Christians make great punchlines. Check out Easy A, Scandal, or The Big Bang Theory. If that’s not enough to convince you: Tim Tebow.
Followers of Jesus are not always portrayed with the whitest of lights. We’re judgmental, hypocritical, and anti-science. Did I mention we’re jerks too?
As much as Christians are inclined to believe we’re the first generation to become pop culture’s punching bag, we’re not. Criticism, taking the form of humor, is as old as the faith itself.
Almost two millennium ago, a second century humorist known as Lucian of Samosata wrote a biting satire of Christianity. The Passing of Peregrinus follows a philosopher who deceptively calls himself a Christian to gain the trust of the local faith community. After landing in prison for his alleged beliefs, Peregrinus is surprised to find members of the church rushing to his aid, offering unselfish support and what little they have in way of resources.
Peregrinus humorously observes that Christians “are always incredibly quick off the mark, when one of them gets into trouble like this—in fact they ignore their own interests completely.” The character even goes as far as saying that their Lord “has convinced them that once they stop believing in Greek gods, and start worshipping that crucified sage of theirs, and living according to his laws, they are all each other’s brothers and sisters” (Haykin, Rediscovering the Church Fathers, 61).
Being a punchline is nothing new. Since the infancy of the Christian movement, followers of Jesus have dodged misplaced judgement from almost every direction. What many don’t understand, however, is that while criticism might seem counterintuitive, it can actually end up being quite liberating.
Jesus said: “Woe to you when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). If Christians are not being criticized, they might not be Christians.
I grin when I want to say something I know I probably shouldn’t say. You can imagine how often I crack a smile every time a Christian is stunned they’ve become the butt of a joke. Angry rants, hastily written blogs, an appeal to the first amendment. I should stop, I’m beginning to grin. For followers of Jesus, criticism shouldn’t come as a surprise. We should be surprised when it doesn’t come.
Christians walk into another trap when they begin to believe all criticism is good criticism. We ignore the jokes, because there can’t be any truth to their words. They become a badge of honor, proving to others we’ve stood up for our faith.
It’s harrowing to realize that the reason our culture portrays followers of Jesus as judgmental, hypocritical, and anti-intellectual is because we often are. Sometimes the jokes are true. We kid ourselves when we don’t connect the bad PR with our misrepresentation of Jesus.
The key then, is that we are criticized for the right reasons. Look at Lucian’s second century criticism again:
“They ignore their own interests completely.”
“They are all each other’s brothers and sisters.”
Imagine this! The early church was laughed at for their love and sacrifice. They were criticized because of their selflessness.
That’s why I don’t mind if pop culture makes fun of my faith. I just hope it’s not:
“Wade is selfish.”
“Wade is a jerk.”
“Wade hasn’t even tried to intellectually understand what he believes.”
I hope it’s:
“Wade is going to be stuck driving a junker if he gives away anymore money.”
“Wade is too nice.”
“Why would Wade serve people there?”
Inevitably, Christians will be misunderstood and mislabeled. We will be criticized for crimes we didn’t commit.
But, if we can help it, why not make it a goal to be the most loving, caring, self-sacrificing punchlines anyone has ever seen?