Almost four years ago, five-year old Heavenly Joy Jerkins blew away the audience and judges of America’s Got Talent with her rendition of “In Summer” from the movie Frozen. Howard Stern, one of the celebrity judges, shook his head in wonder at her vocal range and infectious personality. “I think Shirley Temple is living somewhere inside of you,” he told her. Heavenly responded quickly, “Not Shirley Temple. Jesus!”
“There you go. Now you’re talking,” Stern said as the crowd responded with thunderous applause. Watch it here.
Seeing Howard Stern on a family show was surreal. He called his four-year stint as a judge on America’s Got Talent, “the most shocking thing in my career” – this coming from the king of shock-jocks who regularly stunned (and delighted) his listeners/viewers with uber-sexualized content. His shows are designated “mature,” but he panders to adolescent voyeuristic impulses.
His forte is interviewing celebrities – actors, public figures (he has interviewed Donald Trump 39 times), athletes, porn stars – and leading them to give up deeply personal and embarrassing insights. He has parlayed his routine into a $90 million annual paycheck – and single-handedly kept Sirius XM on the air where he has two uncensored channels.
Many Christians regard Howard Stern as the epitome of debauchery, but there is much more to see. And I have been praying for him for over twenty years.
I must pray, otherwise I fall into the trap of self-righteously condemning him. Celebrities are the royalty of American culture and despite their wealth and adulation, their lives can be unnaturally pointless. When I hear Christian speakers ridiculing celebrities, I feel a twinge of discontent. A Christian worldview, if it means anything practical, means we see people differently. The apostle Paul reminds us, “From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:16).
For most of my adult life, I have prayed almost daily for specific celebrities. The list is long. I pray for God to bring people and circumstances into their lives to draw them to Christ. And I pray God will give me eyes to see them as He does.
I pray for them expectantly, so I am particularly alert when someone I am praying for is in the news. I only know Howard Stern in excerpts from his show, interviews and his writing. And it is clear his life is pivoting in a new direction.
Even though Stern is listed among “celebrity atheists,” it seems God keeps showing up in his life. Fifteen years ago, Stern admitted on his show he had picked up the Bible and started reading. He was surprised at how easily the Bible read. He wondered aloud if his resonance with the Bible was an indication he must believe in God. Co-host Robin Quivers noted she thought it was silly some people turn to God at the end of their lives and start praying for forgiveness. Stern divulged he was not waiting until the end; he prays to God even if he has a cold.
A 2017 diagnosis of cancer shook him deeply. He found himself terrified, facing death. The experience gave him a different lens to view his life. His celebrity trajectory fooled him into thinking he was doing everything right – including being a husband and father.
Looking back at his career, he admits he has regrets. He hates his earlier books. He has apologized to many he offended while interviewing. He regrets focusing on the salacious and outrageous when his interviews could have been substantive and helpful. He admits he was using people to play to his audience.
So, what is next for Howard Stern? He has signaled he may be finished with his radio program when his contract is up next year. He has a book coming out this month.
But it seems gloomy moving ahead under a cloud of regrets from past missteps.
Maybe his future will be more shaped by reading the Bible, praying when he has a cold, and a little girl named Heavenly Joy who has Jesus in her heart.
That’s my prayer.
There are quite a few ministries providing insights into celebrities and how to pray for them. I go to The Hollywood Prayer Network http://hollywoodprayernetwork.org/ and Mastermedia International. http://www.mastermedia.com
Bill Brown, PhD, is the Senior Fellow of Worldview and Culture and Dean, Colson Fellows Program