The Project, Jesus Jokes, and Angry Christians
8 March 2023 Hits:2493
I imagine you’ve recently caught the news concerning a lewd joke about Jesus being told on The Project. Gay comedian and cabaret performer Reuben Kaye was a guest on the current affairs program a few days ago and created a storm over a crude reference to Jesus. What’s happened since is a stream of comments, news reports, and blogs expressing outrage, support, and everything in between. So, here’s another one!
Watching the interview, you’ll notice that The Project‘s anchor man, Waleed Aly, was singularly unimpressed with Kaye’s joke. The following day, Aly told The Project‘s audience, “We want to acknowledge the particular offence and hurt that it caused our Muslim and especially our Christian viewers. Obviously, I understand how profound that offence was.” Aly is a devout Muslim. Jesus is greatly revered within Islam and is the most-mentioned person in the Quran.
Another panellist, Sarah Harris, also apologised, “Live TV is unpredictable,” she said. “And when this happened in the last few moments of the show, it took us all by surprise; there wasn’t a lot of time to react in a considered way.” She’s spot on. I interviewed hundreds of people during my radio and television career, and things can be unpredictable, especially when interviewing “live.” We’re all wiser in hindsight. Think about all the times you’d love to go back to THAT conversation (or argument) and say things differently or not at all. That’s what live interviewing is like. You do your best at the time. You apologise when you get it wrong. But, of course, the apology was not enough for some.
Reuben Kaye has spoken about the hate he receives for his sexuality and dressing up in drag, particularly from the Christian community. Pause and think about that. The people who follow Jesus and carry the good news; people who are to treat others in the way they would like to be treated; people who are to love their neighbour as themselves have communicated hatred towards a person, and a community, because they are perceived as more sinful than others. The LGBTQ+ minorities have been singled out by much of the church for special attention and particular condemnation.
And so, should those who frequently receive disdain from Christians not feel justified in firing a few shots back? While I disagree with Reuben Kaye’s joke, I understand why he spoke the way he did. I’d love to hear his story one day if I ever have the chance to chat with him.
How has the Christian community reacted to all this? Well, we don’t like it, of course. We’re happy to dish up unkind words to others, but we can’t afford others the right to reply. We cry foul about “Cancel Culture,” then protest against The Project, asking for it to be cancelled. We speak words of judgement and condemnation and act surprised when the recipients of our harshness retaliate.
We argue that our freedom of speech is being threatened, that Christians are under fire, and then whine when someone else expresses their freedom of speech. There’s no hypocrisy to see here; please move on!
But Jesus Got Angry
I can hear the argument already. But Jesus got angry, so we have a right to be angry too. Yes, we do, but let’s reflect on what made Jesus angry. Mark tells the story of Jesus’ anger with the religious leaders who sought to kill him because he was good to people on the Sabbath. Shock horror.
Matthew 23 is an entire chapter that records Jesus’ angry rant towards these same leaders “who shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces,” just like the church has done to the LGBTQ+ community.
And then there’s Jesus’ famous clearing of the temple where he “drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons” – an apparent act of anger. You can’t imagine Jesus doing this with a smile on his face. But why did he do it?
After he cleared the temple court, “the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.” It’s significant because these people weren’t allowed inside the temple because of their disabilities. The space had been filled with people profiting from religion, and Jesus saw red and made room for those genuinely in need.
I wonder if you can see parallels between this story and those modern religion has kept out of God’s church.
What would Jesus think of Reuben Kaye’s joke? How would Jesus respond? Would he be as offended as some of his people? I think not. Jesus was reviled plenty during his life, and he rarely reacted. Peter wrote, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”
The gospels tell us that Jesus remained silent before his accusers. Sometimes being quiet takes more strength than talking. How does this enlighten us as followers of Jesus? What if we instead used our voices to speak out against injustice and exclusion? What if we got offended by the things that outraged Jesus?
Jesus is as angry with hypocrisy today as he’s ever been. Any form of Christianity that blocks people from gathering with other believers to grow in grace is NOT the faith that Jesus pioneered. In the gospels, Jesus mixes comfortably with all kinds of people. His only words of anger and condemnation were reserved for religious hypocrites who built walls to keep certain “undesirables” out. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus tore the walls down and welcomed all people to come to him and find rest for their souls.
As for The Project, this has been a challenging time. No doubt there have been lots of discussions and introspection behind the scenes. But I can only speak from personal experience. Waleed Aly and the team at The Project were very kind to Christie and me during the years we advocated for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. They interviewed us and spoke with empathy for the boys. I, for one, would not like to see The Project cancelled. And I hope that we who follow Jesus will speak with kindness and grace and advocate for second (and third) chances for all people, just like we have received ourselves.