By Robert Wright-Stasko
San Diego Comic Con 2015 is right
around the corner. I am expecting that
this year, just like the last several years, there will be some Christians with
poorly thought out slogans slapped onto protest signs, with big bullhorns
causing brouhaha for comic book fans, cosplayers, and anyone else at the
convention trying to have an enjoyable week.
I question these protesters; is this the most effective way to get your
message across? More to the point, is cosplaying and other such activities even
worth protesting? This blog post will answer these questions. In the process, I
suggest that we, as Christians, can learn from cosplayers how we can live out
some important illustrations in the Bible that will help us follow Jesus Christ
more effectively, and therefore, become more Christ-like ourselves. But first,
let’s look at some of the protests that have already happened at SDCC.
A History of Protest
The first major protest (in terms
of press coverage) was at the 2010 SDCC.
The Westboro Baptist Church had sent just a few people, but they did
quadruple duty holding as many as four signs each. All of these had the
standard, hatemongering slogans that Fred Phelps’ church usually employs at US
soldiers’ funerals like, “God hates you,” “God hates fags,” and other
deplorable sayings. They stated that their main objection was that being a
comic book fan was akin to idolatry, but all those other hate issues
got muddled up into their message as well. According to several accounts, these protesters were
severely outnumbered by the many comic fans who came prepared with their own
signs which they hastily cobbled together (I don’t blame them for their
hurriedness, their main concern was probably getting their costumes ready in
time to stand in line all day for Hall H).
Some were actually pretty clever, like “Galactus is Nigh” and “God Hates
Jedi” brandished by a Star Trek cosplayer. Depending on which account you read,
the reaction was either good natured with a few exceptions or pretty
Since that year, you can search the
internet to find articles where other conservative Christian groups try to get
in on the game. It seems to be a
different group each year. In 2013, an atheist named Brian organized his
own protest, with signs as fancy as the conservatives’ were. But Brian makes a good point when he says,
“Atheists don’t show up a churches and try to convince people that their story
is nothing more than a story.” Still that did not
dissuade other protesters from showing up last year to the 2014 SDCC, yelling
at people for not only idolatry, but slinging sexist and homophobic slurs out
into the crowd.
But Bleeding Cool News did do a
well-balanced report on two protesters at the 2014 SDCC who were not so
polarized, and both seemed to be saying things that were not antagonistic. Joe
Gaona was there not to protest, but to try to spread the Gospel. Shannon Dove was there to spread awareness for
an LGBTQ rights advocates group called Canvass for a Cause. Both were Christian. Yet, because of the tactics used (mainly
signs and bullhorns) I seriously doubt that any kind of mutual understanding,
or even a simple understanding of the opposing viewpoint, was reached.
A Personal Note on Protesting
While the main focus here is on the
effectiveness of protesting, something has to be said about the underlying
issue at the heart of these protests, and it is the gay rights issue. As you
can see from the history of the SDCC protests, it tends to surface no matter
what the protesters might actually be trying to say. The Christian church in
America is right now polarized over this matter. Many church denominations have
split up or formed new denominations because people cannot agree. This isn’t the first time the church has
splintered over disagreements. In
America, the issue of slavery caused many fractures in the 1800’s, as well as speaking in
tongues (the God gifted ability to speak in another language). But the last time an issue caused this kind
of protest was the abortion debate. This
is still a hot topic, but not as much as it was a few decades ago.
I recently graduated from a Christian
university, and I would commute once a week to attend my classes there while I
was a student. Every now and again, on
my drive into school, I would spy one or two, sometimes half a dozen people
with protest signs in front of the Planned Parenthood across the street from
the main campus. I didn’t think much of
it, until I started pondering, “Why did Planned Parenthood decide to set up
shop across the street from a Christian
school?” Please understand, the
university taught very good theology that was grounded in Scripture without
adding conservative or fundamentalist dogma to it. It gave me very practical
insights into demonstrating the love of Christ in a real way while doing
ministry for his church. It even held a
seminar where two prominent gay Christian theologians debated the issue of gay
marriage in the church. This is a Christ centered, yet forward thinking school.
But that question still ate away at
me. In its student code of conduct, the
university states that sexual activity is solely reserved for marriage. While
this is certainly an ideal, it is more often now days not the reality. I
started to imagine a young woman and young man from a church background,
starting classes at this school, then meeting one another and falling in
love. They give in to that love and find
out a baby is on the way. Then to avoid anger or embarrassment from their
conservative families or even expulsion from the school, they decide to visit
the Planned Parenthood across the street.
I imagined that they would sneak in the back entrance while their
parents were busy toting protest signs and yelling at cars on the street
through their bullhorn. Instead of seeking love and forgiveness, knowing they would
probably find none, the students compound their guilt by aborting their unborn
child. Whether or not you agree with
abortion or condemn it, the fact remains that it is hard to live with the pain
of loss and regret, always thinking “what if?”
This is when I first started thinking, “There must be a better way.”
Whether the issue is abortion, gay
rights, or dressing up like a superhero, the proper way of disagreeing or
debating is not with signs and bullhorns.
The sign serves as a barrier between the protester and the people who
are being protested against. The
bullhorn magnifies what the protester is saying while drowning out the response
of everyone else. It is in effect
saying, “I don’t care what you have to say, I am here to tell you that you are wrong.” As I said earlier, it doesn’t matter if you
are actually saying something reasonable, once you don the posture of a
protester, the non-verbal communication trumps any verbal communication. And because of the first example that was given
at the SDCC by the Westborough Baptists, all that is communicated then is hate.
An Alternative to Protesting
So what is the better way? How do
we communicate the truth of Jesus if signs and bullhorns produce the opposite
result of that which we are seeking? Our prime example should be that of
Jesus. Matthew 4:17 tells us that after
Jesus temptation in the wilderness and his return to Galilee, that “From that
time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”
Most of us get the mental image (probably from too many bad Jesus movies) that
he is standing on the corner or walking down the street, shouting this randomly
to passing onlookers. I don’t think this is the case. In context of the whole chapter, Matthew
seems to be giving us a summary of Jesus overall message in this verse. In movie terms, you could say this verse sets
up the second act, letting us know what is going to happen. Immediately after verse 4:17, we see Jesus
talking to Peter and Andrew, asking them to follow him. Then verse 23 says, “Jesus went throughout
Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching
the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness among the
Jesus is not some crazed street
preacher like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Stephen
King’s The Stand. Here is a man engaging with individuals, teaching in
appropriate places, and doing so with the power and authority to back up his
words through miraculous healing.
Therefore, if Jesus is our prime example we should be more like him,
forming relationships with people instead rallying against them, teaching the
good news one on one rather than blaring it through a bullhorn.
So if our goal is being more like
Jesus, how do we achieve that end? What
is the process we should take to be like Jesus? The answer, which both
Christian theologians and Bible both agree, is through cosplay. “Hold on a
minute,” you may be saying. “What do
mean, the Bible says we should cosplay in order to be more like Jesus?” Well, C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, two
prominent Christian theologians, as well as the apostle Paul attest to this. There
are very practical lessons for Christians to learn through the physical and
spiritual act of cosplay. By engaging
our imaginations, and making a little bit of fantasy a reality, we can learn
how to make Christ’s love a reality as well.
Even though the term “cosplay” may
be a recent invention, C.S. Lewis spends a whole chapter entitled “Let’s
Pretend” of his book Mere Christianity
encouraging us to do just that. He
starts off by asking the reader to think deeply about a simple prayer
Christians use, which begins “Our Father.”
With those two simple words, we put ourselves in the place of his son,
essentially cosplaying as a child of God.
moment you realise ‘Here I am, dressing up as Christ,’ it is extremely likely
that you will see at once some way in which at that very moment the pretence
could be made less of a pretence and more of a reality. You will find several
things going on in your mind which would not be going on there if you were
really a son of God. Well, stop them. Or you may realise that, instead of
saying your prayers, you ought to be downstairs writing a letter, or helping
your wife to wash-up. Well, go and do it. You see what is happening. The Christ
Himself, the Son of God who is man (just like you) and God (just like His
Father) is actually at your side and is already at that moment beginning to
turn your pretence into a reality.
We see here the process that happens when we dress up
as Christ. Anyone who has cosplayed
understands this process very well.
Lewis, of course, is talking about a spiritual costuming, but when we
cosplay physically, much of the same process happens.
has to be said that cosplay is a serious endeavor, way beyond a simple hobby
like building models or collecting coins and seriously more intense than merely
putting on a store bought costume for Halloween. A conjunction of the words
“costume player,” cosplay is a noun,
describing the activity of assuming the costume and personality of a
character. The word is also a verb, as
in “Do you cosplay?” The cosplayer takes great pride in manufacturing and
assembling their own costume. Of course, for more intricate builds, like the
Stormtroopers in the 501st group, expert cosplayers handcraft
special elements to help with other’s costumes.
In the many sci-fi, comic book, and movie conventions that happen all
around the world, cosplay contests are judged based not only on the accuracy of
the costume, but in the ability of the cosplayer to inhabit the character that
they are dressing up as.
example, in 2013 my kids and I attended the Akron Comicon. My oldest and youngest boys dressed up like
playable characters from the video game Team Fortress 2. I helped them shop for
the elements they needed at various second hand shops and dollar stores. At the same time I was putting the finishing
touches on my 4th Doctor outfit from the seminal sci-fi show, Doctor Who. Fans of the show will recognize that
this regeneration of the Doctor had a very long and distinctively colored
scarf, which took my sister three years to knit together for me. At the
convention, I put on the Doctor, much in the same way that Lewis says we should
put on Christ. I adopted his voice and mannerisms as much as I could, even
offering people real, imported Jelly Babies.
In a way, I really became a little more like him.
through this process, cosplaying as the Doctor, really helped me to cosplay as
Jesus. Because I have seen every episode
of Doctor Who (yes, all 813!) I was able to really imagine myself as the
Doctor. I imagined what it would be like to be the cleverest being in the room,
to travel through time and space defeating evil with dry wit and a toothy
smile. I thought of the story “The
Genesis of the Daleks” where he had the chance to wipe out the greatest evil in
the universe by touching two wires together, but refusing because it was not
his place to play God. “What about all of the races that ended their fighting
and joined together as allies to fight a common foe?” he asked himself. That’s a kind of person I want to be.
Christ is also the kind of person I want to be.
He suffered a similar dilemma in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed to his Father knowing that he would
be betrayed by a close friend, arrested, then physically and mentally abused,
and at last to be tortured to death while spiritually suffering the wrath of
God for the sins of all humanity.
Matthew 26:39 says, “He fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My
Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will,
but as you will.’” He faced a more awful
choice than the Doctor, to save a whole race at a tremendous personal cost or
to let them be destroyed by their own devices.
As much as I admire the Doctor, I love Jesus for the choice he made, to
follow his Father’s will and save us all!
Salvation is in the Comic Books
identify with the Doctor and I can identify with Jesus because I am familiar
with their stories. I mentioned earlier
that I have seen every single episode of Doctor
Who. Much like reading the entire Bible, this is no small feat. The Bible is best read in small bits, every
day a little more, in order to ponder and internalize the wisdom, commands,
stories, and lessons it offers to us.
Then, one can go back and maybe read a whole book in one sitting to
gather the context and reach a greater understanding. In the same way, I took
in Doctor Who a little at a time. Over the course of nearly two and a half
years I watched one 25 minute episode per day, about 5 or 6 days a week. Even the lost episodes, I caught the
excellent Loose Cannon reconstructions on YouTube.
Now, I can hear some people chiding
me already: “You call yourself a Christian? You should be reading your Bible every
day instead of spending so much of your time on that nonsense!” I whole heartedly disagree, at least with the
last part of that statement. I do read
my Bible every day, but I watch science fiction too. Understanding the mythology and continuity of
stories like Doctor Who, Star Trek,
and Star Wars actually helps me
understand the Bible better. G.K
Chesterton explains this in his book Orthodoxy.
is Chesterton’s follow-up to Heretics,
a book which criticizes the philosophies of the day which run contrary to Christian
faith. Much like Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Orthodoxy is an
apologetic work defending Christian theology. Chesterton’s take on it is “an
explanation, not of whether the Christian Faith can be believed, but of how he
personally has come to believe it.” He begins his chapter
called, “The Ethics of Elfland” by recalling how old men would tell him as a
child to get his head out of the clouds and deal with reality. Chesterton
claims these men are all liars! For fairy tales and similar stories help us to
understand the workings of our social world better than a dry recording of
political events can give us. “It is quite easy to see why a legend is treated,
and ought to be treated, more respectfully than a book of history. The legend
is generally made by the majority of people in the village, who are sane. The
book is generally written by the one man in the village who is mad.”
He goes on to decry the men of
strict science who try to find ultimate meaning in simple cause and effect.
the scientific men do muddle their heads, until they imagine a necessary mental
connection between an apple leaving the tree and an apple reaching the ground.
They do really talk as if they had found not only a set of marvellous facts,
but a truth connecting those facts. They do talk as if the connection of two
strange things physically connected them philosophically. They feel that
because one incomprehensible thing constantly follows another incomprehensible
thing the two together somehow make up a comprehensible thing. Two black
riddles make a white answer.
I feel that Fundamental Christianity has fallen into
this trap as well, reading the Bible as a simple stream of facts as one would
read information out of a newspaper.
They miss out on the poetry, the fables (which we call parables in the
Bible) and the fantastic stories which tell us an underlying truth about God’s
personality or about ours. These things become events which happened at
another place in another time to somebody else. All that is left are God’s commands,
which either you follow or you don’t. And if you don’t follow every single one,
someone is going to let you know, shouting at you as you walk down the street
in your Superman costume.
miss out on the deep truths God wishes to teach us in the Bible if we forget
how to read stories in a critical and literary fashion. Chesterton is keenly
aware of this fact. His own
understanding of the world was helped, and not hindered, by reading fairy
tales, myths, and legends. “In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness
rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and all evils fly
out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies
away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten,
and the hope of God is gone.”
Being Super Can Help You Be Holy
It can easily be said that there are modern myths, the
fairy tales of our time are written in the comic books, and the legends of the
21st century are played out on the silver screen. Understanding these science fiction tales and
fantasy stories help us get a grip on the reality we have to face every
day. That person walking down the street
to SDCC in the Superman costume knows full well of how Superman died (then came
back to life!) fighting Doomsday in an effort to save his beloved
Metropolis. The fan in the Spiderman
costume knows of the sacrifice Spidey had to make, trying to save both his
girlfriend and a street car full of people as the Green Goblin dropped them
both off of a bridge. The man in the Iron Man armor knows how Tony Stark found
that selfless core in his being to save New York by guiding a bomb through a
space-time portal at the end of the first Avengers
All of these heroes have something
in them that we admire. They are willing to die in order to save others. That
is a trait that we as humans have always found to be noble. Who, then, is nobler than Jesus Christ? He
was willing to die for every single last one of us. This is a person we should
dress up as, just like Lewis said we should.
But Lewis was not the first to suggest this. Indeed, he says, “we begin to see what it is
that the New Testament is always talking about. It talks about Christians
`being born again’; it talks about them ‘putting on Christ’; about Christ
‘being formed in us’; about our coming to ‘have the mind of Christ’.”
Of the many verses that Lewis alludes to here, draw
your attention to “putting on Christ” as in Romans 13:12b-14. “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in
reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in
quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no
provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Lewis talked about us
being like children of God when we say “Our Father,” he probably got the notion
from reading Galatians 3:26-27. “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God,
through faith. For as many of you as
were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Paul further encourages such spiritual
cosplay when he says in 1 Corinthians 11:1 to “Imitate me, just as I also
Paul is already in on the game. More
proof is in Colossians 3:12 “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly
loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and
These are some of the qualities of Jesus’ personality, which we acquire when
his Holy Spirit lives in us, as related in Galatians 5:22-25. Ephesians 5:1-2, Philippians 2:5, the list
goes on. The Bible is very clear that we should imitate Jesus.
Cosplay for Christ
now we see that, for Christians, protesting is the very opposite thing that
Christ has called us to do. It is the
most ineffective way to dialogue because it is one-sided communication, and the
non-verbal posture of protesting is in its very nature combative and
confrontational. Instead of fighting with cosplayers and other comic book fans
at this year’s SDCC, Christians should burn their protest signs, throw their
bullhorns on the bonfire, and join them.
Cosplaying as superheroes helps us to cosplay as our ultimate hero,
Jesus Christ. Reading, watching, and
interacting with the stories of our favorite comic book, television, and movie
characters is a worthy endeavor. It is an endeavor that helps us to read and
understand the story of the Bible so we can understand God’s character, then
our character changes to be more like his.
And this is not an endeavor we do
alone. Lewis concludes his take on cosplay by revealing that it is not only we
who are doing the pretending. If we try
to be like Christ, putting our full faith and trust in Him, then God the Father
pretends that we are Jesus as well. “God looks at you as if you were a little
Christ: Christ stands beside you to turn you into one. I daresay this idea of a
divine make-believe sounds rather strange at first. But, is it so strange
In theological terms, this is the very definition of substitutionary atonement.
I could write another ten pages explaining theological concept, or you cosplay
as Christ and experience it for yourself.
the pictures of protest and counter-protest signs on the websites documenting
all the furor of SDCC’s past, I noticed one photo of a man literally dressed
like Jesus. His cosplay is excellent; he’s the Buddy
Christ from Kevin Smith’s Dogma but he
also looks like he stepped out of an Orthodox Church icon, halo and all. He is pointing to a sign that says, “God loves
I think he gets it.
Abraham, Zennie. 2014. Jesus Freaks Protest San
Diego Comic Con Goers SDCC 2014. 08 02. Accessed 06 12, 2015.
Anti-Defamation League. 2012. Anti-Abortion
Violence: America's Forgotten Terrorism. 09 04. Accessed 06 12, 2015.
Calhoun, Bob. 2010. Comic-Con report: Geeks vs.
fundamentalist Christians. 07 23. Accessed 06 12, 2015.
Chesterton, G.K. 2009-12-15. The Chesterton
Reader: 21 Works in One Volume (Unexpurgated Edition) . Halcyon Classics.
Halcyon Press Ltd.
Corrigan, John, and Winthrop S. Hudson. 2004. Religion
in America. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc.
Goldman, Tom. 2010. Church Protesting San Diego
Comic-Com for "Idol Worship". 07 10. Accessed 06 12, 2015.
Johnston, Rich. 2014. Jesus, Satan, Godzilla And
Galactus - The Protesters At San Diego Comic Con. 07 26. Accessed 06 12,
Khoun, Andy. 2012. Galactus is Nigh: CHristians
Protest Comic-Con Again [SDCC 2012]. 07 15. Accessed 06 12, 2015.
Kim, Tony B. 2011. Westboro Baptist Church vs
Comic Con. 06 20. Accessed 06 12, 2015.
Lewis, C.S. 2002. The Complete C.S. Lewis
Signature Classics. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Lobe, Paul. 2013. Atheists protest at Comic Con.
07 27. Accessed 06 12, 2015.
Pahl, Michael W. 2011. The Beginning and the End:
Rereading Genesis's Stories and Revelation's Visions. Kindle Edition.
Eugene, OR: Cascade Books.
Lewis, C.S. 2002. The Complete C.S. Lewis
Signature Classics. New York, NY: Harper Collins. Pg 152