The sketch, “DJesus Uncrossed,” aired on Saturday night’s episode of the NBC comedy and featured host Christoph Waltz as the Messiah. Waltz, who is up for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in “Django Unchained,” is seen in the sketch as a vengeful “Jesus H. Christ,” who gleefully blows away Romans in a mock trailer that borrows from Quentin Tarantino’s “Django,” “Inglourious Basterds” and other violent epics.
Says a narrator: “He’s risen from the dead, and he’s preaching anything but forgiveness.” The energetic segment was the most talked-about highlight of Saturday’s episode.
But the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, wasn’t laughing. On Tuesday, the civil-liberties organization criticized the sketch as “abhorrent” and called on "SNL" to avoid similar depictions in the future. Nihad Awad, the group’s executive director, who clearly didn’t get the memo about the definition of satire, called the violent interpretation of the Christian figure a “misrepresentation” of Jesus’ peaceful nature.
“While we understand the use of shocking imagery and bizarre juxtapositions to provoke a humorous response, we believe such a distasteful portrayal of a religious figure revered by billions of Muslims and Christians worldwide crosses the comedic line,” Awad said in a statement. “We strongly support free speech rights for all, but one would hope that common decency and respect for the beliefs of others would help avoid such unfortunate depictions.”
Conservative Muslims are known to be hypersensitive about satirical depictions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Last year, the low-budget video “Innocence of Muslims” reportedly led to violent unrest throughout the Middle East after it was uploaded to YouTube. And in 2011, the Paris offices of satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo were firebombed after it published cartoons featuring Muhammad.
The Quran depicts Jesus as one of God’s greatest messengers, and CAIR noted that many Christians may not be aware that Muslims around the world love and revere their central figure. According to the Quran, Muhammad called Jesus God’s “spirit and word.”
CAIR members are not the only ones upset with the sketch. The Christian News Network reported on Wednesday that the “Saturday Night Live” Facebook page was inundated with complaints, with some calling it the “most blasphemous” sketch they’d ever seen. The Los Angeles Times noted a similar backlash on Twitter, with staff writer Rene Lynch reporting that televangelist Pat Robertson called the sketch “anti-Christian bigotry.”
The conservative Christian group Concerned Women for America also criticized “DJesus Uncrossed,” with the group’s president, Penny Nance, saying in a statement that the routine mockery of Christianity by "SNL" pointed to an egregious double standard. “'SNL' would never have the nerve to mock Islam as it did Christianity,” Nance said in the statement. “They would never be brave enough to run a skit mocking Mohammad at any time, let alone during Ramadan.”
So do "SNL" critics have a point? That’s a matter of opinion, of course, but lest we forget Matthew 5:21-22: “Whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council.”