The 2016 Academy Awards demonstrated once again (in Full HD) that the Oscars are no longer about celebrating filmmaking, but peddling righteousness. It’s a platform for the arbiters of uprightness to parade in front of viewers everything they’re required to care about in order to safeguard their justification. It’s a theater for displaying self-salvation.

The environment and indigenous peoples. Sexual violence and marriage equality. Transphobia and sexism. Racism and war and partisan politics and mental illness. Every issue emphatically declared or emotionally acknowledged, and each met with enthusiastic approval.

This man was robbed!

This man was robbed!

It’s not that any of those things aren’t worth caring about. They’re real issues that deserve real attention. But given the exhibition of social virtue, one can’t help but see the temple – in this case the Dolby Theater – filled with a mess of boisterous Pharisees. The acceptance speeches:

“God, I thank you that I am not like other people: racists, homophobes, imperialists, or even like this Trump supporter. I volunteer twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income to saving the rainforest.”

There’s a reason why Merriam-Webster’s 2015 word of the year was “-ism.” Identity politics and salvation-by-proper-ideology define our culture. According to the zeitgeist, you are your views.

In effect, we’re constantly trying to cover our nakedness with robes of social righteousness. On the playground, in the office or on the Oscars stage, we are desperate to prove that we are the carers, the crusaders, the cause-carriers. Simultaneously, we’re putting on show what we take to be our own glory and trying to hide the fact that, deep down, we know we aren’t glorious.

We love the poor but hate our next-door neighbor. We yell in favor of human rights but denigrate our children. We’re addicted, sexually obsessed, lovers of money, gossipers, gluttons, liars. We might march for equality, but we’re hypocrites; ranking offenses and making sure our sins and vices aren’t on the list.


At bottom, in all public displays of righteousness, we’re after love and acceptance. We’ll do anything: save the whales, feed the hungry, free the oppressed. Whatever it takes to convince people that we’ve earned the right to take up the space we do. Our identity and worth depend on how we answer the demand to justify our existence. This is one of the reasons why the #OscarsSoWhite campaign made people so uncomfortable–it punctured the picture of collective righteousness the evening works so hard to uphold.

In this way, the Awards unintentionally highlight the relieving truth of the Gospel: “I have been crucified with Christ, and now it is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). In other words, I have nothing worth accepting, but God accepts me. I’m unworthy, but Jesus is worthy for me. God assures me at every turn that I truly am welcome. I don’t have to justify my existence. Jesus is all the vindication I need. My identity is found in Christ, not a cause.

Does this mean we lay down and stop fighting for justice? God forbid. But it does mean that our banner and our boasting is Christ only. So when the world tells us – whether it’s in an Oscars speech or on our social media channels – that our identity rests in how relentlessly we pursue fairness and justice, we can find peace in God’s final word of love and acceptance: Jesus.

In Christ, we are allowed to be nakedly real where the world has to hide itself under the fig leaves of self-justification.

We’re free to fight for things worth fighting for, but without the need to show everyone else our battle scars. In the end, Jesus is the only one with any scars worth boasting about anyway.