Anyone seen Justin Bieber lately?
I know, the young artist everyone loves to hate. The talented kind who seemed to be popping up in all the wrong places (car crashes, assaults, court hearings) at all the wrong times. Justin Bieber, it appeared, was headed for an early destruction, a victim of too much money, too much time and lot of really bad press.
Then he dropped off the radar. Gone. No bad boy antics. No real public image. An occasional TV appearance.
I have a Google news alert on the word “church”. Google sends me all the stories it finds with the word “church in them. A few months ago, Justin Bieber started showing up in the news feed.
Justin Bieber? Yes. And it appears that he is turning into a “belieber” (um, sorry. I mean “believer”). Justin Bieber is going to church.
The first clue was several stories that Bieber and his old girlfriend, Selena Gomez, attended a Pentecostal megachurch in Los Angeles called Hillsong. Within a month Bieber was attending a week-long Hillsong conference in Sydney, Australia.
Hillsong, however, is just one piece of this story. Another is Pastor Carl Lentz of Hillsong New York and several others, all within Bieber’s circle of friends and acquaintances. Adept at social media, these Christians get the word out in ways unheard of even a decade ago. Hundreds of thousands followers on Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram watch and listen to their message; one which is entirely conventional and evangelical. And it’s less focussed on institutional church and more on being followers of Jesus.
How influential are these leaders? If Bieber is any indication, the word is “very”.
In the October November issue of COMPLEX Magazine, Bieber speaks for himself about his faith, his journey and what he believes. Perhaps some of his deeper thoughts come on love, something he has made a career singing about. Reflecting on moving in with his girlfriend at 18, he says, “Love is a choice. Love is not a feeling. People have made it seem in movies that it’s this fairy tale. That’s not what love is. You’re not gonna want to love your girl sometimes but you’re gonna choose to love her. That’s something in life that I had to figure out. I can’t lean on people. I got to lean on God. I gotta trust in him through all my situations. Then, hopefully, my other relationships will flourish around me.”
There’s more. Bieber says, “There’s a lot of really weird stuff going on at churches. You ever flicked on a channel and a late-night church show is on? Sometimes it’s like, “You better do this or you gon’ die and you gon’ burn in hell!” And you’re like, I don’t want anything to do with this. I’m the same way. I’m not religious. I, personally, love Jesus and that was my salvation. I want to share what I’m going through and what I’m feeling and I think it shouldn’t be ostracized. I think that everybody should get their chance to share what they’re doing or where their journey is headed, whether they’re straight or gay or what they believe in.”
Has Bieber turned himself around? I think he’s well on his way. He’s asking tough questions about life and about himself. He’s getting good faith mentoring. He knows he’s on an important journey. I’ll know, though, that he has started to develop a mature faith when he invites Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai on stage at a concert, has a meaningful conversation with her and then gives the proceeds from one of his albums to the education of young women. I hope that day isn’t too far off.
Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.