Paris-Michael Jackson, 22-year-old daughter of the late “King of Pop” Michael Jackson, is portraying Jesus in an upcoming film, Habit. The film features actress Bella Thorne as a “street smart, party girl with a Jesus fetish [who] gets mixed up in a violent drug deal and finds a possible way out by masquerading as a nun.”
A number of Christian individuals and organizations are protesting the film’s “gender-bending” depiction of Jesus as “disrespectful and blasphemous.” Early reports said that Jackson would be portraying a “lesbian Jesus,” but Cassian Elwes, executive producer of the movie, said, “That’s absolute nonsense.”
Elwes told Newsday, “Paris appears in a fantasy moment that Bella has in the film where Bella has a vision of her mother (played by Paris) dressed as Jesus.” He tweeted, “Of course the story has been completely blown out of proportion.”
A petition from The Christian Film and Television Commission, directed toward the film’s producer Donovan Leitch, has more than 430,000 signatures. The petition says, “From the context of your film, it seems clear that your intention is to offend and mock Christians, but it is my sincere hope that you will reconsider the production and release of this film out of a respect for your fellow humans and their deeply held religious beliefs.” The signatures will also be sent to companies involved in the film’s production.
A second petition, from One Million Moms, has over 77,000 signatures and says, “This sacrilegious movie Habit mocks Christianity and ridicules people of faith. Elevated Films represents the U.S. rights to the project. Elevated Films has obviously gone too far. The company would never, in a million years, produce a film that defamed Muhammad in a similar fashion.”
Another online petition, at Change.org, has garnered more than 307,000 signatures. The petition organizer initially said that Jackson would be “depicting Jesus as a lesbian woman,” but corrected that error several days ago.
The organizer may have been misled by reports about Jackson’s sexuality, rather than that of the character she is playing. In a Facebook Watch series with current boyfriend and bandmate Gabriel Glenn, Jackson described herself as “gay” and said, “I wouldn’t consider myself bisexual because I’ve dated more than just men and women.” In the video, she also talked about her struggles with weight and body-image issues, and with depression and suicidality.
In addition to Thorne and Jackson, Habit also features English musician Gavin Rossdale and transgender model Andreja Pejic. The independently produced film is in post-production and does not yet have a distributor – which is what petitioners are trying to block.
All this brings up a question: How should Christians respond when filmmakers – or other artists – mock the Lord Jesus Christ? With boycotts? Protests? Outrage?
In 1988, the film The Last Temptation of Christ was greeted with all three – protests, boycotts, outrage – and more. Christians were angry because the R-rated film, featuring Willem Dafoe as Jesus, depicted an alternate reality for the Savior, including marriage and sexual relationships.
The boycotts had some success, as several theater chains refused to screen the film and several countries censored the movie. But the protests and demonstrations also may have drawn more attention to the film, which performed poorly at the box office but received critical acclaim and several award nominations.
Martin Scorsese, the film’s director, received death threats and hired bodyguards for protection. A theater in Paris was attacked with an incendiary device which damaged the building. Potassium chlorate and sulfuric acid from the attack injured 13 people. Four were badly burned.
More recently, Netflix released a “comedy” TV show, right before Christmas 2019, “The First Temptation of Christ.” Produced by a Brazilian company, Porta dos Fundos, the program showed Mary smoking marijuana and implied that Jesus had a same-sex relationship.
More than 2.4 million people signed a petition asking Netflix to stop streaming the show, and a Brazilian judge initially ordered the company to stop broadcasting the “Christmas special.” The ruling was overturned by the country’s Supreme Court.
But again, the protests were marked by violence. The offices of the acting company were firebombed with Molotov cocktails. No one was injured in the attack.
Of course, most Christians around the world would denounce the violence that greeted both releases. We’re called to be willing to die for the faith, not to kill others or burn down buildings for our beliefs.
Aside from eschewing violence, how should Christians respond when entertainers and filmmakers depict Jesus in sacrilegious ways? I’ll sign the petitions, because I think it’s important for Christians to join together and take a stand against intolerance from the entertainment world, but I still question the effectiveness of petitions and boycotts in bringing real change.
I’ll also pray for Paris and those involved in these shows, that they would have a real encounter with Christ and know God’s love. But apart from that I’m not sure – I don’t have a silver bullet to stop our culture’s slide into darkness. How about you? How do you think Christians should respond?
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