Christian Comedian John Crist Is Missing the Mark on Disability and the Church
Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Crystal Hodges, The Mighty’s contributing editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.
It was 2 in the morning, and my mom, fiancé and I had just spent hours binge-watching Christian comedian John Crist’s YouTube videos. We laughed for hours, losing track of time together that night. I had been a longtime follower and was excited to introduce them to a family-friendly, funny comedian.
But in the last two weeks, as I’ve followed Crist’s Instagram posts, I’ve noticed they have become a little less family-friendly and a bit more triggering for the many families he once made laugh late into the night. His Instagram was once a safe place for them to land, but due to two recent food allergy posts he claims as “jokes,” families have been triggered and reminded of recent traumatic ambulance rides, hospitalizations and the uncertainty of life. What is a joke to Crist has been dubbed by many as “bullying” for a health condition people cannot control.
Growing up in the church as a Christian, I’ve heard the sermons about loving our neighbors and have been reminded to welcome those who walk through our church doors. Growing up in the church as a Christian with a facial difference and complex, rare medical conditions, I also know what it’s like to feel rejected and unwelcome as I’m stared at by curious, cold eyes instead of greeted by warm handshakes.
When my parents took me to church for the first time as a newborn, instead of being congratulated by an older man, they heard a loud whisper, “Did you see that baby’s face?”
As an adult, instead of a friendly, “Hello!” I’ve been greeted by family friends with a, “I thought you were the girl who has something wrong with her face!”
Church should be the place where I feel the safest. Yet, even in a church I’ve walked in many times before, I still keep my guard up hoping to protect my heart – wishing it could be the place where I could put it down the most.
This is why Crist’s jokes matter. Here’s where he, as a known Christian comedian and public figure (backed by Christian talent agency Premier Productions), is missing the bigger picture when it comes to the impact he’s making on the church related to topics like illness and disability.
While some churches handle illness and disability well, often health topics are too often seen as taboo and aren’t talked about. Or, if they are, they’re not talked about well – so people just stay quiet and feel alone in their journey.
If you have chronic pain, it’s assumed by some that if you pray hard enough you’ll be healed.
Chronic fatigue? Well, you should still be at church every Sunday. And on time.
When someone struggles with anxiety, their experience is often simplified and the words “You just need to trust God more,” thrown out.
One-third of parents of kids with disabilities have left a church because their disabled children are left out.
Pastors who struggle with mental health lose their leadership positions, and missionaries feel they can’t share openly with supporting churches or church members of the true struggles they’ve gone through when living overseas.
And that’s not even half of the struggle when it comes to church and important health-related topics.
As a well-known Christian comedian, Crist’s shows usually sell out and he has even been hired by some of the largest Christian events like Winter Jam. While I’ve always wanted to go to one of his shows, and still do, seeing him make two health-related jokes in a short amount of time, makes me nervous to attend. Why? Knowing how he has been handling jokes around food allergies, support animals and “special requests,” he’s not helping the church’s view on disability and illness. He’s hindering it. And if you look at the comment section on his Instagram, while Crist remains quiet, the conversation (once again) isn’t going well.
As Crist makes these jokes, starts these conversations and remains quiet – there are a few things he should know:
1. Jokes about illness and health can be hilarious. But, I think they’re better suited coming from people living with the actual conditions. I make birthmark jokes all the time – but it makes me incredibly uneasy when people who don’t have my life experiences try to make jokes about something they’ll never understand.
2. If you have food allergies, please let us know when you make these jokes on Instagram. That will lessen the tension in the comment section and make your jokes a lot more relatable. Also, while people love your humor – people love to know some of the depth behind your jokes and about who you are as a person, like when you talked about insecurities and seeing a therapist.
3. If you really want to make humor-based videos around health, but don’t have any medical conditions or don’t want to open up about any of them publicly, partner with someone who has one. People create partnerships all the time. I’m sure plenty of people would partner with you, myself being one of them. Plus, it is always a beautiful thing to show diversity in your videos.
4. When your followers disagree with you, remember to step back and assess the situation. Engage in civil discussions with them. Please don’t ignore them and then repeat the cycle.
5. Food and gluten allergies are not “trendy.” Allergies are real, and so many have died or nearly died because of them.
6. Remember it’s OK to run jokes and social media posts by a close-knit of friends before you share them with the world. Running posts by others is often recommended for people in the public eye. Make sure you run them by trustworthy people who have a slightly different world view than you. For example, if you’re going to run a food allergy joke in the future but don’t struggle with food allergies, run it by a few people who do.
7. Earlier in the year, you mentioned in an article, “Sometimes people need to be offended…If people are offended, that’s OK. By all means, voice your view. If I’m allowed to voice my take, so are they.” I agree that it’s OK and even good to challenge how people think and what they believe. Yet, an allergy, illness, or disability isn’t just a point of view. It’s the way their bodies were created – whether they like it or not, whether you like it or not. That can’t be molded or changed. It’s not about agreeing or disagreeing in this situation.
8. If you’re intentionally known as a Christian comedian, remember you’re a Christian first – comedian second. According to Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world…” At the end of the day, it’s about compassion and remembering that your followers are real people with real trauma – and for some, the trauma is fresh and it is new. When you repetitively trigger that trauma with food allergy posts and ignore the conversation in the comment section you keep your followers in their traumatic darkness instead of bringing them into the light.
You have a gift, John. You bring laughter and light to millions of lives around the world, including my own. Keep challenging people in the way they think and don’t change who you are while making people laugh. Just remember, that the same God that made you, made the person with the allergies you’re posting about. That’s something they can’t change but can try to manage – and may come in the form of a “special request” on a plane.
Image courtesy of John Crist’s Facebook page.