By Brett Younger
When Justin Bieber was arrested in January for drinking, driving and drag racing it was front-page news and a goldmine for late-night comics.
Jay Leno opened with an announcement from President Obama: “America’s number one domestic terrorist was arrested today …. We don’t have to live in fear anymore.” Jimmy Fallon thought Jaybee’s rented Lamborghini was “surprising when you hear that the only race car he had been in before that was his bed.” David Letterman’s “Top 10 Justin Bieber Headlines We’re Likely to Read” included “Jury enters third day of belieberations,” “Bieber, Kardashian married” and “Bieber, Kardashian finalize divorce.” Jimmy Kimmel went with, “Just when the streets are finally safe from Lindsay Lohan, Justin Bieber comes out of nowhere.”
According to the New York Post, on Feb. 1 Bieber looked for a private pool to conduct a baptism, but could not find an appropriate place. Bieber has attended worship at Hillsong Church in Manhattan. After a service in September, he tweeted about Pastor Carl Lentz: “Amazing sermon at church this morning. Love you man. I broke down today.”
One source said, “Justin is serious about his Christian faith, and after recent events, he needed to take a pause.” My 18-year-old niece Paityn — who once labeled this “The Bieber Decade” — points out that the young Canadian sings a song titled, “Pray.”
We should not be surprised that the media has not made a big deal of the Teenage Dream’s attempted baptism, but you might guess the church would have a different reaction. In response to the news that the world’s most famous teenager wanted to be baptized, Christian leaders have said … well, have you heard anything? Are any churches having conversations about how wonderful it is that God is at work in Justin’s life?
The church’s reluctance to celebrate the Biebs’ decision is understandable. J-Beebs does not seem like the kid you ask to preach on Youth Sunday. Raids of his tour buses have turned up a stun gun, narcotics and marijuana. He allegedly slugged a limo driver and egged his neighbors’ house. (Leave it to Beiber.) “Baby” and “One Less Lonely Girl” are not Sunday morning songs.
Laughing at Bieberlicious along with everybody else is easy, but how cynical do we want to be? Shouldn’t the church set aside our suspicion and consider the possibility that this is not a publicity stunt? Could JB be genuinely reflecting on what faith in Christ means? We are supposed to be the ones who believe in baptism, repentance and God giving drag-racing pop singers second chances. If Justin had called St. Peter from the Miami Beach police station and asked what to do next, wouldn’t the Apostle say, “Repent and be baptized”?
Do we believe that God turns around egg-throwing 19-year-olds? Can we imagine that God helps rich kids who drive under the influence? Should Biebtacular be on our prayer lists? Has anyone offered the Biebernator the use of their baptistery? Has any church put a sign out front, “Come on in, JBiebs, the water’s fine”?
Beibs Baby could do the church a lot of good, but that is not the point. God means for the church to be a refuge to which anyone can go for comfort — drinkers, smokers, musicians and drag racers. Christianity has a lot to say about righteousness, but morality is not the theme. The primary hope of the Christian faith is not that we will stop egging houses or driving too fast, but that we will recognize how God loves us all in spite of our foolish ways. Maybe we should set aside our skepticism and belieb it.