Did you see it?
Have you been watching the History Channel series “The Bible”? The ten hour dramatization of the story of the Bible, produced by Roma Downey and her husband Mark Burnett, has attracted a great deal of attention and controversy. It also has a lot of viewers and, from a ratings standpoint, the History Channel has to be ecstatic.
The series is being presented in story form. It assumes that the Bible is not a collection of books but a connected story from beginning to end. Bible storying is a concept that has been growing in recent years. Pioneered by mission groups reaching illiterate cultures that learn primarily by passing on stories, it has been very successful in reaching people. Yet it has its detractors. Many people feel that condensing, or in some cases elaborating on, Biblical texts is somehow distorting or taking unwarranted liberties with Scripture. Defenders point out, for example, that it is useless to tell tribal hunter-gathers who have no idea what taxes are that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners.
The same allegations are thrown at “The Bible” shows. They are taking liberty with the texts. That is not exactly what the Bible says. The angels who went into Sodom were not ninja warriors. They have left out important points. As the episodes go on, I’ve seen four of the five now, the criticisms mount.
While it is little odd that the idea that a secular TV network is causing consternation among Christians because they haven’t gotten a presentation about the Bible exactly right or, more accurately, they have presented scenes in ways that don’t match how I’ve see them, I don’t mind controversy. If we can be polite I feel that any discussion about the Bible in the public square has merit.
But suddenly in episode 3 of the 5 the discussion changed. Toward the end of that episode last week was the dramatic portrayal of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. To dramatize this scene they needed someone who would play Satan. And they needed to present that character in a way that gave the feel of The Prince of Darkness. You can see what they came up with here. The scene was an interesting and, in my opinion, fairly accurate dramatization of the Bible text.
That night however an explosion took place. A right-wing political commentator tweeted that the presentation of Satan looked like President Obama and away we went. Outrage came from one side of the political spectrum; defense and agreement came from the other. The debate has continued to grow like a wildfire and still rages more than a week later. Downey and Burnett have vehemently called the allegation absurd but it doesn’t matter. One side remains convinced that the two of them are “in on” the offense, that they did it on purpose. The other side gleefully points out that the picture speaks for itself and nothing Downey and Burnett say matters.
It saddens me that, in the end, it is likely that the public’s biggest take-away from this ten hour series is probably going to be this controversy and not what the presentation actually said about God. It saddens me that one mean-spirited tweet has hijacked the message and that others, on the left and the right, have let it happen. But there is one thing that saddens me even more – that even now, a week later, I am still hearing Christians who have not seen the presentation itself repeating the charge that the series shows Satan as looking like Obama.
Whatever we think of the President and his policies there is no cause for gleeful attacks on his character via sneaky and snarky insinuations. It is no defense that similar attacks were made by “the other side” on President Bush. Look at the picture and form your own opinion of what it looks like. Go ahead and believe that “The Bible” is either a good or bad presentation of the essence of Scripture. But please also take Downey and Burnett at their word that this was not even remotely on their mind. And, if you haven’t seen the picture, it is probably a good idea to say nothing at all.