Where is the line between good humor and offensive content? How do we measure whether or not something has gone “too far”? Are there things that simply can’t be joked about, or does joking about horrible things help to heal and reconcile what has been broken? Does it matter if someone doesn’t intend to be offensive?
These are the questions that Br. Tito and I looked at this week on our podcast, Everyday Liminality, as we try to come to a coherent definition of “offensive content” in entertainment. What we found was that it is easier said than done, as there are both objective and subjective characteristics to each situation meaning that what is totally normal to one person may be absolutely repugnant to another.
But as I reflected on our conversation, thinking about what we said (and what we should have said) I realized that there is even a more interesting issue beyond simply defining the issue: “Should a Christian ever be offended?”
What I mean by this is that we are a follower of a man who laid down his life, who didn’t defend himself, who taught peace at all costs, and yet remained completely confident in what he did because he could see the whole picture. Someone attacking him with a sword was not threatening to him because he was the King of the Universe and the judge of the living and the dead; the words of a fellow human had no power over him or his emotions because he knew the truth. And it makes me wonder, as his followers today, if there could be anything to truly offend us, to make us feel threatened in such a way that we would need to attack back.
Because, really, isn’t that what the issue of being offended is about? Someone has done something to make us personally uncomfortable—our ego, reputation, comfort, or sensibilities are challenged—and we want to call them out for being a bad person, to stop. Being offended is not about issues of safety or justice, it is not about sticking up for people who are actually hurt or put in danger; these are separate issues. Being offended is about an attack on the sensibilities of our self or culture.
And so, again, I wonder: is there ever any reason for us as Christians to ever get offended, or should we always be a people who accepts abuse with grace, returns anger with love, and lets negativity roll off our back because we know that others cannot have control over us? An interesting question that we might have to discuss another time.