When the GetReligion team receives an email referencing coverage of a news story, the subject lines are generally subdued. When tmatt wrote asking, "Anyone wanna jump on this hand grenade," we all knew it would be, for want of a better phrase, a real hot tamale.
So we arrive at the young life of one Justin Drew Bieber, age 24, the pop sensation whose current mega-hit single, "Despacito," ("Slowly") would remind a listener who knew both Spanish and the Bible more of the sensual verses in the Old Testament's Song of Solomon than, say, a Keith Green worship piece.
But there's another side to the "Biebs," as he's known to millions of fans. He's a Christian, or so we're told from time to time in the media. And the latest bit of media fanfare came last week from The Daily Beast, which often seems to vie for the coveted "Least-Respectful of Faith" title in the news business.
Their religion coverage is uneven at best, downright snarky at worst. Some of it is news. Some of it is clearly biased editorializing.
This time, the website asks, "Is Justin Bieber Sabotaging His Career for Jesus?" And the text leaves little room to doubt what they're thinking:
... On Tuesday, Hollywood’s least-holy gossip site ran a story explaining that, according to sources connected to Hillsong, Bieber’s church, the singer is taking a professional step back because he has “rededicated his life to Christ.” The update continues, “Bieber’s decision seemed to come out of the blue, but our sources say it was squarely based on what Bieber believes is religious enlightenment.”
Attending more Sunday services is one thing, but opening your own franchise for the Lord is quite another. According to TMZ’s “inside source,” Bieber “may be even planning to start his own church,” which sounds like a magical place where DUIs are automatically stricken from your record and Selena Gomez is always willing to give you a second chance. Unfortunately -- shockingly! -- the entertainment blogosphere may be getting ahead of itself. Bieber has emphatically denied that his tour cancellation had anything to do with Jesus. According to TMZ, the pop star “seemed perplexed” when a paparazzi asked him if religion played a role in the decision, responding “no” repeatedly.
Hillsong, of course, is a charismatic megachurch network based in Sydney, Australia, with branches spanning the globe, including a high-profile New York City outpost.
Quoting earlier semi-news reports, the Beast notes young Justin has become quite involved with the group:
So is this celebrity church as cult-y as it sounds? For Bieber, Hillsong, which started as an Australian Pentecostal megachurch in Sydney, and its NYC leader Carl Lentz have constituted his longest continuously running relationship. A 2015 GQ article by Taffy Brodesser-Akner tells the story of Bieber’s first brush with the trendy megachurch.
According to the piece, 2014 Justin Bieber -- that’s height-of-infamy, egging-his-neighbors Justin Bieber -- moved in with Lentz and his family for a month and a half. “One day, according to Carl, Justin looked in the mirror and he was ravaged by feelings of loss. He got on his knees and he cried. ‘I want to know Jesus,’ Justin Bieber sobbed to Pastor Carl. And so together they prayed. Suddenly, Justin was overcome by the Gospel, and he said, ‘Baptize me.’ And Pastor Carl said, ‘Yes, buckaroo’ -- he really does call Bieber buckaroo, and now you should, too -- ‘let’s do this. Let’s schedule a time.’ But Justin Bieber couldn’t be Justin Bieber for one minute longer. ‘No, I want to do it now.’” The almost too-touching-to-be-true story leads to Bieber and Lentz wandering around potential baptism spots, only to find hordes of paparazzi blocking their way at each location. Like a modern-day Mary, J.B., desperate and out of options, finally found his manger: NBA player (and friend of the church) Tyson Chandler’s huge Upper West Side bathtub.
There is no doubt that Hillsong is not to everyone's taste, and it's also true that there are some rough patches in the church's past involving Frank Houston, a now-retired (and disgraced) pastor and father of Hillsong leader Brian Houston. And while it's convenient -- and titillating -- to dig up those stories, what light does it shed on Bieber's current involvement? Answer: None.
The Daily Beast isn't content to merely bother with the church's past. It also has to ladle on the Kellerism in discussing Hillsong's doctrines. Because Hillsong blends rockin' worship music with what many believe are traditional Christian doctrines, they deserve a slap:
Despite being the church of Kendall Jenner, Kevin Durant, and all of Justin Bieber’s exes, Hillsong boasts a surprisingly old-school set of ideological strictures. Beneath the veneer of young people music and hipster haircuts, Hillsong is like any other traditional Pentecostal church. It opposes embryonic stem-cell research and abortion, support the theories of creationism and “intelligent design,” and hold that homosexuality is at odds with biblical teachings. As The Daily Beast’s Brandy Zadrozny reported last year, Hillsong “has a long history of rejecting and even self-admittedly damaging its gay and lesbian members.”
Patterning its worship services to a younger demographic is merely a "veneer," you see.
Asking The Daily Beast for fairness to 2,000 years of doctrine affirmed by millions of Christians -- most of whom wouldn't know Kendall Jenner if they tripped over her -- might be asking too much.
But there may be a news story in here somewhere. Perhaps we can hope, though, that other media that go on the trail of Bieber's faith will be a tad more respectful.