Jo Piazza at FOX News wonders: are prominent, outspoken Christians like Tim Tebow and Justin Bieber making Christianity more appealing to kids?
It’s no great leap to say that children and teens admire and emulate figures like Bieber, fellow musician Demi Lovato, and Tebow. In a culture that values piety as a signifier of moral character, outspoken Christianity both brands these figures as safe role models and cushions them from criticism:
“It’s not bad brand marketing,” explains Ann Neuman, the editor of The Revealer website at New York University’s Center for Religion and Media. “Bieber’s godliness makes him particularly safe and acceptable to tweens and their parents.”
Neuman also says the juxtaposition with God also sets these celebs up as martyr figures, which is even more appealing to their fans.
“It’s hard being a multi-million dollar sensation. You can have an off game, poor reviews and you’re constantly in the public’s critical eye. Having God in your corner means that he loves you even when you drop the ball or bomb a concert,” Neuman said. “It also means a devoted audience for your product of fellow believers and a ready parable for both success and failure.”
Do I think that hordes of football-playing and music-loving tweens are rushing to adopt evangelical Christianity? In a word, no (although we’d need some sociological studies to say so with certainty). I’m not concerned that Tebow is indoctrinating a generation of teen godbots. The influence of a pop icon, though significant, is only one of many strong influences in a teenager’s life.
No, what concerns me most is that these figures reinforce our cultural assumption that this kind of piety is the pinnacle of virtue. The teens in question are growing up seeing the media fawn over the superior moral character of Tebow, Bieber, and the rest, and regardless of whether they opt for that level of religiosity themselves, they will continue to assume that pious people are to be trusted and religion is above reproach.
Religion doesn’t deserve a free pass. It deserves to be questioned and evaluated like any other worldview, and it certainly doesn’t confer the assumption of integrity on its followers. That’s the message that teens need to hear.
So no, I don’t think the religious convictions of a Tebow, a Bieber or a Lovato will cause an uptick in baptisms. But I do think they could perpetuate a society in which evangelical Christian mores run unchallenged and unchecked. Therefore, it’s our job to be good examples for the other side, and to loudly and consistently challenge the idea that religion equals morality.
It’s also our job to giggle at the entire CBS Sports crew Tebowing.