Outrage is growing from Christian leaders over a blasphemous and obscene joke made on Channel 10’s The Project, with Maronite Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay adding his voice to Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and other Christian leaders in asserting Christians’ right not to be vilified and ridiculed.
Bishop Tarabay said the obscene comments about Christ’s crucifixion made by comedian Reuben Kaye on 28 February was “neither a joke nor an unavoidable mistake that happens on live TV”.
“The freedom of expression and opinion is important for all of us. However, these should not be confused with the freedom to mock or ridicule the beliefs held close to the hearts of billions of people around the world,” he said.
“People of faith also have the right to express their views and call for action, in a manner consistent with our Christian values and according to the provision of the Law.”
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP wrote to Network Ten and its owner Paramount Australia to express his “sadness and deep disappointment”, and described an apology offered on the 1 March episode by hosts Waleed Aly and Sarah Harris as “forced and insincere.”
“The crude remark was of a sexual nature and highly inappropriate,” Archbishop Fisher wrote.
“That a ‘news and current affairs’ program would so flagrantly mock the beliefs of more than half of all Australians is extremely upsetting and frankly incredible.
“One gets the impression that the panelists are either unaware or indifferent to the hurt they have caused not only to Christians but people of faith throughout the nation.”
Archbishop Fisher invited the panelists and hosts of The Project to attend Easter services at St Mary’s Cathedral, to help them better understand the reverence Christians have for Jesus Christ.
Bishop Tarabay similarly called on The Project to commit to measures that would prevent similar incidents from occurring again.
Thirty-six thousand Australians have signed a change.org petition to cancel The Project over the obscene joke.
Other Christian clergy around Australia have objected strongly to Mr Kaye’s joke.
Bishop Siluan of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Australia said that for the “blasphemous utterances” to be made during Lent, a time of prayer and purification, was a sign of a world that has rejected God.
“Whilst the Church holds vigil, praying for the salvation of the world, the demons are at their business of making noise, trying to distract the faithful in order to draw their attention away from prayer, from Christ, to the vanities of this fallen world, to its profane, superfluous and idle talk, its gossip and brokeness,” Bishop Siluan wrote in a letter to Orthodox faithful on 4 March.
In his homily at St Patrick’s Catholic Church in Bondi on 5 March, Fr Brendan Lee criticised The Project for promoting “hate speech and bigotry.”
“It is a show that preaches diversity and tolerance but has no tolerance itself for different religions and people of faith,” he said.
“It does not practice what it preaches.”
Ben Irawan, senior pastor at Life Centre International, a non-denominational church in Arncliffe in Sydney’s south said the comedian “went too far.”
“Shame on The Project and Channel 10 to allow this to be aired. Many in the LGBTQ community I know are very respectful. I think the community should distance themselves from this sort of disgusting behaviour.”
Archbishop Fisher invited the executives, show hosts and production staff to visit the cathedral over Easter so they could “better understand what Christians believe and why attacking these beliefs is inappropriate.”
“I would especially like to invite you all to join us for our Easter ceremonies on either Good Friday or Easter Sunday where you can fully experience the reverence that Christians have for Jesus Christ,” he wrote.
The episode also received backlash from Muslim leaders. The Lebanese Muslim Association condemned the “disgusting joke” about Jesus in a media statement on 2 March.
“As Muslims, we honour and respect all the prophets and messengers of God, and refrain from denigrating the holy figures of other religions,” it said.
“As a civilised society, we call on the Australian Government to enshrine the sanctity of religion from such derogatory and blasphemous statements that serve only to denigrate the people’s faith, beliefs and principles.”
In the on-air apology, Mr Aly, himself a Muslim, said that “during a live interview last night, our guest told a joke which we know was deeply and needlessly offensive to many of you.”
“We want to acknowledge the particular offence and hurt that it caused our Muslim and especially our Christian viewers. Obviously, I understand how profound that offence was.”
Ms Harris added that it came in the few moments of the show and “took us all by surprise.”
The day prior to the interview, Mr Kaye tweeted, “LGBTQIA+ existence predates religion. We were here before you and your god and we will outlast you.”