(Editor’s Note: Vital Conversations is a running series of commentaries from various faith leaders. The series is sponsored by Phillips Theological Seminary, though contributions come from theologians who are unassociated with the seminary.)
Is there a Jon Stewart-type sniffing out false, self-serving, and bad uses of Christianity out there?
For 16 years, Mr. Stewart used humor, sarcasm and juxtaposing a politician’s words from the past with the same politician’s words from the present to unmask pretensions, expose deceptions and help the public see with more clarity.
During his final show in August, Stewart delivered a straightforward monologue urging his viewers to sniff for “BS” and to say something, to stand up when we smell it. In other words, Stewart exhorted the audience to do what he had been doing on The Daily Show.
Is there a Jon Stewart out there, sniffing out — with humor, sarcasm and a rapier intelligence — misuses of Christianity?
Who speaks when a politician grabs some aspect of Christianity for political ends?
To whom does the public listen when an atheist public voice labels all people of religious faith as violent, ignorant and intellectually lazy, if not altogether stupid?
Who is able to unmask the next James Watt — the Secretary of the Interior under President Ronald Reagan — whose theological beliefs about Jesus’ return seemed to have been correlated with unsustainable use of natural resources?
Who is ferreting out the contradictions and hypocrisies when one cohort of the Christian family claims to own “family values”?
Who is spotlighting when Christians become cheerleaders for the agenda of a particular political regime, or when a political regime does something wrong or at least questionable and Christians are silent?
Who is doing all this with humor?
Now, there are some really fine prophetic figures within Christianity speaking truth to power. But where are the people doing so with humor? Humor is disarming.
Stewart and each of his fabulous fake reporters over the years used biting humor to bring important issues to much larger audiences than would have been the case for a straight news show.
I suspect there are some African-American preachers who might fit the bill, but only their congregations know them. Dr. Cornel West, in his book Democracy Matters, writes of the need within democracy for those who pose questions like Socrates, speak to injustice like the Hebrew prophets, and draw from “tragicomic” wells to sustain and renew the republic.
The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber also comes to mind, and she has found a much larger audience for her ministry through speaking and through a book that became a best-seller. I’d love to see much more of the same employed on behalf of Christianity reaching a larger public: a kind of Daily Show for Christians.
I’m not looking for leaders who deride the nations of the world or particular leaders. I would eagerly listen to one who uses humor on the behalf of the gospel to puncture personal and public pretensions, help us sniff out the BS, and enable us to see ourselves, our nation, our religion and our leaders with more clarity and humility.
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