Your Word is a Lamp For My Feet: The Crash and Burn Life of Justin Bieber and Others

Your Word is a Lamp For My Feet: The Crash and Burn Life of Justin Bieber and Others March 5, 2014

by Bruce Gerencser cross posted from his site The Way Forward

Your (God) Word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalm 119:105

Evidently, the lamp is burnt out for the man sporting this tattoo. In recent years, this man has given himself to debauchery, violence, and mischief. He is, in every way, a self-absorbed shit concerned only with himself.

But hey, he loves Jesus.

His name is Justin Bieber.

Am I mocking Bieber? No. I feel sorry for him because I know that his fundamentalist Christian upbringing is partially responsible for his current train wreck of a life.  This story has played out before our eyes countless times in the lives of people like Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, and now Justin Bieber.

Raised with the thinking that the Bible and its anachronistic rules, is the moral standard by which they are to live, many young Christians are ill-prepared to face the real world of gray, situational ethics,and  amorality. Throw in fame, millions of dollars, and followers who are quite willing to enable your slightest desire, is it any wonder young people like Cyrus and Bieber crash and burn before our very eyes?

Some critics reduce their petulant behavior down to a child rebelling against their parents, and certainly there is some of that in most every one of these stories. But, fundamentalist Christian children are taught to “just say no.”  When tempted, pray and read the Bible.  These foolish prescriptions don’t work for adults and they most certainly won’t work for hormone raging young adults with an unlimited line of credit from American Express.

While I will readily admit that the Bible provides some moral guidance that would serve all of us well, it is not enough to trust God, trust his Word, and hope for the best. Young adults need to be taught how to cope with a world that will devour them and spit them out later on the side of the road. Young adults need to be taught the difference between want and need, and that just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

I was a young adult once, back when Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter roamed the halls of the White House. I know how it is to not think about tomorrow and the consequences of what I do today. We all could make a list of things we regret, things we would do differently if we had to do it all over again. Most of us escaped our youth without too much damage, but some of us know what it is to make a train wreck of our life at a young age; bad decisions that can mar a person for a lifetime.  Decisions made in a moment can cost a lifetime.

Prisons are full of people whose parents took them to church and taught them the Christian way of living. What went wrong? Too often, we want to point our fingers at the offender, and, at times, our finger-pointing is certainly justified. But, at the same time, we should point our finger at Christianity and ask what culpability Christianity and the Bible has in the moral failure of those whose lives are in the gutter.

Christian morality is often taught as a code of “thou shalt nots.” Christian young adults enter a world that does not recognize the Christian morality code. Once they wander outside the safe confines of the church and the Christian home, they find want,  pleasure, and desire are the gods of the Trinity. In this environment, “thou shalt not” can not compete. A young man like Justin Bieber, when confronted with young, beautiful women who care not about his belief in Jesus, find it impossible to “just say no.”  Only an ignorant fundamentalist Baptist preacher thinks otherwise.

Yes, we need to teach our children morals and ethics, but at the same time we need to teach them how to critically make responsible decisions. When confronted with the pleasures of the world, and believe me, the world is pleasurable, the young adult needs to know how to navigate a world that offers them everything.

Instead of “no sex before marriage” young adults need to be taught how to responsibly have sex. Contrary to what the culture warriors tell us, most young adults have sex before marriage. Abstinence is not an option. Young adults need to be taught how to be sexually responsible, and that includes teaching them about how to have safe sex.

The same goes for drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. Preach away, preacher man. Scream out those Bible verses. Young Christian adults will hear you, but then they will get in a car with their friends and go to a party or a concert. And away from the confines of the morality dispensary, they will do what most kids their age do. All the preaching against giving in to peer pressure will have little effect, because the power of the herd is often irresistible. Wouldn’t it be better to teach young adults how to party responsibly? And if they find themselves high or drunk, that they can ALWAYS, no questions asked, call you for a ride home?

Part of the problem is the Evangelical (fundamentalist) Christian music subculture that turns some young men and women into instant stars. For example, take Katy Hudson. Katy Hudson? In 2001, Christianity Today, the People magazine of Evangelicalism, declared then 17 year old Katy Hudson one of the New Girls of Christian Music. Hudson’s father was, at the time, pastor of The Oasis Center is Santa Barbara, California. (now Keith Hudson Ministries)

We know Katy Hudson as Katy Perry. Fast forward almost ten years and what do we find?  After being screwed by the Christian music industry, Perry left her Evangelical roots and embarked on a pop music career, selling 11 million albums.  In 2013, Perry described her belief about God this way:

“My God has changed over the years. Absolutely. I believe there’s this ‘bigger than me’ thing that’s looking after me. I don’t believe in like God as a really old guy with a beard on a gold throne”

“I don’t believe in heaven or hell as a destination. In fact, the terms of what I believe are still up for debate because I’m still on a journey and I don’t even know if I’m going to get to my destination”.

“I’m not Buddhist, I’m not Hindu, I’m not Christian, but I still feel like I have a deep connection with God.”

A failed marriage, provocative song lyrics, and a bare-all sexuality give countless Evangelical preachers sermon illustrations to use as they attempt to keep the young men and women of their church from turning out like Katy Perry. (see Rolling Stone article, Sex, God and Katy Perry) Rarely, do they consider their own culpability in the fall of these young stars. I use the word fall from the perspective of the Christan. I don’t think Perry, or anyone else for that matter, is fallen. Bad choices=bad consequences. If we want young adults to make better choices then they need to be taught how to make better choices. Preaching, quoting Bible verses, and threatening judgment from God rarely works against the passions and desires of the mind. Young adults need to be taught critical thinking skills and they need to understand how to determine risk. They may still make bad choices, but it will not be because they didn’t know what they were getting themselves in to. Sadly, way too many Christian parents think that all their young adult children need is God and the Bible. They naïvely think that God and the Bible is a match for hormones, passion, want, and desire. As most of us can testify, God and the Bible rarely win.

I do not know if taking this approach would have led to people like Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber choosing a different path. Sometimes, people want what they want, and all we can do is sit on the sidelines, shovel in hand, waiting for them to crash.  When they crash, we can only hope they have not hurt others or so marred their life that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put their life back together again.

[Editorial Note: This article is written from the premise that the Bible is not the authoritative last word for faith and practice. If you are not one of those readers, please be understanding of the intended audience and refrain from commenting on whether the Bible should be taken as such. Please show some respect for the writer and others of their faith or own belief/nonbelief by discussing the topic, rather than questioning whether the topic is one that even should be discussed or attacking the author. We try to be supportive of everyone coming out of abusive theology and Religious Trauma Syndrome. For more info on the site please visit – Is NLQ an Atheist Website?]

Comments open below

Read everything by Bruce Gerencser!

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Bruce Gerencser blogs at The Way Forward.

Bruce Gerencser spent 25 years pastoring Independent Fundamental Baptist, Southern Baptist, and Christian Union churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. Bruce attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. He is a writer and operates The Way Forward blog. Bruce lives in NW Ohio with his wife of 35 years. They have 6 children, and nine grandchildren.

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce

 


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  • Trollface McGee

    The all or nothing thinking and the idea that all sins are the same, as well as the emphasis on obedience and sheltering that you’ve described so well, all contribute to potential disaster. Rebellion and experimentation are normal developmental behaviours for teens and young adults. Parents need to prepare them, give them guidance, provide decent mitigation and let them make mistakes within reason(a teen getting drunk and having a hangover isn’t the end of the world, a teen drinking and driving could be lethal).
    The fundamentalist culture takes all that away. Instead of trying to understand human development and their children’s feelings they are stuck to their idea of how things should be, and refuse to budge from their position. It isn’t effective and pretending that it is doesn’t make it any more effective.

  • Nea

    I think that the “all sins are the same” lack of perspective needs to be called out, loudly and often, as one of the major causes of the crashes and burns. If you’re going to be taught that ANY deviation from The Rules will send you to hell, there’s no perspective. Nothing to put on the brakes at all – you might as well be as bad as you can be because that first step off the path means it’s already too late.

    The rest of the world has a flexibility that may be confusing, but at least has shades of culpability – this thing is only a little naughty; that thing is beyond the pale. Confusing? Yes. But it also gives a chance to stop before things go too far.

  • Nightshade

    I’ve come to feel that the all or nothing thing is one of the biggest problems for kids growing up in the fundie world. There is no margin for error, no room to make mistakes and learn. Noticing that the woman next door is attractive is considered as much of a sin as actually cheating on one’s spouse…a less than charitable thought is equivalent to murder…even the smallest screwup will land you in hell. Is it any wonder that many kids think there’s no use, that if perfection isn’t possible they might as well go all out. That same thinking affects parents, particularly mothers-don’t mothers get blamed for everything? 😛 If a mother accepts anything less than instant, oh-so-cheerful obedience then she failing the child and preparing him/her for eternal damnation. Husbands and wives, church members, whatever, it’s either do what their god wants, which usually ends up being whatever dad/pastor/other authority figure thinks it is, or go to hell. No middle ground, no other option.

  • Trollface McGee

    Yes, exactly. There is a huge area between stealing a candy bar and embezzling millions of dollars. Well, if you subscribe to the fundie view – stealing a candy bar is equivalent to mass genocide. And there is only one punishment(that is immoral in itself) that is applied for everything – and you can get out of it if you “repent” even if it’s something like mass genocide. It is completely illogical and immoral.

  • Astrin Ymris

    I’ve read that adolescents taught to have sex responsibly become sexually active later than those subjected to abstinence-only sex education.

    BTW, has anyone followed the Jared Padalecki/Justin Bieber Twitter War story? ‘Supernatural’ had better-than-expected ratings on the night the “BeLiebers” called a boycott on account to JPad’s dissing the Bieber.

  • SAO

    I think it’s because there’s a holier-than-thou effect in many more fundamentalist Christian groups. If you decide to wait until marriage to have sex, there’s someone out there saying no kissing before the ceremony; if you do that, there’s someone saying no hand holding; if you do that then no unchaperoned contact, etc. No matter what the standard they choose, there’s someone saying they (or their marriage, or their life) is not really Godly enough.

    At some point, people realize they’ll never be Godly enough for the judgmental. But then, they haven’t learned how to think about what’s right for them. They haven’t developed their own set of ethics. And they ditching the people constantly picking on every minor slip from imagined perfection, they might not recognize who has good values and who doesn’t.

    Having the money to gratify every whim, a horde of sycophantic hangers-on, and a crowd of people looking to make millions off of them doesn’t help. But this crowd will be positive (until the star screws up too badly). I’m sure Miley Cyrus had a huge number of people close to her telling her every appalled tweet about her grotesque performance was free publicity and really great.

  • Nea

    Of course she has; she’s said as much to other women performers who are trying to warn her. And right now she does have all the attention she could ever want. She’s too young to realize that’s going to stop, soon, and I don’t think she’s going to know how to recover then.

    In Miley’s case, her father seems to be egging her on. I cannot imagine why; he’s also a performer and knows how fame comes and goes. I’m not saying he should “cover” her or anything patriarchal, but why is he not giving her the perspective, one performer to another, that she might listen to?

  • Nightshade

    Yep. Let’s see, Supernatural on one side with Jared, Jensen, Mark, Misha…Justin Beiber on the other…how could Supernatural NOT win that one?

  • quietglow

    Ok, so call him:

    “He is, in every way, a self-absorbed shit concerned only with himself.”

    And then say:

    “I use the word fall from the perspective of the Christan. I don’t think
    Perry, or anyone else for that matter, is fallen. Bad choices=bad
    consequences.”

    Mixed messages, much?

  • Astrin Ymris

    ;-D

    Misha Collins tongue-and-cheek claims to be a devout “BeLieber” were hilarious, though.

  • “Raised with the thinking that the Bible and its anachronistic rules, is the moral standard by which they are to live, many young Christians are ill-prepared to face the real world of gray, situational ethics,and amorality.”

    And –

    “Yes, we need to teach our children morals and ethics, but at the same time we need to teach them how to critically make responsible decisions.”

    Yup.

    If that were all it was, though, I think most Evangelical kids would be okay. I think the real issue is that in addition to “just say no,” the kids are taught about every worst case scenario that will happen if they say “yes” as if it inevitably will be that way for them. For example –

    “Instead of “no sex before marriage” young adults need to be taught how to responsibly have sex.”

    My only point of disagreement is that “no sex before marriage” is actually an option. Now, I don’t think it’s a good option necessarily, but people have free will and if that’s what they want to prioritize, fine.

    I wrote about this at length on my blog not TOO too long ago, but as it relates to what Bruce said above, kids are told a ton of lies about sex and what will happen if you have sex before marriage. Supposedly, every woman who has sex before marriage has horrible self-esteem, her partner doesn’t respect her, they don’t REALLY love each other because their relationship is all about sex, and they’ll never get married because a woman needs to withhold sex in order to properly motivate a man to marry her. Well, all kids have to do is look around at the real world and see that there are plenty of loving couples with great relationships who live together (and have sex) before building long-lasting, happy marriages. With what the kids have been taught, these couples shouldn’t exist.

    So our hypothetical reasonable kid (who may or may not resemble me) says to themselves, “How much of what I have been taught is a lie? How do I know what the truth actually is?” And then upon finding that no one will talk to them about it, they conclude, “Well, I guess I better go figure this out for myself.”

    TL / DR: It’s not only the “just say no” oversimplification of everything that drives kids away. It’s the outright lies; as soon as kids figure out they’re being lied to, the entire value system under which they’ve been raised has NO credibility anymore. So they discard it, reasonably enough, and instead are left with no value system and no guidance for navigating the adult world.

  • Mel

    I grew up in a liberal Catholic parish with what I thought was a normal view of sin – there are lots of different sins with a wide variety of culpability. In short, you should go to Mass every Sunday – but skipping to go to a party is pretty minor in the whole range of things. Having consensual sex outside of marriage – bad, but lots of people do it and treating your partner respectfully matters. Stealing things is bad, but especially bad if you are taking something you don’t need from someone who badly needs it. Murder is really bad.

    Imagine my shock and massive confusion when a college classmate from a fundamental Christian sect informed me that all sin is equally bad. Quote: “A white lie is as bad as killing people.”
    I followed up by asking “So people who lied to hide people during the Holocaust are committing a sin?”
    Reply “Yes, lying is a sin.”
    Me “And that alleged sin is EXACTLY THE SAME as the people who planned and executed the murders?”
    His reply “Yes.”
    My reply “That’s absolutely crazy. Bat-shit crazy, dude.”

  • Mel

    The part I don’t understand is the obsession with correct thought. I remember vividly when I was about 9 and a priest preached on the fact that sins are actions, not thoughts. You can think whatever you want, but it’s the actions that matter. You can be furious, wish that someone dropped dead, all of that is totally legitimate. What you can’t do is do something to hurt that person on purpose.

    I was so relieved. The freedom to think has made acting in a charitable and loving matter so much easier.

  • Mel

    Piggybacking on that idea, parents can give great advice without being patriarchal. Transitioning from a teenage, vaguely asexual, pop star to an adult woman performer is fraught with problems. I wish for her and other tweenie stars that they receive lots of guidance from adults who have been through the process AND do not want to profit off of them.

  • Guest

    I enjoyed this post, Bruce, especially these quotes:

    – “While I will readily admit that the Bible provides some moral guidance
    that would serve all of us well, it is not enough to trust God, trust
    his Word, and hope for the best. Young adults need to be taught how to
    cope with a world that will devour them and spit them out later on the
    side of the road. Young adults need to be taught the difference between
    want and need, and that just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

    I think the New Testament and the book of Proverbs are full of very good advice and truths about human nature and how to live a life of love and compassion. But I agree that we have to teach our children to deal with the reality of the world we live in.

    – “Christian morality is often taught as a code of “thou shalt nots.”
    Christian young adults enter a world that does not recognize the
    Christian morality code. Once they wander outside the safe confines of
    the church and the Christian home, they find want, pleasure, and desire
    are the gods of the Trinity. In this environment, “thou shalt not” can not compete.”

    – “Yes, we need to teach our children morals and ethics, but at the same
    time we need to teach them how to critically make responsible decisions.
    When confronted with the pleasures of the world, and believe me, the
    world is pleasurable, the young adult needs to know how to navigate a
    world that offers them everything.”

    – “Preaching, quoting Bible verses, and threatening judgment from God
    rarely works against the passions and desires of the mind. Young adults
    need to be taught critical thinking skills and they need to understand
    how to determine risk. They may still make bad choices, but it will not
    be because they didn’t know what they were getting themselves in to.”

    A friend likes to say about a preacher we know that he’s “too spiritually minded to be of any earthly use”. And I agree. Knowing your Bible in and out and knowing what is considered right or wrong (according to your pastor or parents) isn’t enough.

    I disagree on the impossibility of no sex before marriage. It’s possible, and I think it’s good advice. But I prefer to highlight the aspects of responsibility, maturity, and the possibility of becoming a parent instead of making it all about morality and purity.

    All too often, the main emphasis in Evangelical parenting is obedience-disobedience, instead of teaching how to make decisions. Parents are taught to punish their children instead of letting them deal with the natural consequences of their actions.

  • Trollface McGee

    Yeah, I don’t get the logic of that at all – it seems like an excuse to do whatever you want – if all sins are the same, and we all sin, then we’re not really culpable no matter how heinous our actions, as long as we repent. It’s completely illogical and immoral.

  • Nightshade

    Even when I was neck-deep in fundie thinking I never could entirely accept the idea that if you thought it you might as well do the deed…in the sense that I believed what I was told, that the thought would land you in hell for being a sin, yes, but the deed would be more like an additional sin added on. The thought itself being a sin of its own is nonsense of course, I see that now, but even then I saw the two as separate things. Oh, the mental gymnastics we go through to preserve our points of view!

  • Nea

    Certainly that’s what the apologists say every time a minister gets caught committing felonies. We’re all sinners and sin is all the same and he repents… so somehow it’s no harm, no foul, and if I ever speeded on the highway I’m just as sinful as a felon.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    It’s quite possible to be responsible and mature enough to have sex if you are not married and quite possible to not be responsible and mature enough to have sex if you are. And becoming a parent is fairly easy to avoid. We have the technology.

  • Guest

    You’re right about marriage not making people mature and responsible. But I think that when two people enter a committed, monogamous relationship they are already showing signs of maturity and responsibility.

    I do think that sex belongs in a committed, monogamous relationship. I’m old-fashioned like that.

    I know of women who got pregnant while using contraception. It happens, and teens should know about that.

  • Nightshade

    ‘You’re right about marriage not making people mature and responsible.’ Yep, that’s one strike against the ‘get ’em married as soon as they can reproduce’ philosophy I’ve seen promoted so much lately from certain QF/P folks.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    But I think that when two people enter a committed, monogamous relationship they are already showing signs of maturity and responsibility.

    Would that that were only true. But in conservative cultures where marriage and, in particular, young marriage (I’m not even talking about horribly young teen marriage, just run-of-the-mill) is held up as ideal, it seems like a lot of young people mistakenly think that getting married is all they have to do to grow up. I’ve known many people from such cultures (some still married, some not) who honestly seem very immature. They’d achieved the ultimate end goal of being half of a married couple and so there was no more impetus to actually become mature and responsible. They have the trappings of adulthood, no reason to try to gain any of the wisdom to go with it. When I was younger, I believed that people must reach some kind of magic threshold of responsibility and maturity at the time of marriage. Then I met more and more married people who basically act like teenagers who never grew up and realized that all getting married requires is a piece of paper, which is not hard to attain.

    And I should also point out that committed, monogamous relationship=/=marriage. (Because not all such relationships are marriages and not all marriages are monogamous!) Although, frankly,I don’t think that that is a requirement for sex either. Sex practiced safely is highly unlikely to result in unwanted pregnancy (and is just as likely to do so when the people are married as when they aren’t). My opinion? People can do what they want but I happen to think that establishing that there is a sexual connection that can sustain your relationship for the rest of your lives before you’re married is the responsible thing to do. It fits into the general principle of “the more you know about the person you’re tying yourself to for life–hopefully, at least–the better.” Especially if you are going to be bringing children into your relationship. Sexual incompatibility messed up a lot of marriages. It would mess up far fewer of them if it were discovered before people say “I do.”

  • Aimee Shulman

    You should’ve followed that up with “So, when the Hebrew midwives lied to Pharaoh to save the lives of the babies they’d been commanded to kill, was God commending SIN when he “rewarded the midwives with families of their own”? Or when Rahab lied to the guards to save the lives of the Hebrew spies in Jericho, and was then rewarded by joining Israel and becoming an ancestor of Jesus, was that also God commending sin? Those passages are why I have never had patience with numbskulls who insist that lying is ALWAYS bad.

  • gimpi1

    It’s the “Reefer Madness” scenario. Lie and tell people something is terrible, then when they found out it’s not as bad as you claimed, everything else you said is now called into question. Tell people Marijuana is as bad as Heroin, and when they find out it’s not, everything you said about Cocaine or Meth is suddenly questionable.

    Tell kids sex outside of marriage is always a disaster and when they see that it’s not, they will assume everything else you said, regarding STD’s or unwanted pregnancies or damage to relationships is also wrong.

  • Jewel

    Exactly. And the idea that a heinous murderer, rapist, whatever can make a “death bed” conversion and go to Heaven is absolutely ludicrous. And that God loves him as much as He loves the innocent little child he raped and murdered. I can’t see that.

  • Jewel

    Yes, and I think a lot of kids growing up in evangelical churches are told if they walk the aisle at church and say a sinner’s prayer, all their sins are paid for and they can basically live their lives any way they want to after that. It may not be stated exactly like that, but that is the message given.