Check out this bit from Scott M:
In 1966, John Lennon told reporter and friend Maureen Cleave, “[The Beatles are] more popular than Jesus now.” The American religious public was indignant with rage, burning Beatles albums, boycotting their performances, and even threatening to kill Lennon. Jesus, I’m sure, was thrilled by our zeal.
But when we discussed this matter in a communications class in college (a small Christian college, mind you), I couldn’t help but speak up.
“Was he wrong?” I asked.
“What?” my professor asked, unable to hide his surprise.
“At that moment in time, were The Beatles more popular than Jesus in whatever context Lennon made that comment? He didn’t say he was proud of it or anything, he just made an observation.”
“Um, yeah, let’s move on, then. We’ve got a lot to cover today,” my professor answered.
In retrospect, I probably should’ve kept my mouth shut, and I should probably keep it shut now, but I saw this news story this weekend—Vatican forgives John Lennon for Jesus remark—and I couldn’t help but dive back into it. First, a look at the numbers.
73 million people watched The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964—that’s a lot of Beatles fans. According to a Time Magazine article from 1966, 123,307,449 Americans said they were members of religious bodies, but “only 45 percent of adult Christians attended services on Sundays in 1964.” Those statistics lend some credence to Lennon’s original point, although he was never trying to paly a numbers game. He later clarified his intent:
Well, originally I pointed out that fact in reference to England. That we meant more to kids than Jesus did, or religion at that time. I wasn’t knocking it or putting it down. I was just saying it as a fact and it’s true more for England than here. I’m not saying that we’re better or greater, or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing or whatever it is.
For me, that takes the sting out his words, which were more about social commentary than self-promotion. But maybe it still bothers you, and I suppose that’s OK.
A few observations and questions:
- Was Lennon’s remark even the Vatican’s to forgive? I don’t think so. His comment, right or wrong, was about Jesus, so I believe any necessary forgiveness to give or grudge to hold belongs solely to the Trinity.
- Whether it was the Vatican’s to forgive or not, what took them so long? Remember that part in the Lord’s Prayer in which we ask God to forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us? If you’re still holding someone’s trespass against them after 40 years of praying that prayer, you’re not exactly providing solid leadership for others in that area.
- Lennon’s comment and the controversy that ensued now seem like a big misunderstanding after so many years. And that’s the point. It’s a lot easier to have an immediate, emotional reaction than it is to engage in a dialogue, with patience and love, while you seek understand someone and hope they understand you. Showing grace is difficult, tossing 45s into a bonfire alongside an angry mob is easy. May God give us the wisdom to know the difference and the courage to act on it.
P.S. I still can’t listen to The Beatles, due to WAY over listening to them in Juniour High.