(RNS) — There may be a lesson in the recent troubles of the social giant Twitter.
Don’t mess with The Babylon Bee.
Started as a site to poke fun at Christian subculture, the Bee’s political satire has come to overshadow its more kindhearted Christian humor in recent years, landing the site in hot water with fact-checkers and social media gatekeepers — including Twitter.
Twitter suspended The Babylon Bee’s account on March 22, after labeling a post about transgender Biden administration official Rachel Levine as hateful content. Not long afterward, billionaire Elon Musk, a fan of the site, got a text from his former wife, Talulah Jane Riley.
“The Babylon Bee got suspension is crazy!” read the text, which was made public earlier this year. “Why has everyone become so puritanical?” Then Riley suggested Musk buy Twitter and either delete it or “make it radically free-speech.”
Musk, who recently bought Twitter for $44 billion and instituted mass layoffs, was a critic of censorship on social media long before the Bee’s troubles. But the satire site’s connection to one of the most powerful men in the world is the latest example of the Bee’s rise from a would-be pastor’s side project to a conservative powerhouse.
The Bee, modeled similarly to secular satire site The Onion, began as the brainchild of Adam Ford, who quit his day job in the mid-2010s to start creating web content. Ford’s dreams of becoming a pastor had been derailed by panic and depression, he told The Washington Post in 2016.
With the help of medication, Ford got better and began writing about faith, first for a webcomic and then in 2016 for the Bee. From the beginning, the site was a hit, especially with evangelical Christians who appreciated the good-natured jokes about the foibles of church life, which at the time caught on more than political jokes.
Among the more memorable of the site’s early jokes was headlined, “Holy Spirit Unable To Move Through Congregation As Fog Machine Breaks.”
“We barely got through our new song. It was a real train wreck,” a fictional Nashville worship leader is quoted as saying.
Other early jokes poked fun at church committees and prosperity gospel pastors like Joel Osteen, including this headline: “Joel Osteen Sails Luxury Yacht Through Flooded Houston To Pass Out Copies Of ‘Your Best Life Now.’”
Jon Glass, pastor of Cropwell Baptist Church in Pell City, Alabama, appreciated the church humor at the Bee in its early days, calling it “the kind of sarcasm that hits home and makes you think, ‘Is that what we look like?’”
Writer and former pastor Jelani Greenidge was also an early fan of the Bee’s attempts to poke fun at the weird side of evangelical culture. Those early posts, he said, helped Christians laugh at themselves.
“The best satire comes from a place of love,” said Greenidge. That love, he said, seems in short supply these days at the Bee, which Greenidge said seems too focused on skewering the politicians and progressive figures conservatives hate.
Babylon Bee’s current CEO, Seth Dillon, a pastor’s son and former internet marketer who bought a majority stake in the Babylon Bee in 2018, said the site still publishes plenty of church jokes. But fewer people share them.