In May and June 2005 in an event supported by 136 churches in Birmingham, the evangelist J. John spoke about the 10 commandments and their importance for safeguarding respect as a basis for civil society: respect for God, respect for people and respect for property.
In February 2006 (6th-18th) the Birmingham Hippodrome is planning to stage the show ‘Jerry Springer the Opera.’ The writer, Stewart Lee, seems to delight in mocking God and maximising offence to Christians. For example, the character playing Jesus is dressed in what appears to be a nappy and is ordered by the character of Jerry Springer to ‘Grow up for Chr***’s sake and put some f***ing clothes on.” God our Father is depicted as an old fool. What should be our reaction to such blasphemy? Should we quietly ignore this and go about our own business? Should we stay quiet and ‘turn the other cheek’? Or should we be a voice of prophetic witness?
What is freedom?
At the heart of God’s law is the idea of freedom. God’s laws are for setting us free and scripture talks about ‘ the perfect law which gives freedom.’(1) J. John points out that the progressive banishment of God’s laws as a basis for civil society has resulted in a loss of freedom.(2) Freedom in the biblical sense is the capacity to choose wisely and act well as a matter of habit. Sin on the other hand is a form of enslavement, both for the individual and the community. By mocking God and his name a deliberate violation of the third commandment, ‘Jerry Springer the Opera’ misuses artistic freedom. The ‘freedom’ to give offence to someone’s religious beliefs is a misuse of freedom of speech. It redefines freedom as personal wilfulness. ‘Civic peace’, according to Michael Medved(3) ‘requires that public attacks on anyone’s religious beliefs should be deemed unacceptable as a form of popular entertainment’.
Will this give it necessary publicity?
Some Christians have argued that to draw attention to ‘Jerry Springer the Opera’ is to give the show the publicity it desperately needs. However in 1988, there was massive Christian protest about the film ‘The Last Temptation of Christ.’ A crowd of 25,000 gathered outside the offices of MGM/Universal. One Baptist church alone collected 135,000 signatures for a petition. The film went on to be a commercial failure losing at least ten million dollars which was in the face of the biggest pre-release publicity of any film made up to that time.(3)
What about our witness to Muslims?
To Muslims, Jesus is a revered prophet and any defamation of Jesus is taken seriously. It would be ironic if Muslims became more concerned about the name of Jesus than Christians. To Muslims with their whole of life world view, the silence of Christians when the name of our God is mocked and blasphemed can mean only one thing: we do not believe in his Lordship. Effectively we do not believe in him. If Christians do not show respect for the name of God, why should Muslims show any respect to Christians and to the Gospel?
Should the Church stay out of public affairs?
Isn’t our main job to preach the Gospel so that people can be saved? This begs the question ‘what is the Gospel’? and, what are we saved for? If salvation is just an entry ticket to heaven when you die then clearly the Christian Gospel has very little to say about life itself. The idea that the Church should stay out of public affairs is as ridiculous as arguing that the press should stay out of public affairs. The attempt to privatise Christianity is a form of ‘religious cleansing’.(4) Participation in public affairs is even more important for Christians in a democracy as the people are in one sense the rulers and therefore like all rulers will have to give an account to God. We are responsible for the state of our nation. We cannot separate our faith from our responsibilities as Christian citizens.(5)
Are there any dangers in Christian protest?
The tendency to be moralistic or legalistic is always there although there is an even greater danger of apathy and indifference. The tolerance afforded by one generation of Christians to things offensive to God makes it more difficult for those things to be resisted by subsequent generations and even gives them tacit approval.
Are there not other issues as important?
In a nation in social, spiritual and moral crisis there certainly are other issues which need to be tackled.(6) Child sacrifice (abortion); the attack on marriage; the attempted redefinition of marriage; violence; lawlessness; the abuse of technology in things such as embryo experimentation and cloning, - which go to the heart of what it means to be human the list is long. These are not unconnected. God has been banished from our national thinking and living and we are paying an enormous price.(6)
Is the play anti-social?
There are only two ways according to Chuck Colson(7) whereby evil can be restrained. These are what he calls ‘cops and conscience.’ Evil is restrained either internally by an informed conscience, or externally by the rule of law. Any society which breeds a generation or two of people without properly developed consciences (starting with respect for God) will have to develop more stringent laws, train more police etc. to keep some kind of social cohesion. This is already happening in the UK. Jerry Springer the Opera is anti-social and it is our duty as Christian citizens to explain why this is so.
1. James 1:25.
2. J. John. Ten. Living the Commandments in the 21st century. Eastbourne, Kingsway 2000.
3. Michael Medved. Hollywood vs. America. London, Harper Collins 1992.
4. Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler. The New Tolerance. Tyndale House, Wheaton 1998.
7. Charles Colson. How now shall we live? Tyndale House, Wheaton 2004.