I’d heard of Jay Bakker before, but I’d never met him. I’d seen pictures, but never in person. He was smaller, more vulnerable. I have this vision of pastors and preachers being the kind of gravitational personalities that draw you in with loud, bombastic voices. That’s not Jay. From what I can tell he seems quiet, maybe even a little shy.
If you don’t know who Jay Bakker is, you probably know his family, and if you know his family, you know part of his story.
Jay is the son of the famous televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Yes, the very same couple that became the objects of scandal and Church Lady ridicule. Jay was a kid when all that happened.
Somehow, and much to his credit, Jay is a pastor now at a church called Revolution NYC. Like I said before, he doesn’t look the role of a normal pastor. He’s wearing all black, he has tattoos on his neck, black glasses, and he’s wearing what I can only describe as a jaunty cap. He looks like a perfect fit for a punk rendition of Newsies.
In his work as a pastor, Jay has left behind the televangelist stylings that he grew up with. They’ve been replaced with a gospel of love and acceptance. He’s an outspoken advocate for the gay and lesbian community.
I’m listening to Jay give a short speech about Batman at the Emergence Christianity ’13 conference in Memphis. Well, it’s kind of about Batman, but it’s about a lot more.
Jay builds Batman dioramas as a hobby. He says that he does it between the hours of 11 pm and 3 am as a way to fight against the darkness. He says that he builds dioramas about Batman because Batman wanted to protect people from the dangers of Gotham. Jay wants to protect people too. It’s something ingrained in him from his experiences as a child. When he sees his friends and family in trouble, he wants to protect them. Like Batman.
He talks about how Christians need to give each other the benefit of the doubt. He mentions the amount of damage people can do in attacking each other. He wants to protect people and part of protecting them is helping other people to stop fighting, to stop picking fights.
It was a short talk, but it was so lovely and beautiful and vulnerable, and because of that vulnerability it was powerful and resonant and empowering.
It is so easy to view the other as other. It is so easy to say “us” when we mean “I” and to say “them” when we mean “everyone but myself.” It is so easy to cloak ourselves in the guise of good and righteous people, and in so doing become the silent assassins of so many who do not share our point of view.
One of my fears as a Christian is that we’ve become too comfortable with the unintended consequences of our ideological purity. One side argues for biblical inerrancy and oppresses those that fall outside the bounds of an ancient context, the other side proposes a progressive reinterpretation and villainizes their opposition. In our quest for Truth and Victory we give way to the shadow of oppression and dehumanization, a shadow which consumes whether you find yourself on the right or on the left.
Perhaps there is a hero who can save us, a reminder to grant each other the benefit of the doubt. Maybe we need Batman.
Ben Howard is a writer and accidental iconoclast living in Nashville, TN. You can find Ben at www.onpoptheology.com and on Twitter @BenHoward87.