One of the oddities of life in the internet age is that I have some very close friends whom I have never met in real life. Mike Leake is among those men. We exchange emails often. Mike has a sense of humor very close to mine. If you saw our exchanges, you might think we need some sort of arbitration to work out of our differences. I send him insulting emails and tweets and he responds in kind. I mean, folks, the guy cheers for the Kansas City Royals and he makes (I’m not joking here) the worst predictions on NFL games that you will find. I would be tempted to read his predictions and bet against his choices. I think I would make lots of money. Too bad the Baptist police say that we Baptist preachers are not allowed to gamble.
A Brouhaha at SBC Voices
Last Friday, Mike put a post in pending on our dashboard and contacted me to let me know it was there. He had changed his blog and thus had disappeared from our feed. He had emailed Tony and nothing had been done to get him back on the feed. Tony’s M.O. is to get busy and work around the clock on SBC Voices – in spurts. Nothing had yet been done and so Mike wrote a sarcastic spoof post about this giant conspiracy Tony and I had engaged in against him. Evidently, that little article created a little bit of stir!
It is probably proof of my lack of spiritual maturity or some kind of personal defect (I blame my dad; my sense of humor was inherited) that caused me to find that piece both funny and brilliant. So, I set the post (contrary to Mike’s spoof, I was actually the one who hit the publish button on that piece) to go up early on Saturday morning.
I got up Saturday and left around 7 am to drive to Des Moines for a 10 am BCI administrative team meeting. While on the road, I got a text from a good friend warning me that I needed to get on the site. Evidently, he (and many others) did not realize it was a joke. I thought Mike’s post was so clearly a spoof that no one would take it seriously. Obviously, I was wrong. So, at risk to my own life and those sharing I-80 with me, I added a comment identifying this as a spoof. A lot of people thought that our little joke was inappropriate, unChristian, or a waste of time.
The brouhaha that resulted from that post led me back to a post I had begun long ago and then abandoned – discussing a Christian view of humor. Is it okay for a Christian to laugh? What is appropriate for us to laugh at? Are there principles that can guide us in the use of humor? I’d like to take this moment and reflect on those principles. Feel free to interact and suggest your own guidelines.
I was always the class clown in school, the guy who made jokes about everything. When things are tense, my instinct is to make a humorous observation, a bad pun, or a jesting insult in an effort to diffuse the tension. Sometimes, that has been effective, at other times it has been received poorly. I’ve joked with people who took my jokes seriously and were deeply offended by what I’ve said.
My personal prejudice is to say, “Hey, guys, laugh it off! Don’t take things so seriously.” But I realize that this may not be the most biblical or spiritual response there. But each of us comes to the subject of humor from our own experiences and upbringing. I came by my rather odd sense of humor honestly.
A few years ago, the Executive Director of the Missouri Baptist Convention (at the time) came to Iowa for a BCI meeting. I was chatting with him and suddenly he stopped and looked at me. “Wait a minute,” he said. “Is your dad crazy Lew Miller?” Yes, I told him. My dad is crazy Lew Miller. When he was one of the first Southern Baptist pastors in Iowa and Iowa Baptist work was just an association of the Missouri convention, my dad got a well-earned reputation for the shenanigans he pulled, especially at Windermere Baptist Assembly.
I cannot tell you how many times someone who knows the both of us has shaken their head and said, “You are a chip off the old block.”
So, all that to say that I have a unique twist on humor which is drawn more from my upbringing and heritage than, perhaps, from the Word of God. But I’d ask you to make that same admission – perhaps your views of humor are informed by your upbringing and personality, just as mine are. Those of you who use humor in your sermons and those of you who think it is wrong to do so – perhaps it is not just biblical concerns that drive us.
Three Foundational Biblical Principles
There are three biblical principles I would state, without proof. I think most of you would agree here, but it might be helpful to state them.
1) God created humor.
God made us with the capacity for and an appreciation of laughter. He created humor and laughter. Does anyone want to argue that humor is a product of the fall?
2) The Fall marred God’s creations, including humor.
When we fell into sin, the good gift of laughter, like everything else about humanity, was twisted. We can never say, “Do what comes naturally” when it comes to human behavior. My sense of humor and yours is prone to serve fleshly purposes and must be redeemed and transformed by the work of God within us. None of us has a perfectly godly sense of (or lack of a sense of) humor.
3) Humor is a “disputable” issue.
There is a universal standard of Christian sexual behavior – one man, one woman, pure before marriage, faithful after marriage, until death do us part. Black and white. Humor is not such an issue. I have one view, shaped by my experiences, and you have another. Observational humor comes naturally to me and is a part of who I am. It needs to be used under the Lordship of Christ. But if my sense of humor is different from yours, is that a problem?
We can each be ourselves while we walk under the Lordship of Christ and as we are being transformed to the image of Christ.
Principles for Christian Humor
1) Recognize that everyone does not have to be like me.
Some people will find something funny that others will not. We are in a culture in which people seem to enjoy finding offense and taking umbrage. We are well served to remember Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:2 to “(bear) with one another in love.” God saves many different kinds of people – some really weird ones at that! You don’t get to choose who your brothers and sisters are, you just have to accept them as family. If one person’s humor does not seem funny to you, then perhaps you could, instead of reacting in horror as if the other has committed some heinous sin, just “bear with” that person and accept them in love, in spite of the different perspective.
Spirit-filled Christians are not eager to take offense at their brothers and sisters.
On the other hand….
2) If your humor offends, take responsibility for it.
I cannot tell you how often I’ve seen it in a blogging discussion. Someone makes some sort of joke (or puts a stinkin’ emoticon next to an insult) and another person is offended by that “joke”. The person who made the joke (or the emoticon-negated insult) then says, “Lighten up, it was only a joke.”
But, if I make a joke and someone is offended by that joke, I must take responsibility for my joke and apologize. A Christian does not say, “This is who I am – you adjust to me.” The Christian yields to the other and serves in love.
If you read the comments in the original post, you will see an apology from Mike for any offense he gave. Mike wrote about Tony and me. Neither of us was offended – in fact, we thought it was hilarious. But Mike humbled himself and apologized. I didn’t think he needed to, but others did – and he did. I think that is a godly response.
It is not the action of a Spirit-filled Christian to be unconcerned about the feelings and responses of others. If I hurt someone, even unintentionally, I must humble myself and take responsibility.
3) Make sure you are joking with people, not joking about them.
There is a difference between harmless joking and ridicule. When I belittle someone, even in a joking manner, it is sinful. And passive aggressive. And fleshly. And whatever. Most of us violate this, but we must not. This is a fine line, but one that in our hearts we must maintain. Ephesians 4:29 says that our words must always build up and not tear down. There is no humor exception to that exhortation. If the intent of my joke is to put someone down, or to make others laugh at someone else, it may not be godly.
And if someone misreads my intent, see point 2.
4) Ridicule is not argument.
I wrote an article some time ago, and somehow a non-SBC big-time blogger read it. He did not like it. His response included no logical, biblical or theological argument. Nope. It was simply ridicule. He made jokes about me and others who held that position. I didn’t like that much. He didn’t care.
I have seen it all too often when we replace theological debate with personal ridicule. It scores points with our friends but it adds to the disruption and division in the body of Christ.
5) Don’t be a humor hypocrite.
Back a few years ago, during the Baptist Identity controversy, there was a spoof site that made fun of a small number of the “BI” guys. The site was witty and hilarious, but in my judgment, sometimes strayed beyond the boundaries of what I have come to see as acceptable in blog humor. But it was funny. Really funny.
One time, I got a complaint from one of the subjects of the spoof site’s posts. I had put a comment on indicating I thought something was really funny. This guy was offended that I would laugh at something that made fun of him. He may have had a point.
But, this guy was a humor hypocrite. Just a few days before, at a BI site, someone had posted an article with some biting (and insulting) humor about the other side. This man, who rebuked me for laughing at humor against him, had fallen all over himself to say how funny the article was that skewered the other side.
You cannot have one measure for jokes made about you and another for jokes you or your friends make about others. You cannot have one standard for jokes non-Calvinists make about Calvinists, and another for jokes Calvinists make about non-Calvinists. Whatever your standard of humor is, it has to apply both to your jokes and those others might make in your direction.
Humor is a funny issue (pun intended) for us as Christian bloggers. We each need to examine our words and motives, under the Lordship of Christ and in light of the Word of God and endeavor to see all our words and actions transformed into full Christlikeness.