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Jesus Is All Over the Small Screen, and That’s No Accident

Photo via NBC Universal / RNS

Diogo Morgado in Son of God. Photo via Casey Crafford/LightWorkers Media LLC/Hearst Productions/Telemundo/ NBC Universal / RNS

Need proof that biblical entertainment is Hollywood’s holiest trend? Then look no further than Morocco, where three TV projects — National Geographic Channel’s Killing Jesus, NBC’s A.D. The Bible Continues and CNN’s Finding Jesus — were filmed on neighboring sets last year.

“You got this kind of Life of Brian-esque world you’re living in, where on all of our days off, there’s 36 disciples sitting around the pool and three Jesuses at the bar,” said actor Stephen Moyer, who ditched the fangs from True Blood to play Roman governor Pontius Pilate in the Ridley Scott-produced Killing Jesus.

Based on Fox News host Bil O’Reilly’s follow-up to the books he co-wrote with Martin Dugard, Killing Lincoln and Killing KennedyKilling Jesus tracks the last days of the Christian Messiah. Played by Muslim actor Haaz Sleiman, he is portrayed less as a miracle worker and more as a political threat, and the script heightens the sexual tension between Jesus and follower Mary Magdalene (Klara Issova).

“It plays with the idea that Jesus’ teachings are more important than the doing of miracles, that the idea behind what he’s saying is the point and it doesn’t need to have out-of-body, magical elements happening,” Moyer said.

A Muslim Actor Plays Jesus. It Works.

Screenshot from 'Killing Jesus' trailer.

Screenshot from 'Killing Jesus' trailer.

In a world surging with anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and the persecution of Christians, a Muslim is soon to portray Jesus in a film called Killing JesusBased on Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s bestselling book of the same name, the film seeks to capture the human dynamics and political milieu around the controversial death of Jesus of Nazareth.

Haaz Sleiman, a Lebanese-born American Muslim, was chosen to play the lead as the Jesus character. His selection makes him virtually the first actor of Middle Eastern descent to ever play the role in any mainstream film.

While National Geographic’s attempt at authenticity should be celebrated, the casting of Sleiman has, instead, stirred quite the controversy.

Imagine — in a context where religious tribalism is growing fiercer, a Muslim is embodying the role of a Palestinian Jew and central figure to Christianity. Is this a heretical impossibility or is this a picture of something beautiful?

On Tuesday, I sat down with Haaz to explore the uniqueness of this moment in his career and how the experience of embodying the life and teachings of Jesus has left him forever changed.

What immediately stood out is the grace with which he is handling the criticism from Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Rather than worrying about the controversy, Sleiman feels lucky to have had the opportunity. For him, it was the “ultimate experience as an actor” as he had been “heavily shaped” by Jesus during his childhood. Growing up in a Muslim home, he was taught to revere Jesus as the prophet equal to Mohammed who had come to reveal the beauty and potential of humanity. To play this role gave him a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to “become the character that he truly believes in.”

Nonviolence in the Face of ISIS?

A couple of folks I really respect – Kate Gould of Friends Committee on National Legislation (aka, the Quaker Lobby), and Jim Wallis of Sojourners – were recently on the O’Reilly Factor. For those of you who don’t watch cable news, this is a television program where Bill O’Reilly basically screams at people and incites hatred of anything non-white, non-rich, and non-Republican. I normally don’t watch the show. But when I heard that Kate and Jim were going to be talking, I tuned in.

I knew almost immediately this wasn’t going to be good. It’s Bill’s program, so he gets to frame the question. Here’s what he asks: Do Christian pacifists have a solution for stopping ISIS?

It’s the wrong question.

Bill O’Reilly, Brian Williams, and Jesus: On Goodness and Love

Bill O'Reilly on Jimmy Kimmel

I’m cringing as I write this.

That tells you a lot about me. When it comes to politics and theology, I identify as liberal. I firmly believe that Jesus wanted everyone fed, wanted universal health care, and that the Kingdom of God is about politics. It’s about structuring our personal and communal lives in a nonviolent way that ensures everyone has food to eat, debts are forgiven, and healing is freely provided for everyone.

Bill O’Reilly symbolizes almost everything that I loathe about American Christianity. His hyper-conservative politics is reinforced by his hyper-conservative theology. Many of my family members love his show, but I cringe when I hear his voice.

5 Things to Know About ISIS and the Theology of Evil

Anadolu Agency/Contributor

Iraqi army forces and Peshmerga regained control of Diyala's Sadiye town. Anadolu Agency/Contributor

As an evangelical theologian and pastor, I want to say that ISIS is evil. Evil is a term we don’t normally hear in the media or politics, which is likely a good thing given our lack of public morality and civility these days. Indeed, judgementalism was condemned by Jesus, but is still often practiced by many churches — so humility is always called for. But it is still a responsibility of the faith community to name evil where it clearly exists in the world. And by any standards, the actions of ISIS are evil.

The latest report issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq on “The Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Iraq,” catalogues the human rights atrocities committed by ISIS, making it abundantly clear that this group is evil. They include:

  • attacks directly targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure,
  • executions and other targeted killings of civilians,
  • abductions, rape and other forms of sexual and gender based violence perpetrated against women and children,
  • slavery and trafficking of women and children,
  • forced recruitment of children,
  • destruction or desecration of places of religious or cultural significance,
  • wanton destruction and looting of property, and denial of fundamental freedoms.

The report goes on to identify the targeting of ethnic and religious groups — such as Christians, Yazidis, Shi’ite Muslims, and many others —and subjecting them to “gross human rights abuses, in what appears as a deliberate policy aimed at destroying, suppressing or expelling these communities permanently from areas under their control.” The report describes the actions as possible “war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide.”

In light of these sober findings, the faith community must remind the world that evil can be overcome, and that individuals involved in evil systems and practices can be redeemed. But how to overcome evil is a very complicated theological question, which requires much self-reflection. In trying to figure out how to overcome evil, it is often helpful to first decide how not to. Here is a good example of how not to respond to the reality of evil.

Candida Moss Debunks the ‘Myth’ of Christian Persecution

Photo courtesy Brian McConkey Photography

Notre Dame theologian Candida Moss, who wrote a book on Christianity and persecution. Photo courtesy Brian McConkey Photography

Growing up Catholic in England, Candida Moss felt secure in life, yet was told in church that Christians have been persecuted since the dawn of Christianity. Now, as an adult and a theologian, she wants to set the record straight.

Too many modern Christians invoke, to lamentable effect, an ancient history of persecution that didn’t exist, Moss argues in her newly published book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented A Story of Martyrdom.

Although anti-Christian prejudice was fairly widespread in the church’s first 300 years, she writes, “the prosecution of Christians was rare, and the persecution of Christians was limited to no more than a handful of years.”

We asked Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, to talk about the travails of early Christians, and how they are misappropriated in the public sphere today. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Sister Simone Campbell Visits Bill O'Reilly, Talks Budget

 Photo by Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Sister Simone Campbell on Capitol Hill calling for a 'faithful budget.' Photo by Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Sister Simone Campbell sat down with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly to discuss her organization's push for a faithful budget.

Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, recently invited presidential candidate Mitt Romney to join the Nuns on the Bus in some of their charitable work with the poor. 

 

The Real War on Christmas ... by Fox News

Jim Wallis

Jim Wallis

The real Christmas announces the birth of Jesus to a world of poverty, pain, and sin, and offers the hope of salvation and justice.

The Fox News Christmas heralds the steady promotion of consumerism, the defense of wealth and power, the adulation of money and markets, and the regular belittling or attacking of efforts to overcome poverty.

The real Christmas offers the joyful promise of peace and the hope of reconciliation with God and between humankind.

The Fox News Christmas proffers the constant drumbeat of war, the reliance on military solutions to every conflict, the demonizing of our enemies, and the gospel of American dominance.

The real Christmas lifts up the Virgin Mary’s song of praise for her baby boy: “He has brought the mighty down from their thrones, and lifted the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away.”

The Fox News Christmas would label Mary’s Magnificat as “class warfare.”

So if there is a war on Christmas it ‘s the one being waged by Fox News.

Welcome to the Poverty Thunderdome

SMILEY: I'm still going to finish my point. You're right to go after Stanley O'Neal. I know you didn't mean to do this. I don't want to believe you meant to do this, but Stanley O'Neal, there are four or five black CEOs in this country. You choose a guy at Merrill Lynch to make him the poster guy for all the folks on Wall Street.

O'REILLY: Oh Tavis knock it off with the black business, will you? Oh stop.

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