Please Pray for Jesus’ Work Through Stephen Colbert
I know I come across as frequently whining against the short-sighted, maudlin, and boorish behavior and attitudes of my fellow American Christians whom I love (“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.”, Rev. 3:19. Jesus to the Church at Laodicea); think about what my close friends must put up with!
However, I want to emphasize that I do see many promising developments amongst followers of Jesus, particularly amongst the young, but as a consequence of relating to today’s culture they will be knocking down a few walls of tradition and culture masquerading as religious fundamentals, and it could get messy at times. Older Christians raised as their predecessors (and myself) in a traditional evangelical/Catholic/Protestant culture of narrowed language and accepted means of expression, constrained levity and satire, and a propensity of “sacred cows” that dare not be skewered (such as our veneration of the divine nature of our nation, pastors and religious establishment and its other heroes) will be hitting the bottle of antacids frequently in the days ahead, or (like many) will turn bitter, resentful and evermore exclusionary in their thinking. A few of my cautionary “heroes”, whom I think might yet preserve a genuine Gospel ethic in the current and future generation (albeit in their own daring way), are even some “old geezers” like myself.
One such person I highly regard is Stephen Colbert. Most older Christians probably do not know who he is, even though he has been a cable television superstar for many years. Others would hold him in high suspicion because of his early association with John Stewart of the Daily Show (himself one of the best bastions of old-fashioned Christian ethics (while not himself a Christian) even though they don’t recognize it), and his skewering of many conservative icons and sacred cows on his show who were not to be touched.
I personally find him to be a true genius of our generation. Not only is he a multi-talented, highly educated and intellectual Renaissance Man of our generation, having an unparalleled litany of remarkable credentials to his credit (having invented the now-accepted word “truthiness”, multi-Emmy Winner and one of Time Magazines “100 Most Important People” in 2006 and 2012, has a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor named after him, has a Virgin America plane named after him, Grammy Award winner, has had four different species of insects officially named after him, is the only person to have a piece of equipment in space named after him (the COLBERT treadmill) and having been knighted by the King of Jordan, amongst many accolades). He definitely produces the most insightful and intellectual content on television. How he provides these subtle and insightful subtexts, even when acting as a buffoon or crassly, is appreciated by many, however it sadly goes over the head of most older Christians I know. His interviews and comical pieces not only make me laugh, but better yet make me think.
One of the unique aspects of Colbert beyond his cleverness and intelligence (and the fact of being a month younger than me, I get him), is his strong continuing Christian faith, even while enticed by all the trappings of the entertainment world. You can read about some of his background and religious influences here. He mentions his upbringing in a healthy, practicing Roman Catholic family, that was shattered when his father and siblings were taken away in a plane crash when he was only ten. Like many young men he began to lose his faith, when he says someone gave him a Gideon Bible on the streets of Chicago. In here he found Christ’s teaching on the Sermon on the Mount, which changed his life, and which he likes to talk about (you can find the Sermon’s influence in much of what he does in his comedy, if you look for it). He is known for being a regular Sunday School teacher as well – how many television darlings can you say that about today? I have observed, when I watched his wickedly funny and insightful Colbert Report shows on rare occasion, was his consistent defense of basic Christian truths such as man’s creation by God – even when interviewing an evolutionary biologist – and make it seem funny, endearing, non-threatening, and likeable (and he comes across as more enlightened, informed and intelligent than his scholarly expert guests, without being a boor).
He will say a few naughty words or vulgarities on rare occasion (at least on cable) to make a point, joke about sex (while being presumably faithful to his wife of 23 years) or discuss topics that make fundamentalists squirm. However, he is one of the few voices for the basic principles of love and decency toward others as Christ taught that the people in society respect, and will listen to. The only other peer that I can think of in his class is another controversial figure in fundamentalist circles – the Christ-loving TV and film producer Tyler Perry, who is arguably the most powerful (and wealthy) man in Hollywood, openly teaching marital fidelity, devotion to Christ, wife and children, and redemption and forgiveness in the guise of dressing up as a woman (“Madea”) and spitting out a foul word or two for laughs, while millions watch and learn, as many of our dour churches lay empty.
We as Christians should diligently pray for these two decent Christian brothers, who are two of the few witnesses for Christ who, while ruffling our feathers at times, retain any measure of respect and credibility in reaching today’s culture. Pray that God will send more like them.
Here is a link to Colbert’s inaugural show as the new host of David Letterman’s former show The CBS Late Show (his first foray into network television) – watch for his skewering of the media’s addiction to Trump coverage by use of an Oreo analogy, and the final musical number with one of gospel’s Staple Singers calling for societal love and unity.