There was an audible gasp from the audience, but MacFarlane was ready for it. “What? One hundred and fifty years later and it's still too soon?” he quipped, before warning us we really weren’t going to like his Napolean jokes. The message was clear — Lincoln was assassinated. Get over it. Why should we care about a violent death that occurred over a century ago?
When you hear actors, directors and producers talk about why movies matter—they always cite films like Lincoln—a movie that reveals the humanity of our heroes and forces us to relive the past. When we see how hard Lincoln and others had to fight to end the institution of slavery, we realize how easily a society can adapt to evil and come to see it as not only necessary but righteous. We walk away asking questions about present-day America. Isn’t it likely our society has similar blinders about current cultural institutions? What evils have we grown accustomed to? We see how history hinges on the moral courage of one individual, and we wonder about our own responsibility to challenge evil. We see that Abraham Lincoln isn’t a character in a tall black hat, but an extraordinary ordinary man who changed the course of history. And we grieve the terrible price of his victory. And if two weeks after seeing the movie we can laugh about a bullet entering his head — then God help us.
One hundred and fifty years later, it’s not funny that John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Has America grown so indifferent to violence that we must now convince people that murder is a tragedy? In 150 years, will we be laughing about Newtown?
As a Christian, my life is centered on a cross. A man was brutally murdered upon that cross, and not by God. Jesus was murdered by people. As a pastor, my life’s work consists in telling others why that death still matters two thousand years later. I believe that the grace of God transforms and redeems violence—but it doesn’t make it funny. The murder of Jesus is still a tragedy and Lincoln’s murder is still a tragedy and so are the murders of Ghandi and MLK and JFK and RFK. Their deaths aren’t funny—and not because they were heroes, but because they were humans. I won’t dishonor their lives by mocking their deaths. There are a lot of ridiculous things to laugh about at the Oscars; murder just isn’t one of them.