Wise As Serpents, Even On The Daily Show, Especially On The Daily Show

Image: The Daily Show

Did you hear about that Evangelical pastor who got skewered on the Daily Show for claiming that Christians are bullied and gays beat up straights? Well, if you haven’t already, you should. In fact, you know what, just take a few to watch it:
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So, there you have it. Dumb Evangelical pastor Matt Slick gets shown up as a silly, bigoted fool for thinking that Christians are persecuted in our country. We’re the majority religion with hundreds of thousands of churches, presidents claiming our faith in the halls of power, so on and so forth. Christian fears are nothing but simple fantasy and an immature tantrum because, for once, they have to share power and rights with a real, persecuted minority. Slick is scared that he might actually get some push-back for saying horrible things against them. And that’s the whole story.

Except for it’s not–Slick has his own side to tell. Apparently the segment was one large exercise in misrepresentation and unfair mockery. In the lead-up to the interview, he was assured multiple times that he was not going to be misrepresented, edited, and that he would be given an opportunity to speak on the issue of media bias against Christian. He clarified specifically that he was not a preacher, but the head of an apologetics ministry (Founder and President of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, www.carm.org), yet he was still identified as a preacher. He was told he was to have 1.5 hour interview that expanded to 3, likely because his answers weren’t as immediately bigoted or useful. He was then heavily edited and his comments about gay violence were taken out context to make him look like an ignorant, hell-breathing, buffoon, thereby proving media bias against Christians.

So, as Christians, what should we think about this?

Well, for myself, I partially feel bad for Slick. It looks like he went on with good-faith motives wanting to share the Gospel, speak wisely to a difficult issue, and got played. Apparently he’s come in for a ton of ridicule, crass name-calling, and unwanted attention that would be uncomfortable for anybody to go through. Being disliked is bad enough. Being disliked on the basis of misrepresentations and falsehood adds injury to insult.

That said, honestly, this shouldn’t have been a shock–it’s a pre-recorded segment on The Daily Show. The program is listed under “Fake News” on Comedy Central’s website. Misrepresentation and mockery is how the show works. It really doesn’t matter what they told you in the process leading up to taping the segment, there was a 100% chance that if you go on one of those things your words would be twisted, no matter who you are. While the show clearly has a generally liberal agenda, they kinda make fun of everybody at some point, the way South Park does. (Not that I’ve ever watched that devil-show…I’ve just heard things…) You have to know that going in.

With that in mind, we need to be cautious against overplaying the persecution narrative. As far as persecution goes, getting called names and being misrepresented in the general media is kinda low on the martyrdom-meter. Compared to our brothers and sisters around the globe who actually get imprisoned, beaten, tortured, and murdered for confessing the name of Christ, getting spoofed on a cable parody show is a light and momentary affliction. Again, this is not Rome, there are no Colosseums, trials, dungeons, etc. I’m not saying Slick was particularly foolish, but when Christians over-exaggerate level of hostility they face, or ignore the real history of Christians in power adding offense to the Gospel resulting in harm, pain, and, at times, violence against people with same-sex attractions, they predictably provoke this kind of response.

That said, critics shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss the charge of bias in media and cultural portrayals of Christians in general, or with respect to homosexuality in particular. It’s willful blindness to write off any suggestion of media bias or a popular culture grown increasingly antagonistic toward traditional Christian belief. Slick does have a point. Most thoughtful Christians have almost given up expecting anyone in mainstream news or media sources trying to accurately present our viewpoints on, well, just about anything anymore. Whether it’s ridiculous ‘historical Jesus’ presentations with nothing but Jesus Seminar scholars, or the token, nutbag conservative who is asked to weigh in on the abortion debate, there is a definite tilt in the way these things are reported. There are narrative preferences that make some stories, say Westboro Baptist, ‘newsworthy’, and others, not so much.

Which leads us to the last and main point: Christians, be wise in your cultural engagement. Jesus told his disciples to be gentle as doves and cunning as serpents, because he was sending them out as sheep among wolves (Matt. 10:16). In general, Christians need to be more aware of their audiences and exercise prudence when discussing these issues. It is precisely because we are not dealing with neutral or positively-disposed hearts, but often-times ones ready to take offense and give it, that wisdom is needed. As Paul tells us, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Col. 4:5-6)

While we are to always speak graciously, occasionally walking in wisdom towards outsiders is going to look like turning down “opportunities” like these.

About Derek Rishmawy

Derek Rishmawy is the Director of College and Young Adult ministries at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Orange County, CA, serving college kids for the gospel. He’s been graciously adopted by the Triune God. That God has also seen fit to bless him with lovely wife named McKenna. He got his B.A. in Philosophy at UCI and his M.A. in Theological Studies (Biblical Studies) at APU. His passions are theology, the church, some philosophy, cultural criticism, and theology. He has been published at the Gospel Coalition, Mere Orthodoxy, and Out of Ur blog. He writes regularly at his Reformedish blog. You can connect on Facebook and can also follow him on Twitter at @DZRishmawy.

  • Andrew Dowling

    As you noted, it was a Daily Show interview. If Slick didn’t do any research and not know the show’s bread and butter is satire, than that is his fault. I have little sympathy for him.
    And Christians are not persecuted here.

    Misrepresented in the media? EVERYONE gets misrepresented by the media; welcome to the show.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    I saw this already on an article by Denny Burk, explaining why he rejected this same invitation! Good on Denny for having the wisdom to say no, deep sympathies to Matt for getting suckered into it. He learned the hard way, now he’ll never do something like this again.

  • Brett

    Rather than only Mr. Slick’s fault, I would suggest that he shares some
    blame instead. He probably should have been aware that since the Daily
    Show claims to be satire, the taped interview segments were almost
    certainly going to distort his words, and that show staff were going to
    lie to him when they said they wouldn’t. But the choice to lie to him,
    on the other hand, and the choice to deliberately misrepresent him is all on Show staff. If they told him the truth — “We are going to distort your position and edit what you say so that you fit the stereotype we know our audience will laugh at” — he would not have agreed, so they lied to get what they wanted.

    I’d agree, certainly, that this is not persecution — more like an annoyance. Which is probably also something that Mr. Slick should have seen coming, because “annoyance” pretty much sums up the Daily Show’s reason for existing.

  • sammyrhodes

    I used to think that the only christians who got a bad rap when it came to cultural engagement were jerks, that if a non-christian hated you it was because you deserved it for being an outspoken, arrogant, overly conservative, pharisaical, just generally unlikeable jerk. Then I had this whole experience on twitter and walked away learning at least two things:

    1. We’re naive to think that just because we are the most respectful, generous, culturally fluent christians who are up on all the latest AMC/HBO shows, have watched every Judd Apatow/Wes Anderson film, and have seen Passion Pit at least three times, that people won’t hate us. And not because they misunderstand us. Jesus was the furthest thing possible from a jerk, and yet people hated him. And not just bad religious people. People who were as culturally relevant as you could possibly be hated him too. And most often they hated him most not when they misunderstood him, but when they understood him exactly.

    2. The comedy world can often be the worst combination of ruthless and bitter. I don’t think it’s at all unfair to say that it is nearly impossible to be “openly Christian” and be welcomed and embraced there. That’s why most Christians I know in that world are like a gay person sitting in a southern baptist church in the 80′s. They could talk about being gay, but not without being immediately misunderstood, ostracized and rejected. I think having a sense of humor is crucial to have any kind of a witness in our cultural moment (humor flows from humility). And I think christians can be some of the funniest people because the gospel pushes us to laugh and make fun of ourselves instead of others. But there are certain parts and places of our culture where we can’t come out of the closet as christians yet and still be loved and embraced.

    Sammy Rhodes (@prodigalsam)

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com/ Derek Rishmawy

    Hey, thanks for sharing. Really good insights. I definitely agree with the contention that Christians need to have a good sense of humor about things, both in given criticism and receiving it. Chesterton’s a wonderful example about it. The Gospel is serious business, but it allows us to laugh at ourselves because, honestly, who are we apart from the grace of God? And yes, like my old pastor used to say, ‘The Gospel is never going to be hip, so stop trying to change it.’ The best we can do is be faithful, neither mitigating nor adding offense, but trying to witness to Jesus, trusting the Spirit to bring home the message.

  • Churchill4President

    Wake up! Christians *are* being persecuted here. It’s a soft persecution where we are afraid to pray in public, share our faith, speak our minds about our faith or speak up for Christian values. Already people are being sued for not supporting same-sex marriage. The elites, the media and popular culture continually mock and persecute us.

  • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

    Derek, love ya man, but I gotta say I’m pretty unsympathetic, *even though* I also believe homosexuality is immoral and should not be blessed in the church. I don’t feel the need to tell all my gay friends and coworkers that, because I (rightly I believe) feel that outside of my church, their choices are pretty much none of my business.

    The only people I ever *fear* expressing the truth of my faith around, are conservative Evangelical Christians who (some of whom, more correctly) I expect to be pretty hostile to certain of my positions. I certainly don’t fear it around the liberals (gay or straight) I know. Perhaps that’s because I don’t feel the need to get in their face uninvited.

  • Stephen M.

    I don’t think you know what “persecuted” means.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Cue the violins. You are permitted to do any of those things you cite, and many do it everyday. Although if you just started randomly ‘praying in public,’ people might be “afraid” for your sanity.

    Many conservative christians have such a deep-seated persecution complex it borders on the pathological. There’s a “war on Christmas,” “public schools teach satanism” “Sharia law is going to take over the country” . . so much conspiracy babble that is an affront to people who are truly persecuted for their faith around the world.

  • http://www.NancyFrench.com/ Nancy French

    great post — I was contacted to be on their show during the 2012 election. I initially said yes, but thought better of it, even through their pre-screener guy was super nice. I ultimately decided not to risk my reputation and the truth for absolutely no up side!

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com/ Derek Rishmawy

    Yeah, that would have been tough to turn down, but good call.

  • Alex Silva

    I read his version and the transcript, and it doesn’t seem like he was misrepresented at all.