Bullies don't know their own strength. Because of their insecurities, they beat up on kids half their size. Christians often do the same thing. Ignorant of the strength of the faith, they act like bullies, bemoaning when Christianity gets a bad rap in media. And like all bullying, it eventually comes back around.
The most recent incident of bullying by a Christian came from the blustering presidential candidate Newt Gingrich last week. He accused ABC's new sitcom GCB of "bias elite media." The show is based on Kim Gatlin's book Good Christian Bitches. Gingrich, a professing Christian, said of the show's title, "I want you to take the exact name, drop out 'Christian' and put in 'Muslim.' And ask yourself is there any network that would have dared to run a show like that, and you know the answer is not a one, because anti-Christian bigotry is just fine in the entertainment industry but they have to be very protective of Islam."
This kind of bullying should be beneath Christians.
Ironically, about the same time this GCB controversy was making press, conservative Hillsdale College sent out their Imprimis monthly newsletter featuring a speech by Paul Marshall entitled "Blasphemy and Free Speech." Paul Marshall is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom and the author of Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion and Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide. He writes, "A growing threat to freedom of speech is the attempt to stifle religious discussion in the name of preventing 'defamation of' or 'insults' to religion, especially Islam. Resulting restrictions represent, in effect, a revival of blasphemy laws."
Many, Marshall warns, are bending over backwards to avoid offending certain religions in ways that undermine a meaningful exchange of ideas. In seeking tolerance, we are imposing political correctness codes that "narrow the bounds of acceptable discourse." He concludes, "America's Founders, who had broken with an old order that was rife with religious persecution and warfare, forbade laws impeding free exercise of religion, abridging freedom of speech, or infringing freedom of press. We today must do likewise."
So to make unfounded charges of elite media bias as a way to protect Christianity from criticism, to level charges of a double standard, is to play directly into the hands of those who would politicize public speech about religion. The net result will be, as Marshall rightly concludes, "silence." The naked public square soon becomes the silenced public square.
We don't need to be so sensitive. We don't need to be bullies. This is not good for civil society or religion. All worldviews and all religions need to be subject to public scrutiny. In our present climate of culture war-driven political correctness, one wonders whether even Martin Luther's 95 Theses would pass the test.
GCB is a television dramatization of Kim Gatlin's return from Los Angeles to her hometown of Highland Park, Texas as a divorced single mother. She was the notorious "mean girl" in high school. Now chastened by the circumstances of her life, seeking refuge with her family and church community, she finds a Park Cities culture that is nothing more than high school culture on steroids, thinly veiled in the rhetoric of evangelical religion. The sitcom is a litany of how the Bible can be used for purposes other than the Bible intends, particularly as sexual innuendos.
I have watched every episode of GCB with personal interest. I have worked, and my wife grew up, in communities not unlike the one skewered in GCB, and so its satire rings true for me.
Further, when we lose the ability to laugh at ourselves, when we get defensive at criticism, when we politicize and demonize the motives of our critics, we are on a dangerous slope of insulated self-delusion and impenetrable pride.
Every just king needs his court jester. David needed Nathan, and the evangelical church needs GCB.
Novelist Anne Lamott once wrote, "You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image, when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."
Michael Formica writes in Psychology Today,
Considerable attention has been paid to bullying of late, especially regards kids. One of the things that we tend to overlook, however, is that those playground bullies grow up and, as people are nothing if not consistent, they tend not to change a whole lot. The boys who picked on the retarded kid down the block and the mean girls who didn't invite the plain girl to the party grow up to be just as bossy, condescending, arrogant—and frightened—as they were as children.
This is the story told in GCB, with evangelical religion serving as the pretext of social respectability and the rhetoric of public discourse.
Jesus was abundantly clear that there is a form of religion that is far from him. Quoting Isaiah Jesus states, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men." (Mark 7:6-7).
Sadly, it takes Bill Maher or Hollywood sitcoms to bring it to our attention. Too often we are the last to know.