Saturday Night Live is known for its topical humor, but the weekend before last, it sparked debate by wading into theological controversy. In what Hero Complex suggested was the “most blasphemous skit in ‘SNL’ history,” the show drew fire for airing a skit that satirized Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained by using a premise that is possibly even more controversial than Tarantino’s original: What if Jesus Christ rose from the dead…To exact revenge? As a thumping big-budget soundtrack rocks in the background, a voiceover touts the film as “A less violent ‘Passion of the Christ’” and quips “He’s risen from the dead … and he’s preaching anything but forgiveness.”
The studio audience seemed to love the skit, but, as happens with many of SNL’s forays into religious satire, the skit sparked a firestorm of criticism from conservative Christians. Twitter and SNL’s website immediately lit up with complaints about the segment, with commenters decrying it as “blasphemous,” “offensive,” and “just wrong.” The Catholic League was also quick to weigh in, calling the skit “vicious” and “uncharacteristically bloody”. Conservative televangelist Pat Robertson, for his part, reviled the whole thing “anti-Christian bigotry that is just disgusting.”
But there is something peculiar about the outcry over the “DJesus Uncrossed”: Most of the complaints aren’t emanating from the progressive Christian pacifists. Instead, much of the criticism is coming from hyper-conservative Christian circles, a world that, oddly enough, includes voices that preach a vision of Jesus eerily similar to SNL’s gun-toting Messiah.
Though the image of Jesus mowing down victims with a machine gun horrifies many Christians—and rightfully so—others, like Patheos blogger David R. Henson, have pointed out that hidden in SNL’s bloody humor is a powerful satire of an overly-violent, hyper-masculine subculture that has begun to influence not just our popular culture, also multiple strains of Christian theology. Influential mega-pastor Mark Driscoll, for example, has become famous for saying that he believes in a Jesus who has a “commitment to make someone bleed.” He reportedly refuses to believe in a “hippie, diaper, halo Christ” because, as he puts it, “I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.” Meanwhile, churches across America have started creating “Fight Club” groups for men, and several Christian communities are even basing services around Mixed Martial Arts fighting.
But this vengeful, hyper-violent theology isn’t confined to church walls. It’s also showing up in our national discourse, especially in the current debate over gun violence prevention. In the wake of the tragic shooting in Newton, for instance, James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, essentially argued that the massacre of children in Connecticut as a response to an increasingly secular culture. “Believe me, [secularism] is going to have consequences,” he said. “I think we have turned our back on the scripture and on God almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us.” Not to be outdone, talk show host and conservative Christian Mike Huckabee also argued that the Newtown killings were the result of God’s righteous vengeance, because lawmakers have “removed God from our schools.” Meanwhile, several conservative writers continue to insist that Jesus of Nazareth would have been an avid supporter of conceal and carry.
It seems a little odd, then, that conservative Christians – when confronted with an image of Jesus forged within their own ranks – would be the first to cry foul. But perhaps their defensiveness makes sense: maybe it’s easier to defame SNL and NBC as blasphemers than engage in the painful process of looking inward. Ultimately, perhaps conservative and progressive Christians alike – and, for that matter, Americans at large – should look at the controversy surrounding this skit as an opportunity. By examining this painful reflection of one form of American Christianity, perhaps we could respond by doing more than just complaining about glorifications of violence and vengeance when they show up on TV. Rather, perhaps we could look at this as a call to do the hard work of resisting these ideologies — these theologies — before they catch fire. This means exposing them when they appear in our Bible studies, our prayers circles, and especially our pulpits.
Jack Jenkins is a writer and researcher for the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress.