The Simpsons (Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and baby Maggie) are the longest running American sitcom and animated program. This TV program is now in its 20th season with over 400 episodes being aired. It has won many awards. In 1999, Time magazine voted it the best TV show of all time. In the same issue, Bart was nominated as one of the 100 most influential people in 20th century. The Simpsons have become a cultural icon. One poll revealed that 91% of Americans knew the names of the Simpsons, yet many didn’t know the name of their local member of Congress. One person actually thought that Bart Simpson was his local congressman! Homer’s exclamation of “D’oh!” has even been added to the Oxford English Dictionary. The Simpsons are not without controversy. They have been criticized from the White House to the school house. In 1992, President George Bush (Snr) promised to help American families become ‘a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.” The Simpsons were quick to respond. In an episode not long after this, the Simpson family is watching TV. They hear the president make this statement. Bart quickly says, “Hey, we’re just like the Waltons – we’re praying for an end to The Depression too!”
There is no doubt that the Simpsons are not a ‘model’ family. You wouldn’t sit your kids down and say, “Okay, this is the kind of family we want to be.” But maybe they’ve become more of a ‘mirror’ - a reflection of what many families have become. It’s definitely a satire – an exaggerated look at life, poking fun at pretty much everything, sometimes in a sac religious way.Responding to Culture
So what do we do with the Simpsons? In fact, what do we do with the culture in the world around us? There are essentially three responses to culture:
- Reject Culture. Some people look at the world’s culture, see the bad in it and choose to reject it. They separate themselves from the world. They end up very ‘different’ but they have no ‘relevance’ because of their isolation. It’s a bit like salt that never gets out of the saltshaker – there’s power in the salt but because there is no proximity, there is no impact. A lot of Christians take this approach. They end up living in a little Christian sub-culture that they’ve created. They listen to Christian radio, watch Christian television, listen to Christian music, go to Christian bookstores, wear Christian jewelry and send their kids to Christian schools. Now don’t hear me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with any of these things. In fact, they do a lot of good. But let’s remember that Jesus did not tell his followers, “Stick together in little Christian communities and hide from the big bad evil world until I get back.”
- Embrace Culture. Some people go to the other extreme and become so like the world around them that they have no impact. They are so immersed in the culture, that there is no difference between them and others. A lot of Christians take this approach. Sadly, some surveys reveal that, when it comes to actual behaviour (not just beliefs), there is often very little difference between Christians and non-Christians. This is like salt that has lost its saltiness getting out of the saltshaker. There is connection but no impact.
- Engage Culture. A third approach is to be ‘in’ the world but ‘not of’ the world. This is what Jesus modeled. We need to be different from the world yet relevant to it so that we can have a positive influence. Jesus never rejected the culture nor did he embrace it uncritically. He engaged with it and sought to bring about change for the good. That’s what I believe the church is called to do today.
Approach #1 and #2 are easy. It’d black and white – either reject or embrace the culture. Approach #3 is far more difficult. It has more grey. In fact, it’s more risky, as you have to ensure that you are the stronger influence. But it’s worth the effort.
So let’s not reject the Simpsons outright but let’s also not just embrace them without discernment. Let’s engage with them, just as Jesus would. I wonder what Jesus would say to Homer Simpson?What would Jesus Say to Homer Simpson?
How can we know for sure what Jesus would say? I believe we can read the Gospel's records of Jesus life and learn about his heart, his attitude and his approach to people. Here are a few (of many) things that I think Jesus might say to Homer.
Sample Discussion Questions
- “Homer, God really loves you and I came to give you eternal life.”
This might sound a bit like a cliché, but this was the core of Jesus' message – God’s amazing love for all people (see Jn.3:16-17). Jesus never got angry with people far from God, no matter how messed up theirs lives were (see Matt.9:9-12). The only people he got angry with were stubborn religious people. – Jesus’ approach to people far from God (never angry). Everybody needs a Saviour – the rebellions, the respectable, and the religious people. Interestingly, the Simpsons are one of the most religious programs on television. They pray, say grace over meals, go to church and read their Bible occasionally. They have a good neighbor in Ned Flanders and there is the Rev. Timothy Lovejoy (who doesn’t have much love or joy!). But Homer is confused – is God loving or angry? He’s not even sure who the true God is – Jesus, Allah or Buddha? Homer is like a lot of people today. They need God. They need to know that He loves them and that is why He sent Jesus. Salvation is not a result of being a good person but is a free gift of God’s grace (Eph.2:8-10).
As Christians we must remember that people far from God don’t act like Christians and we shouldn’t expect them to. Their greatest need is not ‘behaviour modification’ – it is a Saviour! Once God comes inside of them there will be a transformation - from the inside out. Remember, people matter to God so they should matter to us too.
- “Homer, here are some parenting tips …”
In most episodes of the Simpsons, Homer is seen disciplining Bart – usually through choking! This might be effective at the time but it is not the most appropriate way of raising children (!). Jesus always gave practical teaching that helped people in their daily life. His followers did the same. Maybe Jesus would take Homer to some advice Paul gave to dads (see Eph.6:4). Here Paul tells dads not to make their children angry but instead to bring them up with a balance of love and discipline. I think Jesus would give Homer some help with his parenting.
- “Homer, thanks for sticking with the family.”
Homer is less than a perfect person and less than a perfect dad... but sticks with his family. That’s commendable. We live in a society where dads are becoming an ‘endangered species’. Up to one third of children now grow up in a home without a dad present, or only occasionally. This is not a good thing. Absent fathers can have a negative affect on children (without minimising the importance of mothers). Even when dads are there, at times they can be distant emotionally or mentally. Men easily get consumed with their work and their interests. Time moves fast and before long the children are grown up and gone. Many dads have regrets later on in life about missed opportunities. Many children end up with a deep ‘father hunger’. Thankfully there can be forgiveness and restoration (see Mal.4:5-6). God is a ‘father to the fatherless’ and as a church community we can help one another.
- What did you think when you first heard the title of this message?!
- If you’ve seen the Simpsons TV show, why do you think it is so popular?
- When it comes to culture, what is your natural response – reject, embrace or engage?
- Read Matthew 9:9-12. What do you think of Jesus’ decision to eat with such people? How should we relate to people far form God? What are the challenges of this approach?
- Discuss parenting. What are some things to avoid? What are some positive things to do?
- Dads are important. Discuss ‘father hunger’. What is it and how can we find the affirmation of a father?