Yesterday, I was made aware of a Facebook post sharing a petition to remove a promotional poster for the upcoming movie Once Upon a Deadpool. The poster parodies a well-loved painting within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which depicts the Second Coming of the Savior Jesus Christ. However, as is usually the case with controversies like these, the backlash to the poster and ensuing counter-backlash have far outstripped the newsworthiness of the issue itself.
To the eyes of a devout member of the Church, the poster is at once a jarring, sacrilegious parody. In the foreground, the Savior is replaced by the titular character of the Deadpool movies, who is widely known to be a symbol of crass and profane humor. The angels surrounding Him are also replaced by (presumably) characters from the movie. The idea that the literal Son of God, the One who brings salvation and everlasting light to all the world, is being supplanted by the very kind of vulgarity and obscenity that modern prophets have warned about, understandably provokes a visceral reaction from faithful members.
The most ‘liked’ response on the petition’s Change.org page quotes Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else.” While the core principle and attribution here are correct, the quote is far removed from its original context that Church members should not use offense as an excuse to reject all Gospel activity, and it ignores the fact that (1) sometimes offense should be taken and (2) it matters what you do about it.
If the petition were asking to remove the poster solely due to its sacrilegious and offensive status, that would be one thing. However, the wording is problematic. “This is a form a religious discrimination,” it boldly claims. One signer of the petition labeled the poster “hate speech;” another wrote, “It’s our constitutional right to not be discriminated against based on religious beliefs.” Several commenters mentioned a double standard of Christian and Muslim discrimination.
Let us be clear: this is not an instance of religious discrimination, nor is it hate speech. Crude? Yes. Disrespectful and highly offensive? Double yes. But even sacrilegious, profane speech is protected by the Constitution. While I’m well aware of the United States’ history of ignoring persecution against members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nothing in the movie poster promotes discrimination towards me or other members. On the other hand, other religious groups, such as immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, still actively encounter interpersonal and institutional discrimination.
Furthermore, while hate crime in the United States is on the rise, the FBI’s statistics indicate that 60 percent of it is motivated by racial and ethnic bias, as opposed to 20 percent motivated by religious bias. Of the religious-motivated hate crimes, a full three-quarters is directed at Jews and Muslims. “Anti-Mormon” hate crimes amounted to less than one percent.
So, my plea to fellow members who feel offended by the poster is as follows: ignore it or be precise in your complaints. The image is profane and disrespectful to Deity–so say that. The Christian masses are well within their rights to petition Deadpool’s marketing team to remove the poster on these grounds. Collective shame can be a powerful thing. However, if the marketers insist on promoting the image, eventually they will get their reward.
If anything, the controversy presents an important reminder for each American to study exactly what free speech entails. As the lawyer, writer, and Christian David French has written, “In more than two decades of advocacy for free speech, I’ve learned that it’s easy to persuade Americans to respect the civil liberties of people they disagree with. It’s much, much more difficult to persuade the same Americans to respect the rights of those they loathe.”