The Babylon Bee, Transphobia, and Why Christian Satire Still Misses the Mark
If you’re an evangelical Christian on social media, chances are you’ve come across an article from the Christian news satire site, The Babylon Bee. Billing itself as the “Christian version of The Onion,” The Babylon Bee has enjoyed viral success with headlines like, “Holy Spirit Unable To Move Through Congregation As Fog Machine Breaks,” and, “Worship Leader Caught In Infinite Loop Between Bridge And Chorus.”
Since its launch in late February, The Babylon Bee and its attempts at social critique have been largely hit or miss. As satire goes, it tends to be heavy-handed and on the nose. But despite its shortcomings, I’ve been patient with The Babylon Bee. Evangelical culture could use some humor and self-awareness, and my hope was that The Babylon Bee would rise to the challenge.
What’s becoming increasingly apparent, however, is that The Babylon Bee isn’t challenging Christian cultural norms as much as it’s reinforcing them. Its contempt for Obama, feminists, and progressive Christians, for example, is straight out of the Fox News playbook. As my friend Jayson tweeted, “The Babylon Bee is the answer to the question: ‘What if Matt Walsh tried to be a comedian?’”
The Babylon Bee’s treatment of LGBT issues has been especially scornful. Consider the following headlines:
For anyone familiar with The Babylon Bee’s creator, Adam Ford, this transphobic rhetoric should come as no surprise. Ford is the cartoonist behind Adam4d.com, a webcomic that often serves as a mouthpiece for Ford’s polarizing views on issues of gender and sexuality. Here’s a recent example:
The Babylon Bee is Ford’s latest project, and its more mainstream appeal, I think, is due not to the quality of its humor or the salience of its social critique, but in its ability to pass bigotry off as satire. The Babylon Bee gives privileged Christians permission to laugh at people who aren’t like them, and to do so in plain sight. Better yet, the genre provides readers with a ready-made excuse to ward off criticism. “It’s not transphobic,” they can say. “It’s just a joke.”
Christian satire continues to miss the mark because it fails to do the work of good satire, which at its heart, incidentally enough, is a prophetic act. The Biblical prophets found their witness not in mocking the vulnerable, but in challenging the powerful. Christian culture’s refusal to acknowledge privilege, intersectionality, and basic power dynamics means that it will always misidentify, as the comic above does, who the truly marginalized in our society are. Satire that punches down, rather than up, is not only ignorant — it’s oppressive.