New Life Church Middlesbrough

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Is banter offensive?

By Ian Williamson, 06 Oct 2017

Is banter offensive?

I have grown up in a family and working class culture with banter and humour (often dark) central to all we do. Weddings, funerals, success, failure, pain and suffering, whatever situation we found ourselves in, banter and humour was used to comfort, bring joy, keep us humble, apologise and chastise. It strengthened bonds between friends and family, it showed love, affirmation, acceptance and respect through the ability to give and be on the receiving end of sarcasm, mocking and banter. So when thinking of banter and humour in the church it seems natural and comforting to me, yet others find it offensive and inappropriate.

Recently I have had a number of people challenge me on this and my reaction has either been outwardly gracious, whilst murdering them in my heart or I have dropped my poker face and released what was in my heart through my mouth or fingers via social media/emails. However I respond outwardly, when I hear opposition to banter and humour in the church, I can often take it as personal attack on me, my friends, my family and my culture.

This can lead me to being defensive, biased and at times sinful in my response to those, who think differently to me. My defence of banter and humour, more often than not comes from my cultural and personal preferences to it, rather than from sound biblical thought. However the arguments against banter and humour in churches appears to me, as coming from a similar place. 

So does banter and humour have a place in the church, it it a cultural choice or is it sinful?

Some of the arguments against banter and humour in the church are that it is sinful as it can lead to coarse behaviour and bullying. Personally I agree with that statement, banter and humour can be coarse and be used as a thin veil for bullying, but it is the heart (Matthew 18:15) of those bullying and being coarse that is the issue and not banter and humour in itself.

I also know that I have used culture and context as an excuse for being rude and offensive and I have often over stepped the mark by being deliberately offensive or inappropriate with things that I have said or wrote. But that is because my heart is deceitful above all things and is still drawn to the things of this world, not because of humour or banter. The humour and banter was a tool that I used to express my heart issue, not the source of it. Many have used a blog post to deliberately word and construct an argument to offend, yet we don’t hear much about how blog posts should be banned from Christendom. 

A short video about how Ian Wright an English man and former England football player winds up 2000 Scots at a football game and gets a round of applause from them!  Evidence at how banter and humour can bring joy to those giving it and receiving it, when done well.

The Alan Brazil Show on Talk Sport Radio

The reason why the banter works well between Ian Wright and Ally McCoist/2000 Scottish football fans is that they are culturally aligned, united in a shared love/passion/experiences and respect.

They shared a love for football, a respect for each other as fans and former professional players, had shared experiences (high and low), neither took themselves seriously, they showed humility, were willing to be the but of a joke and to make a joke.

So maybe it isn’t banter and humour that is the cause of offense?

Maybe the reason why banter and humour doesn’t work well in the church, is because, as a church, we are culturally divided?

Could it be that as a church we don’t share the same experiences as one another so we lack understanding?

Is it that we dont have the respect for those different to us?

Or maybe it's just that we all take ourselves far too seriously and Jesus not seriously enough?