( Below is a Breakpoint radio commentary from a few days ago. If you rather you can listen to the audio.)
Chuck Colson warned a successful young Christian artist years ago about the dangers of celebrity. How right he was. I’ll explain, next on BreakPoint.
One of the first times Americans over the age of twelve saw Miley Cyrus on television was an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show. During the Q&A, the 14-year-old
Cyrus told Winfrey that her favorite Bible verse was Ephesians 6:10-11: “Finally, my brothers, come close to the Lord for if you put on the full armor of God you can stand against the wiles of the devil.”
Well, given her more recent television appearances, especially at the recent Video Music Awards, ironic doesn’t begin to describe her choice of that scripture.
What has gone unnoticed in the many incidents since her VMA “performance” is that Cyrus is only the latest example of a very sad trend: pop stars who grew up in solid Christian homes and then, having achieved “stardom,” became at least as well known for their transgressions as for their music.
As Wikipedia relates, before telling the world that she kissed a girl and liked it, Katy Perry attended Christian schools and camps and participated in her parents’ ministry. Justin Bieber is now better known for antics like making obscene gestures at one photographer and threatening to beat the expletive out of another, than he is for his professed Christian faith.
And before giving birth to two children out of wedlock, Jessica Simpson was celebrated on her reality television series for saving herself for marriage.
While it’s presumptuous to speculate on any of these folks’ relationship with God, it isn’t unreasonable to suggest that their stories illustrate the difficulty of reconciling celebrity status with Christian virtue.
This is especially true in the world of pop music, and even more true when we’re talking about people who became celebrities when they weren’t even old enough to legally sign a contract.
Someone who understands this all too well is Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley’s dad. Five years ago, he believed his family’s Christian faith would protect them from the temptations of celebrity. Well, it didn’t turn out that way. And so in 2011, he told GQ magazine that he deeply regrets the decision to let his daughter became a child celebrity. He says that the decision “destroyed [his] family,” and if he could, he’d “take it back in a second.”
Well sadly, he can’t. But his honesty can serve as a warning to other Christian parents whose children dream of being celebrities. You may think you’re the exception and that somehow being a celebrity will “glorify” God.
Don’t fool yourself. It could hardly be otherwise. What Jesus said about the dangers of wealth is just as true about celebrity in our postmodern age, and for most of the same reasons: It distorts our sense of self, both in relationship to others and to God.
And that’s before we take into account the hyper-sexualized nature of most of pop culture.
So the best advice I can give Christian parents is, to paraphrase Willie Nelson, “mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be pop stars.”
Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t encourage their interest in creative endeavors such as music, theater, and the visual arts. Quite the contrary. As Eric Metaxas and I have said many times on BreakPoint, we need more Christians in all these fields, pointing people to Truth and beauty through their work. But there’s a world of difference between being a celebrity and being an artist. The celebrity draws attention to himself, the artist to his work.
The celebrity thinks success is being famous. The artist knows success is being faithful. The celebrity chooses style over substance. The artist knows looking good is never as important as being good.
While artists can glorify God, celebrities, almost by definition, probably won’t. Because more often than not, there’s only room for one star in their firmament.