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Should Christians boycott 'Black Jesus,' or try to learn from it?

Published: Thursday, Aug. 14 2014 5:40 a.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, Aug. 14 2014 4:02 p.m. MDT

Is "Black Jesus" outrageous or just another angle?

via Screengrab

After the collective denunciation among faith groups of Adult Swim's new show "Black Jesus," which spawned a handful of Change.org petitions, some are trying to glean deeper meaning from the show.

The premise for the show, created by Aaron McGruder of Adult Swim's "The Boondocks," is exactly what it sounds like: Jesus is alive and well in Compton. And he's black.

As the show's creators told Vice recently, the show is a loose satire of Jesus' life, and Judea, as they put it, was most definitely "the hood."

"Judea was so much of a hood that Rome sent Pontius Pilate, the biggest thug governor in the empire, to manage it," producer Robert Eric Wise told Vice. "The real biblical and historical Jesus was born and raised in the hood.”

Few in the faith community are accepting the satire explanation Wise offered. Most don't object to the portrayal of Jesus as black, but because the show is disrespectful.

"The show mocks Christianity and Jesus Christ. People's religions should not be blasphemed on television," said James Jones of Woodbridge, Va., who authored one of the petitions to yank the show.

Others pointed out that a show mocking other religious figures would not have been tolerated.

"It was horrible, disgusting and completely offensive. Down to a person, everyone in the youth group was offended. It just shows where we are as a nation. … We have no respect for God," Kerry Burkey, senior pastor at the 300-member Rockledge Church of Christ, told USA Today. "Today, faith is perceived as a myth. There is a lack of respect for the authority of God, although I will tell you that if Hollywood had produced a program called 'Black Muhammad,' or whatever, there would be an outrage."

Media outlets are having a more mixed reaction to the show. Time shrugged the show off with a simple "We have other things to boycott," but where media reaction is concerned, the show is something of a triple threat, provoking reactions over race, faith and class in one fell swoop.

The Daily Beast proferred that the show itself is racist.

"What is most striking about Black Jesus is the casualness with which its primary characters are formed out of race-based stereotypes — among others, there are three angry and needlessly violent black and Latino women, a lazy mama’s boy, an ex-con who can’t help his criminality, and two cruel, daft Mexican gangbangers," Rawiya Kameir wrote. "Is subversion on the horizon? Only God knows."

Or, as the Washington Post suggested, maybe the show isn't about Jesus at all, but is instead about a "crazy, homeless guy" who thinks he's the son of God.

"Which seems about right, considering that we see Black Jesus skipping through Compton cursing, handing out 40 ounces and smoking up everybody’s weed," Soraya Nadia McDonald wrote.

But minister Christopher House took a different tact entirely on The Huffington Post, saying the show was an opportunity for Christian reflection.

"Identification precedes personal, spiritual and social salvation," House wrote. "Rather than simply dismissing the show as being blasphemous, maybe we should continue to watch with an awareness of contemporary issues and a strong sense of irony. To do so would ask us to consider what then does it mean to have a black Jesus living and moving in impoverished black spaces?"

Email: chjohnson@deseretnews.com

Twitter: ChandraMJohnson

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