without intending that evil. The prospect of serious financial and/or other injury to you and your family might justify such toleration within limits. But your tolerance must end if it seems to you likely some of your patrons will suffer grave moral injury and/or your Christian witness will be undercut. For example, you would be obliged to cancel an act if it unexpectedly included straightforward pornography.
Obviously, you are devoted to your faith and are conscientious. If not, you would never have sent me this question. Moreover, I take seriously your point that besides providing income for your family, you value your business as a channel for bearing witness to your faith. Still, you have been increasingly uneasy about the entertainment you have been providing, and you must now try to make a sound judgment of conscience. Bring to bear every bit of faith and devotion you have, remembering Jesus’ warning: What does it profit if one gains the whole world but loses one’s very soul (see Mt 16.26, Mk 8.36, Lk 9.25)? Plainly, if the whole world is not worth the price paid for sinning, your business is not worth it, though it has been of great significance to you and your family.
What must you do if, after thinking over what you have been doing, you find you certainly or probably have been transgressing the moral limits? Stop transgressing them at once. May you sell the club? If you wish to sell it because you judge it to be immoral, the answer depends on precisely what you would be selling.
It would be right for you to sell the morally indifferent or good elements of the business: not only the building and fixtures but the patronage of people who are satisfied with morally acceptable entertainment. But it would be wrong for you to sell contracts to provide morally questionable entertainment during the coming months and/or the patronage of people accustomed to such entertainment. Since such “assets” owe their “value” to the moral evil they involve, they should not be sold, just as sinful sexual acts should not be bought and sold. So, if you cannot sell only the business’s moral elements, you may not sell it.
But you could try to reform your place to bring it within moral limits. This need not mean offering only bland, so-called family entertainment, as that is understood today. Surely there can be morally acceptable and even constructive entertainment suited and pleasing to a variety of adults with differing tastes and levels of sophistication. You might try to appeal to a new audience, such as senior citizens, whose tastes are more easily satisfied with morally acceptable material. If there is no nearby theater for live performances, you might obtain the patronage of audiences by allowing amateur companies to perform in your club. You also might experiment with the forms of entertainment that made an old-fashioned pub attractive.
If you use your imagination and try to make your place appealing in new ways to fresh customers, that might lead to greater success than you anticipate. However, if your best efforts fail and the place is no longer profitable, you could then put it on the market and, as is usual in selling anything, ask no questions about potential buyers’ plans for it. You would be proceeding like the repentant owners of a house of prostitution who turn it into a rooming house but find it no longer profitable; they may sell it without asking potential buyers what they plan to do with it.