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America's Best Known Sunday School Teacher In Action

There's a generation for whom Jimmy Carter is America's best-known and (perhaps) most beloved Sunday School teacher.  For younger Americans, there's a good chance that Stephen Colbert now occupies that role.

In recent years, Colbert has so rarely spoken in public when not in character as "Stephen Colbert", that it's at first something of a shock to see him as himself in "Ask A Grown Man", a regular monthly feature of Rookie, an online magazine for teenage girls. 

Here he is answering questions from Loretta, age 14, ("Why do guys catcall and make rape jokes?") and Eve, age 19, ("What do you think is the best to talk to my dad to convince him to let me sleep at my boyfriend's house?") and other teenaged girls.

Colbert answers thoughtfully, clearly, carefully, at times awkwardly, and always while conveying a deep sense of respect for both the question and the questioner---including the respect to give the part of the answer his questioner may not want to hear.  He incorporates heavy doses of humility, humor, kindness, and an almost Mr. Rogers-like down-to-earth seriousness.  ("A really good sign somebody like you is if they bring you cookies.")

In short, he's just the kind of father you'd hope would teach Sunday School to the children in your parish...perhaps because he's the kind of father who teaches Sunday School in his own parish.

About the Author

Luke Hill is a writer and community organizer in Boston. He blogs at dotCommonweal and MassCommons. 



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Sweet but long-winded, which most kids see as a sign of equivocation and weakness as they look for chinks in your logic armor. Keep it short. Tell boys who tell rape jokes to stop it or you'll report them to the school counselor. There's nothing you can say to your father that will let you sleep at your boyfriend's. Don't hang around with liars and people who can't decide whether to be nice to you or not. 

It's good to see Colbert out of character. I look forward to his hosting of the Late Show. I think he will be a game changer.

I thought the answer for Loretta was spot on -- stand up for yourself, tell him you don't like it.  It does make a difference.  E.g., there has apparently been a trend to use "rape" as a kind of equivalent to "kill" in slang, like, "you're killing me with all this homework" is instead "you're raping me with all this homework."  To which my high school age daughter reacted vehemently, and told the boys in her classes who used it to cut it out -- and they did.  If they persisted or bullied or made fun of her, then she should have gone to the counselor -- but calling them out first and challenging them to be better and giving them a lecture on rape awareness was the right thing to do.  These were boys she knew and got along with in most things.  Too many girls fail to recognize their own authority in a matter like this.

Re the second question -- the girl was ASKING her father for "permission" to sleep with her boyfriend.  A dad should never be put in the position of telling his daughter, in effect, to sleep with a boyfriend, because it should never be up to him.  To ask your dad for permission is to admit that you are not ready for an adult relationship.  If I were dad, my response would be, "if you feel like you have to ask me then I am always going to say no because you obviously have not given yourself permission and I sure as heck am not going to do it for you.  Besides, I'm your dad -- I'm always going to err on the side of safety when it comes to this kind of thing."

I thought his answer for Loretta was great too.  The boys are trying to get the girls attention and with todays smaller families its highly likely they dont have a sister to help educate them.  And I doubt they would respond well to an adult admonishing them:  they are teenagers and believe adults dont know anything.  Authority is something all teenagers are rebelling against. 

Colbert does all the right things in this video.  He takes the girls' questions seriously, he shows respect, he doesn't preach, he considers all sides of the issue esp. with the young woman who wants permission to sleep at her boyfriend's place.   Bloviating  and harrmpng does not work with kids. They see right through it.  If we do that, they know that it's about us and not about them. Honesty and being real, respectful and showing concern without judgment is the way to go.

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