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The Robert Tilton Farting Video and Christian Cultural Influence

You probably remember the (what else can I call it?) legendary farting video edited from clips from Robert Tilton’s former TV program. It was made a long time ago (who created it I have no idea), and while there are a multitude of variations now, at least one has racked up more than two million views. I bring it up because that notorious video popped up in a surprising place recently. The Hollywood Reporter featured a roundtable discussion with the producers of some of the most popular comedy shows on TV right now. In the middle of the discussion, the Tilton farting video came up. You can read the entire interview here (warning: adult conversation), but here’s the section worth noting:

CHUCK LORRE: I remember seeing Frog Baseball and laughing my a*s off.
MIKE JUDGE: Oh, thanks. It was very weird. I’d just been animating things in my house outside of Dallas. I would send them out on tape — I hadn’t seen them play in front of an audience. I think the “viral” concept sort of happened back then, too. You’d get a VHS that had been copied a million times. Like that preacher, Robert Tilton.
MARC MARON: The farting one?
JUDGE: Yeah, everybody had a copy of it.
MARON:  I remember the first time I saw it. Louis C.K. took this VHS out of a drawer, put it in, and we laughed hysterically. He put it back in the drawer and said, “That’s the last time I’m going to watch this for a few months. I want it to stay funny.”
JUDGE: I remember when MTV was starting a new show — we were in the second or third season of Beavis and Butt-head — called The Brothers Grunt. The producer also worked on Beavis. He played like a 10-minute video of the show for us at lunch. Everyone was like, “Oh.” Then someone goes, “Put in the Robert Tilton fart tape!” And it was through-the-roof [funny]. They were like, “How much did we just spend on The Brothers Grunt?”

Obviously Robert Tilton didn’t create the farting video, but his program was excessive enough that it was an easy edit to produce. And even though he’s certainly not a mainstream ministry by any evaluation (this is his current book), in Hollywood and other places, all “Christians” get lumped into the same bucket. While it would be nice if we had the authority to keep a lid on these outside the box pastors and evangelists, in a free country that can’t be done.

So what do we do? How do we as a Christian community overcome the image and perception these types of incidents leave on the culture?

I’d love to know your thoughts…

 

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25 Comments

  1. We have to keep laughing at ourselves and allow others to laugh at us. People outside the church laugh at Robert Tilton the way I laugh at a montage reel of celebrities messing up the National Anthem, or a sports reel on skiers crashing into trees, into one another and into the lodge! For some reason we like to laugh at other people doing stupid things and whether they are pastors supposedly farting or recording artists singing the wrong words to our National Anthem, it’s funny. So, we should not take things personally, roll our eyes when someone in our camp is embarrassing, and keep laughing – mostly at ourselves! The mocking is never going to end, but if we stop being offended and just laugh at it, it disappears faster!

  2. I’ve lived through so much of this it’s sometimes embarrassing to admit but I would like to comment in a roundabout way. Why not take a lesson from the Mormon Church? Easy now – don’t freak out on me but think about it. You don’t see them lighting up the airways with people who misrepresent their mission. If our local Christian churches sent out people two by two each week to share the love of Christ in their own neighborhoods – what kind of difference would we make in America? The Mormon church has mastered the art of spreading the gospel without cheapening it’s meaning. They may be looked upon as a cult in some circles but the modern Mormon Church is far from that stereotype and they are rapidly spreading the gospel in their own way. Maybe we just need to get back to the basics and give the TV Evangelist persona a rest for a while. Let’s use our influence to change the world through relief efforts and be a voice for the Lord in the way we serve our fellow man. We need a fresh look and we need it now.

    1. The Mormon church as well as the Catholic church are much more structured than the Protestant crowd, which lends itself to more “policing.” But you make a great point Truett – getting back to the basics of sharing our faith in the culture would be a powerful thing…

  3. I’ve watched it, I’ve laughed, and I grow ashamed. Not ashamed of the guy who made the multiple versions of “the farting preacher” but ashamed because somehow this bit of video has defined one extreme of how badly we have done at representing our Christ on television.

    Truett is on the right track. We have to make the invisible God visible to our world, and do it in a way that draws people to Him.

    It’s ok to have that one crazy uncle that you laugh at, but when it’s easier to name the wacky ones rather than those who deserve admiration — that’s a bad sign.

    I’m really tired of being embarrassed by Christians. It reminds me of Woody Allen’s line in “Hannah and Her Sisters” — ‘If Jesus came back and saw what was being done in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.’

    It sometimes makes me hurl, too.

  4. Good humour is essentially built around subverting stereotypes. I think the Robert Tilton video is so funny, in part, because Christians take themselves so seriously. There are two main ways such a video could become ‘not funny’, one would be if Christians (or televangelists) became a vulnerable group, and the video was making fun of someone who should be pitied, another would be if Christians (or televangelists) farting in public became something no one would take any notice of.

  5. I’m kind of blissfully unaware of Robert Tilton and who he is. But if I were him, I’d embrace the video, do some sort of response video or something. (That’s why I use Beano now!) and laugh along with people. There’s a choice here to be laughed AT or laugh WITH.

    1. Actually Rebecca, that’s solid advice. There’s really no other choice in a digital world where it’s impossible to stop the videos from being shared out there.

  6. I enjoyed this. I’ve long felt that the Christian response to this type of satire is two-fold: Firstly, we should be willing to laugh along with this type of criticism and to learn lessons from it. Smug piousness is a laughing matter. I’ve always read Mat. 6 as Christ’s way of making fun of hypocrisy. Secondly, we should do everything we can to make our message ridicule proof. That seems to play out in the way we live our lives and share our message. Which is easier to parody, a pampered TV evangelist in an expensive suit working on a set that cost more than most of his viewer’s houses or Pope Francis embracing a disfigured homeless man on a street corner?

  7. I am more concerned about Christians that refuse to acknowledge wolves(or worse, support them) in the sheepfold or cannot discern the goats from the sheep than an unregenerate world that will use any excuse to hate true believers. Let’s wake up The Church rather than worry about our rep among the unsaved. Our job is to be a witness(to the point of martyrdom), proclaim the Good News, and make disciples and not try and save those who reject The Truth. Modern evangelism is an attention getter(especially for narcissists) and profitable but is overrated in a biblical sense.

  8. This was great. The challenge is that as we’re called to engage culture well, we’re also called (first) to love one another. Jesus is clear that this is how people will now we and He are legit (John 15, 17; Romans 13). The question for me is how do we love each other well when our family members are often as embarrassing as drunk uncle chuck that you’d rather not acknowledge?

  9. There is a verse in the Bible that refers to “Not throwing pearls before swine”. The things of God have always seemed strange to secular people and will always be misunderstood. Oral ran into that same kind of controversy with his 600 foot Jesus comment. Christians must realize that it is pointless to share supernatural things with an unbelieving world and should be cautious about what they say and do. Robert Tilton’s circus like delivery was part of his approach but brought a good deal of criticism from people who don’t much believe in God much less the Holy Spirit. Just like a kindergarten student would have trouble understanding advanced calculus, so the world has trouble with the things of God. I try to live my life to bring as little reproach to the Lord as possible. Things have happened to me spiritually that would sound ridiculous if I tried to share them with an unbeliever. There are some things you can share with an interested party but are wise to avoid with the average skeptic.

  10. By the way Phil, I heard that the farting tape was created by an editor in Robert Tilton’s television department who was subsequently fired over the incident. May be rumor, but that is what I was told by the guest evangelist who gave me a copy of the tape. It seemed to be a hot item with the Christian community when it first surfaced.

  11. I guess laughing at ourselves would help and I would laugh but probably at the same time really sad that something as wonderful as the moving of the Holy Spirit was taken by that person in the first place and used for mostly personal gain. I think every TV minister needs a healthy dose of reality about how sometimes our personality quirks are getting in the way of the message. Having someone be honest with them and just say, “why exactly are you doing this or using this mannerism? Are you aware of how it looks and are you really responding to God in that way.” I mean all of us are different and we all have our quirks but when you enter the public arena you have to be conscious that your message is being heard by the “uninitiated” as well as veteran Christians. I grew up Pentecostal and was a Pastor a number of years and I could tell you about some strange stuff I’ve seen all in the name of “the Holy Ghost moving”….I have tired so much of many Christian ministries because the message gets lost in the “showmanship”. A minister has to be a story teller and willing to animate his/her message as needed. I see so much being done that almost always leads up to a high pressure for people to give. Often these ministries have become machines and I think the machine is too big when you have to spend more time raising funds than you do ministering. Maybe it’s time to scale back certain expenses so that the ministry runs better. I know I’m not dumb enough to think it doesnt take a lot of money to do some of the things ministries do. I have NOTHING against a minister prospering and being able to live well….but all the years of ministry I discovered the vision must come from God..and an old minister once told me…”Money follows ministry”….In short spend a lot of time being certain you are really ministering and HELPING people and the support you need will come because THAT is what is God’s heart…reaching the lost with a relevant message, helping the hurting, and I feel as important GIVING PEOPLE HOPE…We can live several days without water, and a few more without food….BUT NONE OF US CAN LIVE ONE SECOND WITHOUT HOPE! Sorry I didnt mean to preach but I am seeing so many things in the Christian community that is happening. Jesus said, “the whole don’t need a physician”….the sick do….is your ministry a hospital for the hurting? Okay let’s laugh at things that are funny, ourselves, others….lots of funny stuff in the church but let’s also remember we’ve got room to improve and if you say you don’t need to it may already be too late for you but everyday I see in myself a need to do something better, and sometimes “just grow up”…..while we’re laughing is fine…

  12. I wasn’t familiar with this either and watched it for the first time from this link. To me, it was unfunny and hardly noteworthy by today’s standards. Worldly humor has gone way farther these days. I would love you see analysis of a more recent example — this songified video of a NASCAR prayer, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZnDt2wEFjk
    which evokes many of the same questions. I must admit, to me, this video is HILARIOUS. But what makes it funny is exactly how seriously Christian leaders can take themselves (and their sponsorships). In some cases, the public exposure/humiliation can be lesson enough. I also think we can approach one another in love, laugh at ourselves and own our frailty, and learn to think critically about when we are drawing attention to our ourselves or to Christ. Any thoughts?

    1. That took some editing… 🙂
      You’re right about the farting video by today’s standards, but in all honestly, I was originally done back in the 80’s, so it’s been around a long time. But I do think there’s room for humor in “adjusting” our perspective on things!

  13. I had one of those “iconic” VHS copies 20+ years ago. Few things have ever made my family, friends, and me laugh harder. Painful, gut-busting, teary-eyed caterwauling of junior high boy proportions. We couldn’t control ourselves. I think what made it so funny was having watched the real Tilton telecasts with stunned amazement that anyone took this clown seriously, yet the masses did – to the tune of $80MM+ in annual “seed” money. In 1996 or so, after having moved to a N Dallas suburb, I started meeting people who were on his staff and/or part of his church. I had to ask, so I did: “How could anyone have ever taken this guy seriously, much less have invested their LIVES with him?” They never had good answers. Stifled embarrassment I suppose. But, to the person, they all swore that it all began with something real. Then something (greed, ego, fame?) derailed it all. And, in some strangely crass, prophetic, hilarious way, the parody video depicted exactly that story. By the way, my sources in the late 80s/early 90s claimed that James Robison’s son was the producer.

  14. John 13:35 makes it clear that the world will not recognize us by our outlandish public persona, our supernatural stories or our judgmental attitudes. We should stand out to non-believers by our love for others which leads us to action that cannot be explained outside of a relationship with Christ. So while a strategic marketing approach to improving the image of believers might help, it can’t be accomplished outside of a complete surrender of believers to the will of Christ coupled by the media taking notice. I see glimpses of this happening, but in this world of spectacle and TMZ-style reporting, the goofballs are going to take center stage. Sadly, this says quite a bit about the mindset of the modern American believer.

    I guess we need to ask ourselves how we can increase the spotlight of what God is doing through His people without looking like we are promoting ourselves and vying for attention. That would only diminish what good is being done and call our motives into question. But if we could somehow draw attention with an online/cable channel in the secular arena with the sole purpose of calling people to “See what God is Doing”, these spotlights could do some good and perhaps go viral. You can’t deny that videos of people doing good deeds do go viral. I have seen two or three this week alone, though none have been associated with the work of the Holy Spirit. The lost don’t need to see quirky behavior or hear teaching on what God is doing. They simply need to see the love of Christ through genuine actions of love.

    If any teaching or programming would fit with this strategy, perhaps it would be small bits explaining misconceptions of Christianity that are clever, concise and challenging. Under three minute clips that cover topics like “Jesus does not endorse a person, group or action simply because they use His Name”, “An apology for getting in the way of what God wants to do”, “Protestants, denominations and how the true body of Christ is not defined by them”, “Why we should treat all people with value and dignity- even if we don’t agree with them”, and “Tolerance and Acceptance go both ways”.

    Eventually, documentary and historical dramas the promote the cause would be a great addition. I just don’t think this would be a place to copy the style of a popular secular program. Game Shows, sitcoms and parodies would have to find somewhere else to go.

    Just a thought.

  15. The story of Robert Tilton is one of the saddest in Christian public relations management. Back in the day he had such an impactful ministry and now he has been reduced to a joke. The problem with building a big ministry machine is that it takes a lot of $1,000 seeds to keep it running. There is a lesson to be learned from Tilton’s example.

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