For many years I have been ambivalent about Saturday Night Live. The show has always been slanted against conservative-evangelical types like me, but usually with plenty of funny and mostly harmless material thrown into the mix. One recent politically geared sketch was so completely over-the-top, however, that after 40 years of sporadic SNL viewing I've finally sworn off it for good. The (overly) offensive bit was "God Is a Boob Man," a spoof of the movie God's Not Dead 2.
In it a Christian woman named Beth, played by Vanessa Bayer, is working at a bakery when she is asked to make a wedding cake for a gay couple – an obvious reference to the discrimination case in Colorado a couple of years ago in which a Christian bakery owner was (successfully) sued for refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding. Conflicted, Beth starts to make the cake, but then breaks down and refuses because of her Christian beliefs. This leads to what are supposed to be side-splitting situations, like when she walks into an attorney's office and announces, "I want to deny basic goods and services to gay people."
Hilarious, but now who exactly is supposed to have the persecution complex here? If a Christian has personal religious convictions that make her reluctant to indirectly support gay marriage, it does not follow that she harbors a desire to deny certain people "basic goods and services" (from one of countless gay-friendly bakeries, for example).
The profoundly ironic message this all sends? Christians are paranoid (not to mention grossly hypocritical), because the prejudices and stereotypes they complain about – in universities, public school systems, the courts, and of course, the arts and media – are not real, or at least are terribly exaggerated. How does SNL demonstrate that Christians are not treated unfairly? By singling out Christians for contemptuous ridicule.
This situation is not simply ironic. It's potentially dangerous. By making Christians the one identity group that society is not only allowed but encouraged to openly disparage (but only because they're spoiled and paranoid, mind you), SNL joins a host of other very powerful and influential voices reinforcing the message that antichristian prejudice is perfectly rational and acceptable. I think this is dangerous because historically this sort of thing is often how real, rights-infringing, violent persecution begins. And that means in turn that Christians are correct in their perceptions, and wise to preemptively defend their rights.
We would do well to recall that the high-flying Nazi propaganda machine of the late thirties initially got off the ground with "humor," specifically anti-Semitic political cartoons in the Der Stürmer newspaper beginning in the mid-twenties. Only later did this op-ed brand of disdain devolve into full-blown state-sponsored propaganda, then complete ostracism, then violence and genocide. (The connection was not lost on the Nuremburg tribunal, which executed Julius Streicher, editor of Der Stürmer, for war crimes despite being a noncombatant.)
Many centuries before the rise of the Third Reich, Christian apologists like Justin Martyr stood before Roman emperors and refuted public charges that Christians were immoral, disloyal to the state, and (more irony here) atheists. Justin wasn't simply "testing the limits of free speech" or practicing his rhetorical skills. He was arguing for his life and the lives of his Christian brothers and sisters in the church, as history makes clear. "Some years later," notes the Encyclopedia Britannica, "after debating with the cynic Crescens, Justin was denounced to the Roman prefect as subversive and condemned to death. Authentic records of his martyrdom survive."
In many parts of the world Christians are enduring vicious persecution as deadly as anything unleashed by Rome during the first centuries of the church. It would be foolish for us in America to consider ourselves immune to genuine persecution simply because it hasn't happened here yet. The time may come, perhaps sooner than anyone thinks, when Christians will have to make their stand for the truth only under pain of death. A disciple is not above his Master. Jesus said to His disciples simply, "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20). In that case we can look to the example of Justin's fearless closing remarks to the Emperor Antoninus Pius in the First Apology:
"For as for us, we reckon that no evil can be done us, unless we be convicted as evil-doers or be proved to be wicked men; and you, you can kill, but not hurt us."
[Edited for clarity 4/29 -- DM]