What do The Office, The Simpsons, and 30 Rock have in common? A lot probably, but at the very least, each has a “Christian” character that is often made fun of throughout the show. It’s becoming more and more popular to poke fun at Christians whether lightheartedly (i.e. Simpsons) or scathingly (i.e. Jesus Camp). In fact if you browse the “faith and spirituality” section of Netflix, you will notice a number of movies that seem poised to poke fun at American Evangelicalism.
So how should we respond when Angela on The Office criticizes the other character’s morals while being in a sexually immoral relationship herself? What should we think when Ned Flanders from The Simpsons is portrayed as naive and overbearing? How should we feel about scathing documentaries like Religulous and Jesus Camp?
I propose three appropriate responses to the mocking of Christians:
1. Learn. What can we learn from what is being said about “Christians” in this film, television show, or video game? Is there some truth to what they are saying? Angela is rude, snobbish, and hypocritical. Was her character pulled out of thin air just to be mean to Christians? Probably not, whoever wrote her character probably knows some professing Christians who are insufferably rude. What can we learn from her character? At the very least, when Christians are made fun of on TV, we are seeing at least someone’s perception of us. Before we cry foul, we should at least consider whether this perception has some credibility to it. This may mean we need to examine ourselves and see if there is hypocrisy in us or it could mean that we need to simply determine to be slandered and turn the other cheek–after all Jesus said we are “blessed when others revile” us and “utter all kinds of evil falsely against us” (Matt. 5:11).
In the Angela example, perhaps we need to learn how we are sometimes perceived and determine not to be so rude and insufferable. Even when we are giving reason for the hope that is in us, we are to do so with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15-16). I will admit to only having watched a small number of Simpson’s episodes, but sometimes, Ned Flander’s odd behavior is envied by Homer and generally lauded by the show (Kenneth from 30 Rock is another good example–he is probably the most kind and giving character on the show). Though we ought to expect the world to hate us (John 15:18), we ought also to avoid the pitfall of assuming the world hates us in every way that they portray us. Sometimes, believe it or not, Christians are portrayed in a very positive light.
If you feel that Christians are being unfairly caricatured, its pretty simple–by God’s grace, seek to rise above it!
2. Laugh. If we are truly trying to live above the false stereotypes that the world often has about us, then eventually those stereotypes will become absurd to us and perhaps even funny. When Angela is asked what book she would want with her if she was stranded on a deserted island, she says The Purpose Driven Life. Seriously one book and you pick that? Not the Bible? To me, the Bible was such an obvious choice that it makes her statement plainly absurd. Sometimes media blasts aspects of evangelical Christianity that need to be blasted–in this particular instance, I laughed because they are not making fun of Christianity or the Bible, they are making fun of evangelical subculture, much of which isn’t necessarily biblical or explicitly Christian (I am not making any particular statement about The Purpose Driven Life by the way). For maturing Christians many of these things should appear to be absurd–so much so that we can, at times, laugh.
3. Love. When Christians are made fun of unfairly or out of an attempt to discredit and damage us–we ought to love those people who are making fun of us. Jesus commands us to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.” If being mocked on TV is persecution of Christians, it is a pretty light form, but nonetheless if we are to love those who persecute us, how should we feel toward those who mock us? Its pretty simple–we should love them. We don’t have to agree with them, but we are commanded to love them.
The easiest thing to do when we feel we are misrepresented by pop culture is to boycott whatever we feel is discrediting us. I would argue that very little good comes from boycotting that which pokes fun at us. However, great good could come from learning from those who make fun of us and sometimes what is being made fun of is so far from where we are spiritually that we can laugh along. Finally, in any and every instance, we should love those who mock us–praise the Lord that Jesus did the same for us.