Some Christian leaders are speaking out about the controversial Netflix series "13 Reasons Why," which tells the story of a teenage girl who commits suicide.
The episodic series, based on a popular young adult novel, features a narrative driven by audio tapes made by the fictional teen, Hannah Baker, explaining why she chose to take her own life.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote about the series on his website on April 27:
Some would say that 13 Reasons Why doesn’t at all "glamorize" suicide or anything else. After all, the vibe of the series is jarringly bleak. No one would see, they would argue, anything there that could be seen as an advertisement for suicide. That’s true, of course, but suicide isn’t glamorized by glamour. Suicide isn’t, in fact, “glamorized” at all, anywhere.
The appeal to suicide isn’t that it might be fun. The appeal to suicide is that it might be an escape. This is what makes the message of 13 Reasons Why perilous. In order to provoke tragedy in a hurting teens life, no one needs to make suicide glamorous; one only needs to make suicide plausible.
What concerns me about the show is that the central conceit of the series feeds one of the drivers of teenage suicide, and that is the sense of suicide as storyline...
13 Reasons Why, I fear, just might fuel the pull to suicide in some because the storyline itself furthers the illusion that suicide is “fixing” something—even if only bringing a kind of closure to the character arcs of the supporting figures in the drama. The "star" of the program is still the deceased teenager. This is not what suicide is like—and the dramatization of suicide as story-shift could be deadly for some.
Moore did admit that the series may "prompt friends and parents and youth ministers to talk about suicide, to signal to those in trouble that they are not alone and they won’t be judged if they come forward and seek help."
Julia Jeffress Sadler, the girls ministry director at First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and the daughter of Trump supporter Pastor Robert Jeffress, offered some compliments in an op-ed in The Christian Post on April 28:
I knew immediately when I heard about "Thirteen Reasons Why" that I would inevitably write about this show, since I speak passionately about teen suicide to our young people. I went into the show ready to be a critic. I was ready to bash it for romanticizing suicide and for depicting dark images and ideas.
However, I wasn't prepared for the overwhelming accuracy of this show. Because, if 1 in 6 women are sexually abused and 5,000 teenagers in the United States attempt suicide daily, then there are a lot of Hannah Bakers out there.
Sadler went on to say that the fictional leading character had a mentality like real life victims:
While this idea can sound harsh, it is the reason Hannah Baker's character and millions of other people take their own lives. I remember counseling a suicidal 20-year-old girl who was a complete puzzle to me. I could not figure out why this beautiful and talented young woman with her whole life ahead of her was suicidal.
Finally, she said to me, "I want to commit suicide because I want my dad to know how badly he hurt me when he sexually abused me."
That is the suicidal delusion that many teenagers and adults believe -- that because of what has happened in their life, their life is over.
Sadler explained that those with a victim mentality think they are the only victims:
Many suffering people believe they are the only ones. They are the only ones being bullied. They are the only ones being sexually abused. They are the only ones without friends. And when people believe they are alone, they feel hopeless. But, luckily, our lives are never hopeless, never beyond repair, and never beyond redemption because God is big enough to use the worst parts of our lives for His ultimate plan.
Plugged In, a review website of the Christian ministry Focus on the Family, reviewed the book version of "13 Reasons Why."
"Hannah is fatalistic, and she doesn't claim responsibility for her actions, blaming the people around her for her decision to take her own life. While this novel condemns suicide as a poor choice offers suggestions for suicide prevention, it also validates the notion that if a person commits suicide, he or she will have the power from beyond the grave to make people pay," the review states. "If part of the allure of killing oneself is that people will feel horrible for what they did, then this story presents suicide as an effective tool for achieving that goal."