Justin Bieber has finally addressed the scandal that engulfed the church he once famously attended, without directly naming the church, international Hillsong megachurch, or its disgraced pastor Carl Lentz whom the singer once considered to be his “second father.”
In a lengthy new interview with GQ, Bieber said he’s unfortunately become familiar with how faith, in its various institutional forms, can “morph into just another kind of celebrity worship.”
“I think so many pastors put themselves on this pedestal,” Bieber told GQ, not directly naming Lentz, who was fired from Hillsong in November 2020 for “moral failures” and “breaches of trust.”
Bieber, 27, continued: “And it’s basically, church can be surrounded around the man, the pastor, the guy, and it’s like, ‘This guy has this ultimate relationship with God that we all want but we can’t get because we’re not this guy.’”
“That’s not the reality, though,” Bieber added. “The reality is, every human being has the same access to God.”
— Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) April 13, 2021
The GQ profile, “The Redemption of Justin Bieber,” focuses extensively on the importance of God and faith in Bieber’s life. The story, which comes as Bieber just released his new album, “Justice,” describes the view of people close to Bieber that his faith helped him overcome his well-known struggles with drug addiction, depression, anti-social behavior and all the other hazards of the fame that overtook his life at a young age.
The GQ profile notes that Bieber “has been around different churches” in his efforts “to work on himself” over the years. One of those churches, of course, was Hillsong, the celebrity-friendly megachurch that originated in Australia and has branches in New York City and Los Angeles.
Bieber was one of Hillsong’s most famous congregants and was said to have developed a particularly close bond with Lentz, the church’s star pastor. During Bieber’s “dark” days of drugs and public meltdowns in 2017, Lentz, known for his hipster persona, reportedly helped Bieber, guiding him as he “rededicated his life to Christ,” as the New York Times said.
Following Bieber’s reported spiritual awakening, he and Lentz were “inseparable,” with Bieber moving into Lentz’s home at one point, the New York Times reported. Gossip site stories about their friendship catapulted Lentz “into a new stratosphere of fame, in which he became not just a friend to celebrities but a celebrity himself,” the New York Times wrote.
But at some point, Bieber and Lentz reportedly had a falling out, perhaps because Lentz was displeased that Bieber got engaged to supermodel Hailey Baldwin without consulting him.
Still, Lentz was invited to the religious wedding ceremony that Bieber and Baldwin hosted at a South Carolina resort in 2019 — after the couple already officially tied the knot at a New York City courthouse the previous September. But Lentz was not asked to officiate the couple’s religious ceremony.
Fast forward to November 2020 when Lentz was fired from Hillsong, and become the topic of widespread reports about his downfall. Lentz admitted he had cheated on his wife, fellow pastor Laura Lentz, and a Brooklyn woman subsequently came forward to say that she and Lentz had been involved in a steamy affair. Lentz’s indiscretions prompted Hillsong to launch an internal investigation of its East Coast operations.
Former Hillsong members also came forward to allege that, as volunteers, they were treated like “slave labor” in what they described as an abusive, cult-like culture, the New York Post reported.
Throughout the scandal, Bieber mostly kept silent. He addressed the scandal indirectly in January 2021 when he mentioned in an Instagram Story that he was no longer a member of Hillsong.
Bieber was responding to a Page Six report that said he was studying to be a “full-fledged” minister at Hillsong, perhaps with the idea of replacing the disgraced Lentz as the church’s charismatic leader.
Bieber dismissed the report as “fake news” and said Hillsong was “not (his) church.”
He said, “For clarity I am now part of Churchome,” which is another megachurch with a celebrity following that reportedly includes Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife, Ciara.
The GQ profile also addresses Bieber’s connection to Churchome and its pastor Judah Smith, with Bieber himself explaining why Smith and his wife Chelsea Smith have become inspirations to him. The Churchome website said that Smith is “known for his fresh, anointed, humorous messages that demystify the Bible and make Christianity real.”
When Bieber finally began to emerge from his bad years and to seek guidance, Smith was there and, unlike so many other people he meets, the pastor never asked “him for anything,” according to GQ.
“He put our relationship first,” Bieber told GQ. Bieber also was moved by the way Smith, his wife and their three children really seemed to care for one another, and the singer realized that’s what he wanted in his own life.
“It was something I always dreamed of because my family was broken,” Bieber said. “My whole life, I had a broken family. And so I was just attracted to a family that eats dinners together, laughs together, talks together.”
— GQ Magazine (@GQMagazine) April 13, 2021
The GQ story also explains how Bieber believes he has found that “sense of belonging, of care, of stability” in his marriage to Baldwin. Everyone in Bieber’s inner circle told GQ that the model is “a strong, consistent, stabilizing force in his life.”
Even though Bieber has admitted that the first year of marriage was “really tough,” saying he had to deal with his issues of trust, he now feels hopeful that he has found that sense of family.
About his wife, Bieber said, “We’re just creating these moments for us as a couple, as a family, that we’re building these memories.”
“I didn’t have that to look forward to in my life,” Bieber told GQ. “My home life was unstable. Like, my home life was not existing. I didn’t have a significant other. I didn’t have someone to love. I didn’t have someone to pour into. But now I have that.”
Original posted at www.mercurynews.com