Djesus Uncrossed & the Myth of Redemptive Violence

I’m not a huge SNL fan. I wish I was. I have wanted to be. But most of the time, I just don’t find SNL to be funny. I hate how the actors are almost always – very obviously – staring at cue cards to get their lines right. I hate how they create stupid talk show sketches as a way to showcase impressions. But most of all, I hate how SNL just isn’t funny.

That being said, I want to talk about something SNL did this weekend, regardless of whether it was funny or not.  

Djesus

On Saturday, SNL aired a spoof of Quentin Tarantino’s movie Django Unchained. They used the concept of Django to create a trailer for a fictitious movie that retold of the story of post-resurrection Jesus. Here’s the video of Djesus Uncrossed:

{Warning: this video contains graphic cartoon violence that made my wife gasp when she watched it.}


 

Not surprisingly, many people have found this spoof to be either offensive or blasphemous or both. It’s the predictable cast of characters:

– The American Family Association called the sketch a “violent and gory mocking of Jesus.”

– The Concerned Women for America said it was degrading and taunting of Christianity.

– William Donahue’s Catholic League said it was a hit below the belt.

And, again not surprisingly, a bunch of my Facebook friends have followed suit, decrying how terrible and inappropriate this SNL spoof was. I am sure that boycotts will be organized and raring within days.

 

I have a completely different take on Djesus Uncrossed.

Personally, I don’t find this sketch to be offensive and blasphemous. In fact, rather than seeing it as inappropriate and derogatory, I think the church in America needs to see this SNL sketch as prophetic. Let me state that again:

Djesus Uncrossed is not offensive; it is prophetic.

(I use word “prophetic” here not to mean that it predicts the future. Rather, I use it in the sense that it holds up a mirror to our misguided priorities and calls us to repentance and transformation.)

The sketch portrays the post-resurrection Jesus and his disciples seeking revenge. They go after the Romans who crucified him. They go after Pontius Pilate. They go after Judas Iscariot. Anyone who gets in their way is mowed down – with typical Tarantino violence.

As a side note, maybe this is the Jesus that Mark Driscoll imagined when he said, “In Revelation (the last book of the New Testament), Jesus is a prize-fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is the guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”

 

I wish that we could just dismiss this as an absurd spoof. I wish we could say that the humor of Djesus Uncrossed is derived from the utter ridiculousness of Jesus and his followers resorting to violence as a means of accomplishing something. But if church history tells us anything – and church present confirms anything – it’s that it is not absurd or ridiculous to assume that Jesus’ followers (though not Jesus himself) would use coercive means to achieve their desired ends.

In this way, Djesus Uncrossed is a prophetic mirror that we ought to hold up to ourselves. For too long, we have abandoned the way of Jesus and instead fallen prey to the myth of redemptive violence. The myth of redemptive violence is the story we tell ourselves that the way to oppose injustice and oppression is by force. This myth teaches us that we have to fight power with power. We have to exert strength, often military or political strength, to accomplish our purposes in the world.

Comic book heroes and Liam Neeson movies are built on the myth of redemptive violence. And so is much of what the church has been telling itself lately.

A few months ago, we finished an election season in which we were told that we needed to vote our values so that we could achieve victory at the ballot box. The goal was the conquer of our political opponents. To justify our actions, we have told ourselves that we are in the midst of a culture war. In war, you have enemies that must be defeated, marginalized, assimilated.

The violence we employ is not always physical violence. Often it is social and psychological. We shun people who don’t measure up to our standards. We shame people into silence and conformity. We marginalize people with dissenting perspectives. We ignore people whose sins we don’t want to tolerate. We dehumanize and demonize people who see the world differently.

And, we have so tied together the cross and the flag that we think that someone advancing their own political agenda within our own political system is doing the equivalent of persecuting us. But rather than die the martyr’s death, we’re fighting to preserve our rights, especially the most violent one of them all, the right to bear arms. Given how outspoken many Christians have been about opposing gun control, why would we be shocked or offended when we see Jesus wielding an uzi?

We give lip service to things like love and grace, but when push comes to shove, we’re willing to shove back.

We preach American exceptionalism. We preach victory in the culture war through political conquests. We preach opposition to people with whom we disagree. We preach the eternal damnation of abortion doctors and homosexuals and liberals and Muslims. We preach, as the SNL spoof says, “anything but forgiveness.” We preach the myth of redemptive violence.

 

But the way of Jesus is so very different. The way of Jesus is not revenge. It is not striking back. It is not an eye for an eye. It is not political influence. It is not preservation of our rights. The way of Jesus is humility and defeat. The way of Jesus is subversive love and vulnerable grace.

The way of Jesus would make Djesus Uncrossed hilariously ridiculous. But we haven’t followed the way of Jesus, and maybe that is why Djesus Uncrossed makes us so uncomfortable.

 

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  • Adam Stafford

    I really try to avoid using heavy, consequential words like “blasphemy” to describe an SNL skit. Just seems too frivolous and those who can’t laugh at the joke are often the butt. I thought the skit was really funny. I also, at no point, worried that people might think Jesus was really that way…

    …and then I read the Driscoll quote. I wouldn’t say his words are blasphemy, but I certainly think that depiction of Jesus is *more blasphemous* than the SNL skit. Regardless, Robb, I thought this was a really interesting sidebar thought. Good analogy.

    • rryerse

      Thanks for the comment, Adam. I agree that the claims of blasphemy by the usual suspects are ridiculous. I also agree with your assessment that Driscoll’s comment may well be “more blasphemous.” But none of this makes SNL funny. It’s just not.

  • Josh Byers

    Hey Robb,

    I had a reply that got so long it needed to be its own blog post. It also fits in perfectly with my current project. I’ll post in full on Friday on my site.

    Main points: Redemption has nothing to do with violence. Violence is a necessary picture of the ugliness of our sin. This video was prophetic more of justice and longing of our hearts for justice than the myth of redemptive violence.

    • rryerse

      Interesting thoughts, Josh. I’ll look forward to your blog post about it!

  • Josh Byers

    I also didn’t find it that offensive – but maybe thats because I like Tarantino.

  • I don’t find the video offensive. I don’t expect non-believers to adhere to my beliefs and hold sacred what I hold sacred. Though, After reading your article, I find myself in a weird spot. On the one hand, I think it’s ludicrous that people get so easily offended by things. On the other, I think people confuse love and forgiveness with acceptance.

    I think we are having an overcorrection within the Christian world. We’ve had years of hard, hell and damnation, preaching – often teetering on hate – and now we have a generation that wants to only speak of love. Not consequence. Just love. We have a generation that is trying to make Jesus cool and that he doesn’t care about sin. The truth lies somewhere in the middle of the two philosophies of thinking. The truth is; love does not mean there aren’t standards to live by.

    Back to my point of confusing love and forgiveness with acceptance; If I have a friend who has a drug addiction I can still love him, but that doesn’t mean I accept his behavior. I can forgive him if he’s hurt me through his addiction, but does that mean that I subject myself to more of the same, if he chooses not to change? I don’t think so. Point is; love and forgiveness can go hand-in-hand with judgement. Judgement isn’t a dirty word, by the way. We’ve turned it into one, but it isn’t.

    • rryerse

      Thanks for your thoughts, Mike.

      • You’re welcome. It was an interesting read.

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