The Appealing Faith of Justin Bieber: A Q&A with Belieber! author Cathleen Falsani

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?

I think the "haters," as Justin calls them, are a function of his celebrity and backlash against that, rather than anything related to his faith. We as a culture love to build up our "heroes" and then take great glee in knocking them down, only to cheer them on when they climb back onto their pedestals (of our creation) where the cycle repeats. Justin gets knocked for his fashion choices, his music, his athletic ability (which is impressive, by the way), his love life (poor Selena Gomez bears the brunt of his fans' more dysfunctional ardor and jealousy), and anything he says about his faith.

But that's not the reason why some folks dislike him. It's just an outgrowth of their obsession with mocking him because he's famous. I think Justin earns more admirers than he gains haters when he speaks publicly about things of faith. I've even heard from more than a few former-unBeliebers who were persuaded to take a second and deeper look at Justin as a person after hearing his statements about his faith. So sometimes I think his openness about hisspiritual life works quite in his favor, particularly for those folks who could care less about his music.

Justin doesn't exactly wear his faith on his sleeve, but he is open about it. How would you describe his faith life and his theological understanding of Christianity? How do you see him serving as a role model to young teens, both those who are Christians and even those who are not?

I'm not one for labels—and neither is Justin—but if pressed to define him in that way, I'd say he fits pretty squarely inside the evangelical Christian community. The church in Stratford, Ontario where he was brought up is a nondenominational, charismatic congregation, one deeply committed to prayer and worship. His mother is a prayer warrior (i.e. an intercessor) and Justin has an abiding faith in the power of prayer. He often asks his fans to pray for different things, and, as was demonstrated in his film (Never Say Never), he prays in community with his mother and road "family" before every concert.

Justin is both a shaper and reflection of his generation's spiritual predilections. Most recently, in the interview with V Magazine published last week, Justin said he's not "religious," but rather "spiritual." This is typical (according to various studies) of the Millennial generation, whose members are much more relational in terms of how they define themselves along faith lines. Justin is very clear that he is a Christian, believes that Jesus died on the cross for his (and all of our) sins, and that he has a "personal relationship" with Christ. He also seems, clearly to me, compelled to share his faith with others and does so in myriad ways, including his myriad charitable endeavors (both those that are public, and those that are not.)

A Wheaton College (Illinois, not Massachusetts) student who is a fan of Justin's told me last year that Justin was more influential in the lives of millions of young people around the globe than any pastor or clergyperson. I think he's right. That makes some of us uncomfortable and we tut-tut about it, but it's true. And I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing if you look at the message (in word and deed) that Justin is putting out there to his fans. He speaks about faith boldly, humbly, and with great love. He has, in a sense, given permission for other young people (in and out of the spotlight) to talk about faith as well. Another fan told me that Justin has made it "cool" to be a believer.

1/27/2012 5:00:00 AM
  • Progressive Christian
  • Rethinking Youth Ministry
  • Justin Bieber
  • YouTube
  • Christianity
  • Brian Kirk
    About Brian Kirk
    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