I learned about the skit today when reading David D. Flowers' blog post entitled "Jesus Uncrossed" and then followed up by reading several other subsequent related posts by others. Insightful commentary was shared in David R. Henson's post entitled "DJesus Uncrossed: Tarantino, Driscoll and the Violent Remaking of Jesus in America." Pastor and theologian Greg Boyd also chimed in on the conversation by noting Henson's post and making a few other comments.
I know I risk offending (maybe horrifying) some folks I dearly love, but I thought the SNL skit was thought-provoking and worth constructive conversation among Christians. Why? Because as Henson said in his blog post noted above, "even though the sketch satirized Tarantino, it also said something quite profound and revealing, if unintentionally, about how Americans have remade Jesus in our own violent images."
We have tried to arm him with our military-industrial complex, drape him with our xenophobia, outfit him with our weapons, and adorn him with our nationalism. We’ve turned the cross into a flagpole for the Stars and Stripes. We have no need for Tarantino to reimagine the story of Jesus into a fantasy of violent revenge. We’ve done it for him. We’ve already uncrossed him, transforming him from a servant into a triumphalist who holds the causes and interests of our country on his back rather than brutal execution.
The SNL sketch reveals the paucity of American popular theology with its camouflage and flag-draped Bibles that segregate the story of God for American patriots only. It pulls back the curtain and shows us just how twisted our Jesus really is: We want a Savior like the one SNL offers. We want the Son of God to kick some ass and take some names. Specifically, our enemies’ names. And maybe the names of a few godless Democrats. Definitely the Muslims. And the atheists. And the … I could go on.
A provocative, poignant analysis, to say the least. I have to say I largely agree with Henson's assessment quoted here.
I've written in the past on Christians and patriotism, and following the lead of Greg Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation, have begun subtly critiquing through my blog posts, preaching and teaching, and personal conversations and interactions with others, the subversive ways in which we evangelical Christians have tended to equate certain political ideologies with the kingdom of God and being a Christian.
Furthermore, the often unspoken but firmly ingrained theology of "manifest destiny" which essentially makes America a new Israel and a new specially chosen people of God is fatally flawed and leads to the kind of unquestioned and unchecked nationalism and xenophobia Henson notes. And this sort of thing usually plays out violently, often in Jesus' name. (As an aside, America is not the first nation to so closely wed faith and politics and conquer in Jesus' name. It's been going on with world powers ever since Constantine wedded church and state relations in the fourth century.)
This is a huge conversation, really too much to tackle in a single post. Relevant and related topics to this whole Jesus Uncrossed thing are not only politics, ideology, the current gun debate, and the much larger conversation that needs to happen about how violent our culture is becoming, but precisely what Henson talks about in his post. That is, too many Christians have subtly, yet insidiously, re-made the Jesus of Scripture, especially as portrayed in the Gospels, into a Jesus in our own image after our own likeness.
There is the capitalist, consumerist Jesus of the American Dream. There is Buddy Jesus, parodied in the provocative film "Dogma." There is the great moral teacher and life coach Jesus--a sort of Oprah-ized Jesus who can offer us great tips on living a happy, content, and spiritually rich life. And in this specific case of Jesus Uncrossed, I'm compelled to identify and call into question a pervasive cultural phenomenon among many conservative Christians that amounts to what David R. Flowers described in his blog post noted above as "an American gun-slinging Jesus." (For the record, I'm NOT against people owning guns. I don't personally own one. But I'm not at all opposed to people's Second Amendment "right to bear arms" and owning guns, hunting, protecting themselves, etc., so long as they do so legally and responsibly.)
As an example, just today I read an AP piece in the USA Today entitled "Texas: A Place Where Guns are Right at Home." The story opens by introducing gun-slinging Pastor James McAbee "who believes the Scriptures can tame temptation and wash away sin. But he'll tell you that nothing repels true evil like a well-placed, loaded Glock .40 caliber pistol."
The article, which informatively explores the historical roots of gun culture in Texas and sheds light on the larger gun debate in our country, concludes by quoting McAbee: "I preach peace. Having a firearm keeps the peace."
Again, I don't begrudge Pastor McAbee his right to carry a gun. But I do find his sentiments a bit disturbing and directly in conflict with the teachings of Jesus and the example of Jesus in Scripture.
Given the cultural commentary of the SNL skit, perhaps it's time we as Christians look in the mirror and ask some hard questions. Because maybe, just maybe we've gotten some things wrong.
Perhaps we have not really taken seriously Jesus' commands to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who mistreat us (see Luke 6:27-28).
Perhaps we are quite unwilling, following both the example and teaching of Jesus, to turn the other cheek and to not retaliate in kind, and take the even more radical step of forgiving those who have conspired against us, wronged us, and even hurt us deeply. (Remember Jesus forgave his perpetrators while he hung on the cross dying a brutal death and he forgave and reinstated Peter who had vehemently denied him! -- see Luke 23:34 and John 21:15-25; see also 1 Peter 2:21-23).
Perhaps we think the instructions of the Apostle Paul are unrealistic, impractical, and even silly when he said, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath [i.e. God's own righteous judgment in his time and his way] . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17-19, 21).
Perhaps we don't really believe John of Patmos when he proclaims that Jesus won his decisive and ultimate victory, not through violent revolution and military might, but quite ironically through his sacrificial death on the cross (Revelation 4 and 5) and that we, as Jesus' followers, also are ultimately guaranteed victory "by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of [our] testimony" (Revelation 12:11). (As an aside, though I quote Henson favorably above and agree with his critique, I disagree with his reading of Revelation expressed in his post. For what seems to me a better reading of Revelation and the approach I tend to take, see Greg Boyd's post here.)
Perhaps the writers at SNL offer a timely critique of the culturally co-opted Jesus that has too often been adopted by Christians and baptized by our society's gun culture.