July 10, 2009

Is Jon Stewart a prophet? I think not.

As a loyal subscriber to Sojourners magazine for nearly 5 years, I've seen a wide range of personalities and social activists covered in its pages. Even so, I'm thoroughly baffled as to why potty-mouthed fake newsman Jon Stewart was selected to grace this month's cover for the award-winning Christian publication whose stated mission is to "articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to inspire individuals, communities, the church and the world."

Here's the best explanation I've come up with so far: Jim Wallis really, really likes him.

Sojourners' founder and editor-in-chief opens the interview by likening The Daily Show's host to an Old Testament prophet: "The Hebrew prophets often used humor, satire, and truth-telling to get their message across, and I feel you do a combination of all three." From that point on, the interview largely consists of Wallis trying to convince Stewart to 'admit' he's some sort of contemporary prophet/activist/sage while Stewart, with trademark self-deprecating wit, coolly deflects every attempt to conjure what simply isn't there.

Despite Stewart's insistence that he's actually who he appears to be, namely a successful TV personality doing his job attracting audiences in order to "sell enough Budweiser [so] that Comedy Central will let us stay on the air," Wallis remains unconvinced and tries in vain to frame him in the prophetic tradition of "speaking truth to power." The irony of it all is that Stewart recognizes his clear lack of prophetic/spiritual credentials even as Wallis continually offers him the mantle if he wants it.

Granted, Stewart's clever satire mocking politicians and 24-hour cable news coverage can be both entertaining and insightful when he's exposing the phoniness of Washington-style politics. And yes, The Daily Show still makes me laugh from time to time, although I'm starting to outgrow its crass humor and cheap laughs at the expense of religion. But last time I checked, Hebrew prophets in the Scriptures were not primarily comedians delivering applause lines for big audiences. They were typically unpopular and counter-cultural messengers who preached repentance and obedience to God.

In many ways, I fit the profile of a typical Sojourners reader. I'm a 20-something evangelical Christian who believes global poverty, the environment, human trafficking and health care access are the most pressing issues of our time, although abortion and gay marriage require healthy discussion as well. At its best, what has made Sojourners unique through the years is a commitment to Scripture-based activism, not commercial politicking cloaked in religious language. With all the untold stories of Christ-centered ordinaries doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God among the least of these, I'm not convinced we need to co-opt the bright lights and celebrity of a mainstream entertainer to build the mustard seed kingdom Jesus spoke of.

If Jon Stewart is the closest approximation to a modern-day prophetic voice Sojourners can find for its cover story, we're in a lot more trouble than I thought.

No comments: