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Making a Mockery of the Faith

Aug 25, 2019

How should we think of Hollywood and its constant mockery of the faith?

When I recently saw trailers on the television for a new show that mocked Christian televangelists, I had two initial reactions: One, here we go again: Hollywood ridiculing, slamming and maligning Christianity; and two, well, sadly there are enough Christian ‘ministries’ out there that really give such shows license to go for the jugular.

Indeed, at the same time I was seeing these ads for this new show, I also picked up a new book and did a review of it. Sadly, the similarities between what is found in the book and what is found in the TV show are just too close for comfort.

So let me discuss each one in turn. The new TV show is called “The Righteous Gemstones.” It appears to be all about a corrupt, carnal and greedy family of Christians who are making it big as televangelists. They are conning and ripping off the masses while living lifestyles of the rich and famous. One description of the show written up late last year goes like this:

HBO has given a pilot order to a half-hour comedy that hails from creator Danny McBride. The project is titled “The Righteous Gemstones.” It is the story of the world famous Gemstone televangelist family, which has a long tradition of deviance, greed, and charitable work, all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

John Goodman will star as Eli Gemstone, the patriarch of the Gemstone family. The character is described as unbending and a force in the Ministry game. He’s known the world over for his aggressive salvation techniques, his worldwide ministries, and his award winning weekly television program. His light is fading, but he takes no guff. He is obeyed, unquestioned.

In addition to writing, directing, and executive producing, McBride will also star as Jesse Gemstone, the eldest son and “heir to the throne.” He walks in his father’s shadow while simultaneously blazing his own path. Like Eli, Jesse demands loyalty from those in his circle, and surrounds himself by those that will follow him. Jesse fancies himself a maverick in the ministry game, taking what Eli has built and expanding it for a more modern audience. variety.com/2018/tv/news/danny-mcbride-john-goodman-hbo-comedy-pilot-1202861239/

If you are interested, you can see a trailer of the series here: www.hbo.com/the-righteous-gemstones

I do not have access to HBO, and even if I did, I would not be keen on watching the show. As I said, my initial reaction was to see this as just one more nasty attack on Christianity, one more misrepresentation of the faith, and one more hatchet job from the secular left sleazeballs who inhabit Hollywood.

And all that is perfectly true: there are countless folks in the entertainment industry who seem to hate Christianity and who will do anything they can to mock the faith, deride the faith, criticise the faith, and marginalise the faith. What else do we expect from all the immoral god-haters out there?

But as I also said (and as is implied in my title), the mockery of the faith can come not just from its enemies. Too often those within the faith can do a great job of mocking the faith by misrepresenting it and abusing it in all sorts of ways. Far too often Christians bring shame upon themselves and their faith by deviating from what God would have us to be and to do.

Church history is loaded with cases of Christians undermining their own faith as they engage in compromise, carnality, and the flesh. And those who are simply seeking to make a quick buck off the faith are clear examples of this. Sadly there have been far too many folks doing this over the years.

One of the most appalling aberrations of the Christian faith, and one of the most despicable distortions of basic Christian beliefs, is the American-based prosperity gospel, or the health and wealth gospel. So inimical is this to the true gospel that I have now penned 82 articles on this: billmuehlenberg.com/category/theology/the-health-and-wealth-gospel/

Just yesterday I wrote a review of a new book from someone who was deeply involved in all this. Costi Hinn, nephew of the famous televangelist Benny Hinn, has made a clean break from this teaching, and is now warning others to stay clear of it. My review of this very important book is found here: billmuehlenberg.com/2019/08/24/god-greed-and-the-prosperity-gospel-by-costi-hinn/

Let me offer one more quote from the volume: “There are millions of people who need to be saved from the prosperity gospel deception like I was. I’m trying to reach them, while at the same time inspiring other people to reach them too. I want people to see that the prosperity gospel is damning and abusive. It exploits the poor and ruins the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

Yes it is a fleshly, man-made gospel which is causing untold damage, not just to countless individuals, but to the name of Christ and to Christianity itself. No wonder we have television shows like “The Righteous Gemstones.” They don’t really need to make things up – they can just run with what they find in too many of our churches today.

That Hollywood and the secular elite have long gone after Christianity is of course not surprising. One thinks of so many other examples of the faith being bagged and Christianity being mocked. Let me mention just one famous example. Back in 1926 Sinclair Lewis wrote the satirical novel, Elmer Gantry. One writeup of the book says this:

Lewis researched the novel by observing the work of various preachers in Kansas City in his so-called “Sunday School” meetings on Wednesdays. . . . The character of Sharon Falconer was loosely based on events in the career of the Canadian-born American radio evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, who founded the Pentecostal Christian denomination known as the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel in 1927. . . . On publication in 1927, Elmer Gantry created a public furor. The book was banned in Boston and other cities and denounced from pulpits across the United States. One cleric suggested that Lewis should be imprisoned for five years, and there were also threats of physical violence against the author. Evangelist Billy Sunday called Lewis “Satan’s cohort”. Elmer Gantry ranked as the number one fiction bestseller of 1927, according to “Publisher’s Weekly”.

Wow, times have certainly changed. This scathing attack on the faith was later turned into a major Hollywood movie in 1960. This is one description of the film version:

When hedonistic but charming con man Elmer Gantry (Burt Lancaster) meets the beautiful Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons), a roadside revivalist, he feigns piousness to join her act as a passionate preacher. The two make a successful onstage pair, and their chemistry extends to romance. Both the show and their relationship are threatened, however, when one of Gantry’s ex-lovers (Shirley Jones) decides that she has a score to settle with the charismatic performer.

Plenty of other books, films, plays and television shows could be mentioned here. There is never a shortage of anti-Christian bigotry found out there. Often they are just ugly attacks by angry misotheists who can’t stand Christianity. But at other times it is well-deserved criticism – criticism that we Christians should be making.

While God will one day judge all these haters of the faith who delight in poking fun at Christianity while so often misrepresenting it, there will also be more judgment from God coming – on his own people. It would be a lot harder for critics to write these books and for Hollywood to make such films if there was not so much corruption and distortion within the church of Jesus Christ.

Sadly too many Christians have done a terrific job of mocking and marginalising their own faith. They simply provide all the fodder needed for secular critics to also keep up the mockery as they attack a faith that bears so little likeness to Jesus Christ and the biblical gospel.

The Bible makes it clear that judgment must first begin with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). If we had been carefully judging ourselves all along, demanding our leaders and churches keep on the straight and narrow of biblical truth, we would have had fewer of these hostile secular critics – or at least they would have had a lot less material to work with.

It is always a bad thing to see the world making a mockery of Christ and Christianity. But when Christians are bringing this mockery upon themselves, then that is really bad. They need to repent, and they need to stop giving the enemy more ground to attack the faith from.

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12 Responses to Making a Mockery of the Faith

  • Acts 20: 28-31 ( Paul warned of the corruption coming into the church from within, even in the 1st century, and it has continued to grow.

    Acts 20. 28. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be SHEPHERDS of the church of God which He bought with His own Blood. 29. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from YOUR OWN NUMBER men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

    These days, I could ask, “is it a circus, or a church.”

  • Totally agree with Bill’s comments. Just a general comment: I used to love watching Jimmy Swaggart’s weekly show – terrific music, great preaching, and Jimmy’s piano playing and singing was so close to his cousin’s. When he crashed and burned I was saddened, but not so scandalised as the god-haters who piled gleefully onto the critics’ band wagon. They missed the point – all are sinners, until our dying day, even and especially Christians. We’re just called to repentance, faith in Jesus’ infinite sacrifice, and continued effort to reduce our sinful acts. And Christian leaders are particularly targeted by Satan for public catastrophe. Whether genuinely or otherwise, Jimmy repented publicly, so there was not much more we sinners could say or do about the matter. Except we’re idiots to get gulled time and again by phonies who make a rich life out of our naivete. A lot more circumspection is required.

  • More then ever we need discernment from the Holy Spirit and God’s Word because of the wolves in sheep’s clothing within the body of Christ. Some are obvious and some not so.

  • Thank you, Bill, for another insightful message. Yes, many within the church give the enemy plenty of ammunition to use against the Christian faith. To illustrate this point and the difference God’s grace can make in peoples’ lives, I sometimes tell people, “The most wonderful man I ever dated had cannibals in his family tree and the worst rat I ever dated was a missionary’s son.” The young man with cannibals in his family tree was a citizen of Brazil, and the missionaries who led him, his mother, and his siblings to Christ had been part of my church’s missionary conference when I was 11 years of age. Once in Brazil, the missionaries started a church across the street from the Brazilian family’s home, and the family started attending the church. Seven years later, the young man, the missionaries’ daughters, and I enrolled in the same Baptist college, and that is how I met him.

    The fellow I call “the worst rat” was the son of missionaries who had served in South Africa. However, he grew so totally disenchanted with his parents’ way of life that he became a very materialistic person and a scoffer. After dating him for a year, I learned he was leading a double life and that, in the large city where he got a job after graduating from college, he had become a gigolo living off women in his mother’s age group. I was devastated to learn the truth, and I barely could watch the TV broadcast of “Elmer Gantry” because the title character was so much like the young man I had thought I knew and could trust. It was difficult for the parents to accept the fact that their son was wayward and deceitful, but they deceived themselves in thinking “the right school” or “the right friends” would be good influences on him and would help him find his way back to Christ. For the most part, they were enablers who turned a blind eye to his way of life. You may wonder why I am comfortable in sharing this information, but both men and their parents are deceased now. Nevertheless, the missionary’s son still remains to me a symbol of the hypocrisy and falseness all too prevalent among “professing” Christians today.

  • Charles Laughton directed a dark and disturbing movie in the 1950s, Night of the Hunter. it contrasts a murderous, wolfish, preacher against a genuine Christian woman. The woman adopts, protects, educates and reads Bible stories to abandoned children. Lillian Gish’s portrayal of the woman is worth watching as one of the most decent Christian characters in cinema history.

  • Some of the problem has been our unwillingness to call out tase teaching because the person is a pastor. we know in our spirit he is preaching falsehood we don’t say anything. maybe because we are afraid to speak against the pastor as he is a pastor or because while our spirit is crying out ‘heresy heresy’ we drown that with the ‘logic’ of ‘he has seminary teaching so he know things I don’t so I guess he must have learned something about this I never knew.’ add to the the whole “touch not God’s anointed” and you have a recipe for disaster. Some will know you are speaking the truth if you speak but because they want to be in the “in crowd” they say nothing and shun you. popularity is a virus way too many catch in the church. the phrases I want to be liked and I want to be loved are on why to many a christians lips. It almost always means compromise and on nonessential issue that is fine but far too many extend compromise to fundamental issue and thus sacrifice christ on the alters of Love and Popularity. While many churches has their troublesome members, especially gossipers, everything starts from the top. “The buck stops here” Truman used to say. Well it stops with the pastor. HE is in charge of the flock when trouble arrises, like gossiping or cliques forming, he is the one who must deal with it but if he is a problem how can he stop other problems??? Of course if he is a bad shepherd he can’t help but raise a bad flock.

  • Thanks Paul. I speak to the misuse of Psalm 105 here:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/07/23/difficult-bible-passages-psalm-10515/

    And my brand-new article also deals with some of the things you mention in your comment:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2019/08/26/on-christian-ministries-and-biblical-balance/

  • To Mark –

    “And in this cage we have the rarest oddity of all …… A christian who takes the bible seriously!”

  • To Terry Darmody: I am not so sure Robert Mitchum’s character in “Night of the Hunter” really was a minister. I have seen the film several times, and I get something different from it with each viewing. My first impression was that the character had attended many chapel services while in prison and used what he had “heard” to impersonate a minister while twisting parts of the Bible to manipulate and intimidate people. Furthermore, I believe the character had stolen the parson’s clothing so that he could appear as a minister to everyone he met after his escape.

    I agree that Lillian Gish’s portrayal of the Christian woman was a good example of a true Christian. Furthermore, she had the wisdom to discern that Mitchum’s character was a dangerous phony and to defend herself and the children.

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