Joy Behar, one of the hosts of ABC’s daytime TV talk show “The View,” made quite a stir with a recent statement about the faith of Vice President Mike Pence: “It’s one thing to talk to Jesus. It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you,” Behar said. “That’s called mental illness, if I’m not correct. Hearing voices.”
Behar subsequently called Pence with an apology that Pence described as very sincere. He then urged her to make a more public apology to “tens and millions of Americans, who were equally offended by what was said.” She made that apology on a subsequent airing of “The View.” This after tens of thousands of complaints to ABC by viewers, and numerous prominent Christian organizations weighing in with alarm and outrage.
My original working title for this post was the intentionally provocative “I Stand with Joy Behar,” but a quick sampling of friends indicated low levels of name-recognition, so the title got scrapped – but the sentiment remains: One should not be pressured into apologizing for making a rational observation about communicating with dead people. I actually think Behar would have been more consistent to say that, not only hearing from Jesus, but talking to him in the first place, is mental illness. For anyone who does not embrace the reality of the resurrection of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth, and his eternal position as Savior and Lord, it is perfectly reasonable to make such a statement. You might even say it is most unreasonable for the observer not to call attention to a clear case of mental illness in someone holding high public office who believes this stuff!
The problem, I think, may be that we Christians do not often consider how very odd and irrational our faith should seem. It is not an ethical framework or philosophy. It is not even a religion, really, if religion is viewed simply as belief in God. It is wholly unique, and is firmly based on the conviction that a man, who claimed to be the Son of God, was executed, placed in a tomb, and spontaneously came back to life a few days later – and that he is, in fact, fully alive today, two thousand years later. And further, that his followers have an actual ongoing relationship with him, that he hears their prayers and accepts their worship.
Sounds simple enough, right? A straightforward profession of ordinary Christian faith. Now let’s consider what we would think of this if the man were not Jesus of Nazareth. Let’s consider if it were some other notable historical figure, greatly admired and unequivocally dead, say, Abraham Lincoln.
Imagine a world where a group of people starts proclaiming that Abe is alive. Imagine these Lincolnists writing book upon book analyzing his speeches and writings, collecting long shelves of them, gathering in large numbers at least once a week, sometimes more, to talk about him, talk to him, sing praises to him, often using songs played on hundreds of radio stations devoted exclusively to him (Lincoln radio!), building countless huge structures to accommodate their gatherings. Even dying for him in nations where they are outlawed and persecuted, unwilling to deny him at any cost.
I’m thinking we might conclude that people who embrace such beliefs are completely out of their minds, possibly dangerous. So why should Christians get a pass? The Christian faith is either true or it is not. And if it is not true, we are as insane as the Lincolnists. It should not surprise, offend or alarm us at all if people make statements like Joy Behar’s. On the contrary, it should seem very surprising that any rational non-believer should treat us as though we, too, were rational.
If, however, we do begin to feel offended, I suggest that, rather than protesting or demanding apologies, we should consider what Jesus said to his followers about how to respond: “You are blessed when people hate you, when they exclude you, insult you, and slander your name as evil because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!”
In light of these instructions, it is hard to justify our outrage. It only makes us seem petty and thin-skinned. Why not take advantage of such opportunities? To respond with kindness, telling the Joy Behars of the world that we fully understand their point of view, that we would likely say the same thing in their position. When faced with the knowledge that we agree, that we would have to be loony-tunes to believe this were it not true, the person may then consider how safe, loving and selfless these Christians are – clearly not deranged. And if they are not deranged… what to do about Jesus?
Let the lines be clearly drawn. We do not expect or require coddling, acceptance and respect for our radical faith in a resurrected carpenter. Let us respond that Christ is risen indeed! That, if he is not, our faith most definitely is crazy talk!