Nigerian televangelist and General Overseer of Omega Fire Ministries International, Apostle Johnson Suleman has called on Christians to unsubscribe and delete their accounts on a streaming service Netflix, over its movie that depicts Jesus Christ as a closeted homosexual and Mary and God as illicit lovers.
Entitled “The First Temptation of Christ“, the 46-minute Portuguese-language Christmas special was created by Brazilian YouTube comedy group Porta dos Fundos (translation: “back door”) and portrays Jesus bringing home his presumed boyfriend Orlando to meet the Holy Family.
Since its release on the streaming service earlier this month, the special is catching fierce backlashes from religious leaders and right-wing political figures for implying that the religious figure is gay and that her mother Mary smoked weed.
It has spawned multiple online campaigns that call on authorities to ban the special and criminally charge its creators with “vilification of faith.” As of early Tuesday, one petition had been signed by nearly 2 million people.
While the depictions of Jesus Christ in film, art and beyond are no stranger to controversy, with portrayals of the religious figure depicted as homeless or submerged in urine drawing ire over the years, Apostle Suleman said “The First Temptation of Christ” is an insult to Christianity and all it stands for.
“Delete Netflix app on your system. Unfollow them if you are a true Christian. The movie ‘gay Jesus’ is an insult to Christianity and abuse to our sensibilities. We stand to condemn it and all it stands for. Mad people,” he wrote to his 0ver 145.000 followers on Twitter.
The apostle, who earlier this year was heavily criticised for stating that reading the bible from digital devices such as phones and iPads when in church does not show reverence to God, also reminded all “believers of Christ” of their collective power on the movie-streaming giant and urged them to boycott it, if they go ahead with the “rubbish”.
“We have 2.5 billion Christians on earth, if Netflix goes ahead with this rubbish, we should boycott them… that movie is evil, it’s not right and it will not stand,” he said.
The pastor also predicted the fall of Netflix by saying the release of “The First Temptation of Christ” is the beginning of its end.
“The glory of present-day cinema is Netflix. But since they have decided to blaspheme, its crash is inevitable. You want to do a film ‘gay Jesus’? Its the beginning of your end. We are not cowards cause we are tolerant (sic),” he added.
In a highly satirical style, the comedy tells the story of Jesus Christ returning home from the desert for his 30th birthday. Mary and God are portrayed as illicit lovers, Joseph is a bumbling carpenter who can’t build a table, and the Three Kings try to pass off ham as “free-range soy.”
In its bizarre nature, the movie suggests that Jesus seems to have done more than wander around the desert for 40 days. Arriving in Nazareth, he brings along a flamboyant companion, Orlando, the walking stereotype of an effeminate gay man who implies at nearly every turn that he and the Son of God are romantically involved.
In one scene, he calls him a “naughty Capricorn.”
Tongue-in-cheek moments like this have scandalised the deeply religious South American country, which counts among its population over 120 million Catholics.
Elsewhere in the special, sporadic events that defy the longstanding Christian traditions happens. Mary smokes a joint, Melchior hires a sex worker, and Jesus gets high off “special tea,” hallucinating himself into a meeting with Buddha, Krishna, the Rastafari god Jah and an alien deity for Scientologists.
Among its pools of prominent critics is Eduardo Bolsonaro, the youngest son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right figure who has declared himself a “proud homophobe” and said he would prefer a “dead son to a gay son.”
“We support freedom of expression, but is it worth attacking the faith of 86% of the population?” Eduardo Bolsonaro recently wrote on Twitter, calling the film “garbage” and adding that it “refuses to preach the word of God.”
Marco Feliciano, a conservative evangelical pastor who heads the Brazilian legislature’s commission on minorities and human rights, took to Twitter to call for the country to “unite” against the special and the YouTube comedy channel that created it.
“Christians and non-Christians have asked me to take action against the irresponsible members of Porta dos Fundos,” Feliciano wrote on Twitter. “It’s time we took a collective action — churches and all good people — to put an end to this.”
The Gospel Coalition, an international collective of evangelical pastors, has also begun a campaign in Brazil calling for a boycott of Netflix.
“To remain a sponsor of film productions that mock and vilify the Lord is the same as slapping him, spitting on him, beating his head to bury his crown in thorns,” wrote the Rev. Joel Theodoro, a pastor at the Bairro Imperial Presbyterian Church in Rio de Janeiro.
The comedy has also prompted widespread anger in Brazil with almost two million people signing a petition calling on the streaming service to remove the show. An online petition on Change.org called for the special to be removed from Netflix and said it had offended Christians.
Porta dos Fundos has taken the criticism.
In an emailed statement, the comedy outfit said that it valued “artistic freedom and humour through satire on the most diverse cultural themes of our society and believes that freedom of expression is an essential construction for a democratic country.“
Antonio Tabet, who plays God in the film, took the opportunity to criticise the religious leaders who had rallied around his group’s film.
“It’s predictable that vain, opportunistic men who think they speak in the name of God, even without proxy, will want to mobilize the less enlightened around boycott or censorship campaigns,” he told the Folha de São Paulo newspaper. “There’s always the option of not watching it, for those who dislike this content.”
Fábio Porchat, the actor who plays Orlando, said that Brazilians have seemingly been riled up only about his character’s implied sexuality. He maintained that the film didn’t incite violence and doesn’t say that people shouldn’t believe in God.
“For some Catholics here in Brazil, it’s O.K. if Jesus is a bad guy, uses drugs: That’s no problem,” Porchat told Variety in an interview. “The problem is he’s gay.”
On Twitter, the group humorously posted the link to a less-shared petition, also calling for the film to be taken down.
“As the petition against us picks up steam, we celebrate the success of yet another one of God’s creations: our Christmas special,” the group wrote, adding that “‘The First Temptation of Christ’ remains ever more powerful.”
They even added a meme showing God, as he is depicted in the film, concocting a Christmas special from some special ingredients, including a drop of Netflix and a “bit of heresy.”
Perhaps the most shameless response, however, came from Gregório Duvivier, who plays Jesus in the film but wrote a satirical newspaper column as the word of God.
“Getting offended — leave that to me, fellas,” he wrote. “When I don’t like someone, I leave. I’m a grown-up.”
Duvivier-as-God adds that his biggest complaint with the film was that Tabet is about 19 inches too short, and 20 pounds too heavy, and thus “practically a Hobbit version of me.”
Missing from any criticism toward the special, however, were the voices of Brazil’s rainbow community — an omission that Porta dos Fundos was quick to point out.
Toward the end of the film, Orlando — spoiler alert — reveals himself as Lucifer in disguise, having seduced Jesus in disguise as a means to take over the world.
“If anybody should be angry with us, it should be the gay community because a gay character turns out to be the Devil,” Porchat said. “But the gay community loves us!”
That sketch-comedy group, Porta dos Fundos, has made a name for its irreverent skits.
Last year, it won an International Emmy for its most recent holiday special, which follows Jesus’ apostles after a night of heavy drinking in “The Last Hangover.”
Netflix is yet to respond with a comment or action.
Here is “The First Temptation of Christ” trailer
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