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.
Jack Jenkins is a writer and researcher for the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress.