4. Jesus – an object of art
On November 25th I again had cause to show my colours as watchdog (and troublemaker). Over the two previous nights a documentary was shown on Channel Seven TV, featuring the Lindy Chamberlain case. It was 25 years since one of the worst mistakes in Australian judicial history made headline News around the world. The similarity in the word Liddy (a convicted pedophile) and Lindy started with a whisper of a thought and snowballed into a giant avalanche. Lindy Chamberlain spent three years in prison innocently. The documentary was about that Lindy.
In both episodes the name Jesus had been used as a swearword. I felt angry towards the scriptwriter. There was no reason to include in the script an expletive, which still insults many followers of Christianity. There are many more, less offensive words available, which could have been used to express, whatever the blasphemous word Jesus is supposed to express.
I sent the following letter to the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) with a copy to Channel Seven:
Through my eyes—Adelaide’s TV Channel Seven 24/11/04, 7.30 pm.
Last evening’s program contained the word “Jesus” at least four times. I only started viewing 15 minutes after the start, so the offensive word may have been used on more occasions.
The way the word was used, after an angry reaction to a situation, was insulting to me and other members of my family. This not only is inappropriate, but it could be in breach of “religious vilification” legislation. To show a warning before the program does not diminish the insult -effect in any way.
If a scriptwriter would include a word that is offensive to another religion, would the outcry by this group find a listening ear? Sadly, often it does, whilst our main religion in Australia is allowed to be made fun of.
The name of Jesus to a Christian is very precious. It is his very source of safety in a troubled world. To use it in the manner described goes against a clear commandment by God himself – ”You shall not use the name of the Lord in vain”.
I trust you will take any action necessary to remedy the situation and not allow it to continue.
Less than two weeks later I received a reply. It surprised me that my complaint had been investigated in such a short time. The letter stated that the Commercial television industry had developed their own code of practice, covering such matters. (I received a free copy of this lengthy document). The ABA basically said that my concerns were covered in section 1.8.6:
“A licensee may not broadcast a program… to provoke or perpetuate intense dislike, serious contempt or severe ridicule against a person or groups of persons on the grounds of age, colour, gender, national or ethnic origin, disability, race, religion, or sexual preference.
However, there is an exemption clause 1.9.1:
… if said or done reasonably and in good faith in broadcasting an artistic work (including comedy or satire).
There are always exemptions that perpetrators of laws can hide behind. This seemed a classic example. The ABA advised me that …
“… a reasonable and objective viewer would not consider the infrequent use of “Jesus Christ” as an expletive in a serious drama in above category. The ABA considers that it is reasonable to assume that the use of the word “Jesus” was said or done reasonably and in good faith in an artistic work.
I wondered if the writer of the letter, or the person who ruled that the name Jesus could be used as art, had seen the film The Passion of the Christ? If they did, how could they allow such insulting behaviour to go on?
A few days before Christmas 04, I came across the ABA letter and realized I had never read a full report on the subject, an in depth investigation into the issue, undertaken after a similar complaint by a concerned Christian man from the state of Victoria. I went online and read the report, which was in essence the same I had been told, but a much longer version.
I was going to let the matter rest, but discovered a spelling error on the ABA’s online document. (In my email below interested readers will find the link to the ABA’s ruling). After I started typing I got so enthused, I couldn’t stop at reporting the spelling error. My fingers just kept expressing what I really felt in my heart. It had to be put in print:
Email to the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) 23/12/04:
a misspelling occurred. Just before ‘Issue 2: Artistic work exemption’ in the summary:
Don't we like it, when Governments make a mistake? I just hope the total ruling on above
case was not a mistake. I shall ask fellow Christians, how much dislike is provoked in them, when their Saviour’s name (whose birth we are celebrating shortly) is used to express anger.
Or is it the Christians approach of bearing injustices, not insisting on their rights and forgiving, that no greater protest is registered?
Nothing has changed in 2000 years, but it will.
I wish you all, especially Lyn Maddock and Michael Gorden-Smith a wonderful Christmas.
May they enjoy it, whenever the name of Jesus is proclaimed, especially as Lord and Saviour.
Dieter R. Fischer
(The names Maddock and Gorden-Smith were the signatories of the document, ultimately responsible for the decision, I assumed).
Friends, Christians who take their faith seriously and stand up for what they believe in, have always been a thorn in the flesh of those who hate us for no reason. There is a place for righteous anger. But it can and must be expressed in a peaceful, non-violent way. Writing angry, abusive letters or sending threatening emails is doing more harm than good. In one instance in the bible, Jesus’ disciples were just in such a mood and asked: “Lord shall we let fire fall from heaven to destroy them all?” Jesus rebuked them: “Don’t you know, whose children you are?”
To fulfill my promise in above email I composed a message to 14 contacts taken from my address book. I selected people, who I knew would agree with my action and hopefully could draw on a large network to continue the discussion.
Email 23/12/04 – sent to 14 contacts in Australia and overseas:
as we celebrate our Saviour's birth allow me to draw you attention to a ruling of the ABA, the Australian Broadcasting Authority. It has determined that using the name "Jesus Christ" as an expletive in a TV Drama or Documentary does not break any ruling on the Industry’s Code of Practice.
Recently I heard the name 'Jesus Christ' used as an expletive four times in the documentary on Lindy Chamberlain. I wrote to the ABA and Channel Seven. A concerned Christian man from Victoria also made a complaint to the ABA on the same issue in May 04. He had heard our Saviour's name used as and expletive while viewing the drama "Prime Suspect". Both programs were aired on Channel Seven.
Do any of you notice and get offended as I do? It may be our lack of passion for our Lord's name that we don't care? Or is it, as I have emailed to the ABA, that the Christian approach is to bear injustices and forgive? That would explain, why not many more protests against this kind of discrimination are filed.
Certainly, if other religions were attacked in the same manner, or indigenous people, the media would not get away with it. They would come to their defense. Do we Christians have to put up with it? Thank God, more Christians are entering politics and are making a difference.
Friends - it's our turn!
Merry Christmas and a great year 2005.
Dieter R. Fischer
Let’s all remember, we are HIS children, His Spirit is within us, not a spirit of anger and violence, but of love and of power. HE will have HIS ways in all situations. We are called to do what we can. Let’s leave the rest in HIS hands.