Recently, the daily news program The Project in Australia made headlines when one of its comedic guests made an X-rated comment about Jesus Christ.
Gathering from the diverse reaction from the hosts (which varied from bellowing laughter to shock and clear discomfort), it was a real ‘live TV’ moment with some interesting backlash.
Over the next 24 hours, we saw: social media outrage, some faith leaders condemning the comments (with little grace offered), studio protests and calls for sacking presenters and pressure for the network to cancel the show.
There were also plenty of responses from members of the public who thought the moment was hilariously irreverent and those offended should ‘just learn to take a joke’.
Should Christians just learn to take a joke?
The hard part is: nobody wants to be seen as prudish.
Yet it’s hard to ‘take a joke’ when any faith is dismissed or belittled - Christian or not – and it's worth mentioning that certain comments about Christianity seem to regularly get a ‘pass’ in the public domain.
So how should Christian leaders respond when their faith is disrespected in the media?
According to a recent report by World Vision, we shouldn’t be surprised by such commentary – as Australian teens are falling behind on how they relate to Jesus, the Bible and how they feel they can impact the world around them.
It’s too easy to ‘blame the media agenda’, but maybe we need to look a little deeper here.
There is clearly some work to be done in addressing the gaps of knowledge on how the Bible and Jesus relate to life today.
That doesn’t mean Christian leaders just get to watch the media commentary go by and do nothing, but when getting involved in the debate it’s important to get it right. Here are three principles to consider when deciding if – or how – to wade in:
1. Stick to the mission
As Christians in the marketplace, it’s important to look at how Jesus responded to criticism. He didn’t ignore it, but he didn’t obsess over it either. Unless a specific question was asked to him, Jesus continued on his mission. As 1 Peter 2.23 puts it, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly."
The most effective leaders are ones who lead with a mission mindset but understand and discern how and when to answer issues in a public way.
2. Speak truth and offer grace
As Christian leaders, it’s important not to stay silent when anyone’s faith is being targeted, Christian or not. Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right for both Christians and those of other faiths.
As you speak up for this freedom, it’s important to think about what it means to do so with grace and truth. There are many ways to speak up without being aggressive or forgetting the mandate to love your neighbour.
A public protest isn’t the only way to use your voice for influence – you could do something as simple as making a public remark on a pulpit, a statement on your website or an interview with a local paper. And remember, the tone with which you speak is often as important as the words you use, particularly if you find yourself in front of a video camera or a microphone.
3. Own your part
We can’t say for sure that such a joke wouldn’t have occurred about other religions, but perhaps this event is a reminder of a bigger problem: Christianity and the life of Jesus is not something that’s understood by people who don’t share your faith, or the mainstream media. Christians can’t expect this to change unless they take steps to show that Christianity is more than a tradition, but something that has a real, life-changing impact on people and the world we are living in today.
Engaging with the media – with confidence and grace – is the first step in bridging this gap.
Hopefully, the next time this discussion occurs, it will be on the panel of The Project on live TV (and yes, we have pitched such a discussion on their program, so watch this space!).
As Christian leaders, perhaps it’s time to consider how to contribute to the public conversation and not just wait for the conversation to come to you.
By Rachel Reva De Giorgio, Account Manager at Jersey Road PR APAC
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