Rethinking Youth Ministry
The Appealing Faith of Justin Bieber: A Q&A with Belieber! author Cathleen Falsani
What are some things about Justin that you think people will be surprised to learn from your book?
As I started my exhaustive research into Justin's life and work, I was not expecting to find God's fingerprints so obviously and indelibly imprinted on Justin's story the way they were and continue to be. It would be difficult to know all that I do about his life and not see God's obvious direction and divine favor in it. I think that also surprises a lot of the book's readers, as does the extent to which Justin, even as a younger teenager, has been devoted to charitable work. It really is one of the hallmarks of his public life and career, and, I would say, the most eloquent articulation of his faith.
Justin is deeply committed to giving back—"paying it forward," as he would say—and taking concrete actions to try to make the world a better place. He constantly encourages his fans and Twitter followers to do the same. It's well known in the business that Justin won't do any new "deal" without a significant charitable component built in. For instance, proceeds of his fragrance, Someday, went to charity, as did the proceeds from his acoustic and Christmas albums. He gives a dollar from every concert ticket he sells (millions, now) to Pencils of Promise, an NGO that builds schools in some of the poorest places in the developing world. There are other celebrities who are known for their charitable efforts and social justice work— Bono, whose own story and faith mirrors Justin's in many ways, comes to mind—but I'd dare say none as young as Bieber or who have been doing so as extensively as he has since the very beginning of his career. Justin not only talks the talk (and in a way that is nuanced and refreshingly honest for an evangelical Christian kid) but he walks the walk boldly and publicly. His fans see this and are following his example. It's pretty extraordinary.
You note that Justin chose Christianity and was baptized at a fairly young age. What do you think it means for such a young person to choose a faith that is so complex, demanding, and which requires most people a lifetime of study?
That's one of the things that Justin and I have in common. I made a commitment to Christ when I was 10. Justin was about six. I'm now 41 and my faith continues to grow, develop and deepen. Justin's decision to follow Christ as a little boy was the starting point for a new life that he will continue to make decisions about for the rest of his time on Earth. Faith is alive (or at least it should be) and how we live it will change, fluctuate and evolve throughout our lives.
One thing making such a commitment at a tender age does mean, and I'm speaking from experience here, is that all of the major mistakes, missteps, wandering and sinning he'll do will all take place after he's invited Jesus into his heart. That makes the Christian life (and how some people will see his story) a lot less Disney than some folks would like. That does not, however, mean it will be less authentic. When we mature in the faith at the same time that we are maturing (hopefully) in our earthly selves, there are growing pains and they can sometimes be embarrassingly visceral. For Justin, they also will likely be embarrassingly public. But that's ok. That's normal, or at least normal for someone living an in the extraordinarily harsh spotlight of uber-celebrity.
In your book you devote a section to discussing the "unBeliebers." Why do you think there has been a good amount of backlash against Justin? Is any of this a related to his faith?
Rev. Brian Kirk is an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and currently serves an inner-city church in St. Louis, Missouri. He also teaches as adjunct faculty at Eden Theological Seminary, and co-writes the blog rethinkingyouthministry.com.