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Jun15FriIn this age of celebrity, does the public profession of faith by famous people help the Christian witness? June 15, 2012 by Major Kathie Chiu and Clint Houlbrook
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YES. Christian celebrities are a great public witness and they also encourage other believers to share their faith.
BY MAJOR KATHIE CHIU
We live in the age of celebrity. Our society is obsessed with the lives of actors, musicians, sports figures and other famous people. Beyond appreciating their athletic or artistic skills, we seem fixated on other aspects of their lives as well. And when they speak about politics or specific causes and charities, we listen to their points of view. We care about what they believe in.
The list of celebrities and sports figures who openly profess their faith is a long one. Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin are two that come to mind right away. Then there's Tyler Perry, Denzel Washington and Kristin Chenoweth. Even Martin Sheen and Mel Gibson make the list. And let's not forget Kirk Cameron and his very public Christian faith. The actor, well known for Left Behind, Fireproof and now a new documentary he produced and starred in, Monumental, recently found himself in a firestorm of controversy over his views on gay marriage.
Whatever these celebrities talk about, we're interested. Is it a good thing, however, when these celebrities proclaim their faith so publicly? Does it help the cause of Christianity? Or does it harm the faith of believers when they slip up?
Celebrities who proclaim their faith publicly are good role models. They demonstrate that they are not afraid to claim Christ as their Saviour. Paul Blackman, a young father of three from Vancouver who attends Cariboo Hill Temple in Burnaby, B.C., says of David Booth of the Vancouver Canucks and Tim Tebow of the New York Jets, “I feel that these athletes can have a positive impact on others. They don't hide their faith. They share it with their teammates and the media. I like and respect that, as I find it hard to share with my own co-workers.”
It can be challenging to share our faith in a society that is becoming increasingly secular. Today, we're faced with a generation that distrusts organized religion and some think that we can gain courage to speak up when we hear public figures proclaim their faith.
“In our culture we need positive role models for our young people and strong leaders that have strong faith and who practise that faith. It's a blessing that we can see these 'stars' praising Jesus in the public arena,” says Amy Wallace, who works for The Salvation Army in London, Ont.
However, does the public testimony of these celebrities actually encourage people to come to faith in Jesus? Grace Barnhart, a photographer, musician and music teacher who attends Niagara Orchard Community Church in Niagara Falls, Ont., thinks so. “It's beneficial for celebrities to openly identify themselves as Christians because it makes the Christian faith more accessible to non-believers. It has the potential to encourage non-believers to research Christianity, educate themselves on our faith and come to know Jesus.”
But what happens when these celebrities and athletes slip up and make very public mistakes? Who can forget Mel Gibson's drunken rant a few years ago? Barnhart thinks this provides us with the opportunity to dialogue with others that “Christians make mistakes and sin just like everyone else and that no Christian claims to be perfect.”
Finally, I know that when I hear someone in the media spotlight thank God and share their faith, I feel inspired. When I hear a celebrity or sports figure give their testimony, I am encouraged and remember that I am not alone in the fight. It takes boldness to share your faith. When celebrities identify themselves as Christians, it takes a lot of courage, for they have a lot to lose in the worldly sense. Many of us have nothing to lose and everything to gain. As the Apostle Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
Major Kathie Chiu is the executive director of the Centre of Hope in London, Ont.
NO. Highlighting Christian celebrities puts the focus on them and not on Christ. And when they fail, they give Christianity a poor image.
BY CLINT HOULBROOK
Hey, did you hear the one about the Christian teenage actress and musician superstar? She celebrated her 18th birthday by getting high on drugs.
Unfortunately, this isn't a joke. In fact, in today's pop-culture driven society, you could insert the name of any number of famous Christian musicians, movie stars and professional athletes and switch the moral failure to include everything from semi-naked photo shoots, infidelity, alcohol and drug abuse, drunk driving, eating disorders, self-harm, anti-Semitic outbursts and more.
Given the reality of human nature and the inevitability of a moral meltdown episode, I'm not sure why many in the Church continue to hold up these celebrity Christians or look to them in efforts to evangelize non-Christians. Let me outline some of the problems I see.
Pop-culture celebrities make pop-culture Christians. A big problem with this is that their faith and praxis are often only as deep as the ink in their latest Jesus tattoo. I'm not convinced that's the picture of Christian faith we want to disciple others to follow.
Celebrities get held up as the poster children for what it means to believe in and follow Jesus. Unfortunately, though their PR manager and airbrushed magazine image would have us believe they are perfect, they are still human and, as such, suffer the consequences of the Fall and will never measure up. This is exacerbated by the fact that their entire worldview is warped by fame and their existence is highly self-centred and driven by excessive wealth and an attitude that there is little they can't buy.
When celebrities sin, it has a wider impact. Because we live in a celebrity-obsessed culture, their every move is watched and broadcast to the world. While the sins we commit will generally only affect and be known by a few people, their transgressions are beamed out to millions of viewers and God's name gets tarnished. Unlike them, God doesn't have a PR firm at his disposal to spin the story and manage his image.
When a professional athlete or movie star is shown to be a hypocrite, the public responds wrongly by thinking, “They're a fake, so God must be, too.” Obviously this is incorrect, but who's saying otherwise in the media? When that star checks into rehab, then millions of fans worldwide think, “If that's what Christians are like, I don't want anything to do with their God.” When that music sensation gets busted cheating on their spouse, Facebook feeds are filled with status updates and comments that ridicule the name of Christ and Christianity.
Public discourse in the news after their incident tends to emphasize rules and what Christians should and shouldn't do. The problem with this is that the public's perception continues to be that Christianity is a list of rules to follow instead of understanding Christ's sacrifice and grace.
Using celebrities and their beliefs doesn't make sense as a strategy for evangelism in our postmodern culture. The reason for this is because one of the characteristics of the postmodern culture is that truth is subjective—there are no absolute truths. So, when you point to the celebrity and her belief in God, the non-believer responds with, “That's good for Suzy, and it might be true for her, but I don't believe it's true.”
There's a saying, “What you've won them with is the faith you've won them to.” We should be winning non-believers with Jesus, not celebrities. His example is the one we should be holding up and pointing to because pop-culture Christianity is shallow and preaches a false gospel.
We seem to have forgotten (or at least we act like it) that celebrities don't draw people to God. He draws them to himself (see John 6:44, 65; John 12:32; Jeremiah 31:3). This reality should drive us to pray for our non-believing friends and neighbours instead of looking for ways to play the fame game.
As the Church, it's our God-given responsibility to teach and model individually and corporately what it looks like to hold up and worship Christ, not Christian celebrities.
Clint Houlbrook is youth consultant and SendTheFire.ca point person for the THQ youth department.