You see it splashed on t-shirts, CD covers and even jewellery, so why should the common meme be any different? It is virtually impossible to avoid the fact that Jesus Christ and Christianity has been placed on everything from wall hangings to the bumper sticker (And I quote, “Jesus is my co-pilot!”).
In an age where technology is a way of life, logic suggests this should also transcend to social media and therefore, the meme.Never heard of a meme before? Well let me enlighten you. Choose an image; place a witty comment on top of it in Arial type bold font. Well done, you created the meme. Simple yes? But hilarious, and it has taken over the internet. Everything from FAIL blog, to Scumbag Steve and Overly Attached Girlfriend has created a culture visually enabling gen Y to take the mickey out of, well, anything. Of course, this includes Jesus Christ.
Enter 19-year-old, Georgia based missionary Michael Schaffer. Seeing a need for Christ following gen y’ers who often cringe yet guiltily laugh at the slightly inappropriate innuendo found in meme’s, he formed his own brand and ‘Christian Memes’ was born. Now reaching 145 thousand Facebook likes in the first year and a half, there is no denying that the Jesus flavoured meme strikes a chord with believers and unbelievers alike.
“Our popularity among both groups centers around the cleanliness and substance of our content.” Says Schaffer, noting the iconic difference with the brand is the integrity in which it is presented. “We don’t allow profanity of any kind on our page, and we don’t make fun of the religions and beliefs of other people.”
So how can a meme be humorous without the use of cuss words or a joint sticking out of someone’s mouth? Schaffer and his team have made an art of it, often poking fun with ‘inside jokes’ at their own expense.
“[We] often have atheists say, “this is funny” or “this doesn’t even make sense”, and it should be obvious to them that if they don’t know what something is referencing, it obviously isn’t going to make sense to them” says Schaffer. “Even Christians don’t always get every joke, but there’s joy in being able to realize that there are many backgrounds of Christians who get certain jokes and don’t get others, it shows that every single person who likes our page is unique and has their own story.”
More than most, Schaffer and his team know that creating Christian themed content leaves them vulnerable to hate, ironically often coming from the church community. It was only recently that Schaffer had to remove a meme showing Christ on top of a KFC logo, now titled ‘JFC’. While the Christian Memes team meant only to create humor with ‘Jesus Fried Chicken’, the amount of negative feedback they received due to an assumption the ‘F’ was a cuss word lead to a public apology.
Schaffer shares, “There have been nights when I couldn’t sleep because of some of the words that were said to me and about me.” Yet he points out that it is the continual support of fans that motivates him to keep Christian Memes running. “ Mass amounts of hate mail are always followed some of the nicest and kindest messages of support and love from several fans, and just those few messages of encouragement patch up the damage from all the negative messages and comments.”
Despite these setbacks, Schaffer and his team continue to pour out content even creating their own meme of ‘Oversaved Oscar’ (that one friend who is a little bit too passionate about Jesus) and Christian Memegle (a humorous take on Christian dating sites).
As popularity for Christian Memes soars, Schaffer is already considering how to expand in the New Year.
“One of these days we are going to get around to having shirts. It’s a big thing on our to-do list. 2014 looks bright for us!” shares Schaffer. “We have started something called “live memeing” or “event memeing” where, if we are attending an event, we will take pictures and make memes of the people there.” And, for all you Christian Meming fans out there, you may even be able to submit your own. “This worked very well for us at PennDel Youth Camp this summer, and we even had students submitting their own memes from camp!” Shares Schaffer.
While it is inevitable that religion and its depiction will always create controversy, there is no denying that Schaffer has done what Christians have been trying to do for centuries; make Jesus Christ relevant. Which leads us to the question….how do the Christian Memes team knows that Jesus himself would find their content funny?
“I would love to say that my sense of humor is similar to Christ’s, but I can’t be 100% sure on that!” says Schaffer. “But we fully believe God has a sense of humor, considering how laughter is healthy for the mind and body. If we can brighten someone’s day just by putting a funny and/or inspirational picture online, then it’s clear we must be doing something right!”