There have been a few localized uproars in digital Christendom lately in response to certain brands treating Christianity negatively in their marketing and communications. On Good Friday, the ski outfitter Black Crows posted a photo on Instagram depicting a skier being crucified on a cross made of skis. The post, pictured below, drew a mixture of comments, mostly of approval, and comes on the heels of multiple other instances of irreverence toward Christianity.
NPR had to correct an error in which they reported Easter to be the day Christians celebrate Jesus’ ascent to heaven. While a mistake, Christians took offense because NPR misreported an easily verifiable fact, which, in the eyes of the Christian community, comes off as flippant toward Christianity. Sweet Jesus Ice Cream recently came under fire for mocking Christians in their branding, drawing criticism on social media and in the blogosphere about their disrespect for a faith that is deeply important to countless Americans.
This treatment of Christianity understandably offends Christians, who believe that Jesus, being himself God (Phil 2:5-8), took the punishment for sin that each individual deserves (Romans 5:6-8) so that all who believe in him can receive the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13) and come before God in righteousness (Heb 4:14-16). Christians understand that Jesus is the only hope anyone has of eternal life, and that hope is not to be mocked. This raises a question: Why do people feel they can treat Christianity with contempt? The Bible and our own culture give us answers.
When discussing mainstream culture’s antipathy to Christianity, it’s important to note that it isn’t a new phenomenon and shouldn’t take anyone by surprise. Jesus warned his followers of this early in his ministry.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:11-12
Even as Jesus was being crucified, Roman soldiers cruelly mocked and taunted him (Matthew 27:27-31, 39-42), and Scripture teaches that believers in Jesus will share in his sufferings (1 Peter 4:13). Christians are warned that they will have trouble in this world, but they find their hope in Jesus’ triumph over it (John 16:33). But still, this doesn't change the fact that there has been a demonstrable shift in American culture as it relates to Christianity.
While Christianity is still the most dominant religion in the United States, a 2016 Barna Group study found that nearly half of non religious adults view Christianity to be extremist. In fact, 50 – 79% believe that acts such as praying in public for a stranger and attempting to convert others to Christianity are extreme. In other words, Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy are now viewed as religious extremism. Couple these numbers with evangelicals’ overwhelming support of Donald Trump, a figure whose unpopularity spills over to his supporters, and you get a picture of just how hostile toward Christianity our culture is.
Christians already open themselves up to mockery by merely being Christian, but another reason people feel they can demean Christianity is because they don’t know how significant Jesus is. NPR assumed they had a correct understanding of Easter when they published their erroneous Good Friday piece, and if you asked the people at Black Crows about the Cross’ purpose, it is unlikely they would be able to answer accurately. When this ignorance is understood, it becomes much more difficult to be scandalized when people make light of the Christian faith because it is the Church’s responsibility to make sure everyone knows the Good News of Jesus, commonly called the gospel. Is it fair to expect people to know the gospel simply because they live in the United States? Should people somehow acquire understanding by osmosis? Jesus certainly did not place this expectation on people, which is why he gave the “Great Commission,” commanding his disciples to go into the world and teach everyone his commands.
The Apostle Paul exhorts the church in Rome to be forthcoming about their faith, asking how people are supposed to know the gospel without being told (Romans 10:14). The Apostle Philip encountered an Ethiopian man, who despite literally reading the Bible after worshipping at the Temple in Jerusalem, said he needed someone to explain it to him (Acts 8:30-31). The Bible is clear: People need to hear the gospel to understand it, and the American church could be doing a better job spreading the news. In another study conducted in March 2018, Barna found that 51% of churchgoers don’t even know the Great Commission. Of those who did know, 25% could not recall the exact meaning.
Jesus is the single most significant person to ever live, and it is his preeminence (Col. 1:15-17) and the suffering he endured to reconcile sinful humans to God that make him worthy of all reverence. An insult against Jesus should certainly offend a Christian believer. But, the Bible reminds us that those who do not believe have not yet had their eyes opened (2 Cor. 4:3-4 [“god of this world” means satan, for those unfamiliar]) and that we were once among their number (1 Cor. 6:11). God’s word exhorts us to meet insults with grace and to turn frustration into compassion because each of us has been forgiven much (Eph 4:32).
Jesus once told a parable about a Samaritan who showed uncommon mercy his neighbor. Jesus' concluding remark was, “Go and do likewise.”