It’s been two decades since The Onion began mercilessly satirizing American culture, mass media, politics and current events with biting, frequently hilarious fake news. And though they’ve never shied away from the irreverent and the absurd, the comedy writers have also used the medium to do what satire does best—expose deeper truths.
While not every joke The Onion fires at the Church has been fair, it’d be a mistake to tune them out altogether. Here’s a look at five of the most poignant—and funny—pieces they’ve written about contemporary Christianity.
Written from the perspective of a mean-spirited, anti-Christian writer, the story comes across like an attack on Christian anti-intellectualism, but if you keep reading, you see The Onion is actually poking fun at the fictional writer, whose hatred of religion blinds him to the good many churches actually do in the world.
Best line: “Sources confirmed today that the brainwashed morons at First Baptist Assembly of Christ, all of whom blindly accept whatever simplistic fairy tales are fed to them, volunteer each Wednesday night to provide meals to impoverished members of the community.”
This one might sting a little, but it contains a lot of truth. Written in the form of a commentary piece, the column is penned by an individual asking to hear a traditional evangelistic message. The piece isn’t mocking evangelism—it’s just showing the dangers of relying on a formulaic approach to communicating the Gospel. As the piece demonstrates, most people have heard “the pitch” before, suggesting there may be a better way to reach people—like through actual relationships—than just through (a well-meaning) quick salvation plea.
Best Line: “It won’t take long. Would you mind coming in and sitting down? Just to speak with me for a little bit? If now’s not a good time, don’t worry. You can come back. Do you have a pamphlet or something? It would be great to have some information about how God is always there for me.”
Another piece focused on well-meaning—but ill-received—evangelism efforts, this one too carries some bite. The piece is about a bullhorn-wielding street preacher, whose calling is to “bring Christianity to San Francisco’s unholy cyclists, tai chi practitioners, and dog walkers” at a local park. But it’s not lampooning the message: It’s skewering the brash, loudmouthed delivery. Some Christians will make a case for street preaching, but as this piece shows, there’s a difference between preaching and just shouting at people.
Best line: “Hilson’s bullhorn, which he often employs to bring recreation-seekers into the light of God’s grace and drown out their iPod music, forced one-third to one-half of the souls to spurn the path they had chosen for that afternoon.”
All Christian bands live up to a reputation of such service and care, right?
Best line: “‘The television was lifted up, dusted under, Windexed, and placed carefully back in the cabinet. Plus they apparently had our towels professionally laundered at their own expense. There’s nothing in the manual about dealing with this type of propriety.’ Hotel staff are attempting to contact Ruggid Krøss’ manager to return the six extra Gideon’s Bibles they left in the suite’s nightstands.”
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.