Does it matter what pop stars pray for?
I admit that I’ve been known to sing along at the top of my lungs to Katy Perry’s recitation of drunken exploits, “Last Friday Night,” and to the teeny-bopping love song that is Justin Bieber’s “Baby.” These artists can clearly produce a catchy pop tune and are among the world’s most popular celebrities. (Justin Bieber is second only to Lady Gaga in Twitter followers, and Katy Perry ranks a close fourth, just behind President Obama.) Their every moves are followed, worshipped, and imitated – so what happens (and does it matter?) when celebrities talk about faith?
Belieber: Fame, Faith & the Heart of Justin Bieber is due out September 27. With an obligatory eye roll at the title, my first thought was, why should I care about Justin Bieber’s faith journey? As long as he continues to make the occasional pop song for me to enjoy (even if I’m too embarrassed to play his music on my iPod on the train for fear that casual observers will label me a “Belieber”), I am certainly content in blissful ignorance of any other aspect of his personal life.
The book is intended as “an exploration of the busy intersection of spirituality and pop culture,” with the hope that faith leaders can gain a greater understanding of how to speak to today’s youth. However, as Katy Perry has recently found out, this so-called busy intersection is not always a place for peaceful discussion.
Perry, who has just tied Michael Jackson’s record of producing five number one hits from a single album, came under fire for a comment she made on Twitter that she was praying for Israel. A young fan from Israel asked Perry via Twitter to pray with Israel after a bout of violence. She responded:
I am! My prayers are for you guys tonight, SHALOM!!! RT @luvmikapenniman: @katyperry #prayforisrael please pray with us
While fans in Israel voiced their appreciation for Perry’s prayers, many people slammed the pop star, calling her ignorant, insane, and heartless (among other less-pleasant names), viewing her tweet as an endorsement of Israel and all of its policies and actions. Later that same day, in response to all the hate, she attempted to clarify her original tweet:
a kid asked me to pray for him & I did. I don't support ANY side of violence in ANY place for ANY reason #peaceinthemiddleeast #sheneutral!
This update still didn’t placate a lot of followers, who continued to heap death wishes upon the celeb.
There are definitely positive benefits for us “common folk” that can stem from conversations about faith with celebrities. (See a recent U.S. Catholic interview with travel guru Rick Steves.) But there is a difference between discussing how faith impacts the life of Rick Steves or Justin Bieber and attacking Katy Perry for appearing to take a political stance in a personal prayer that she publicized to the world.
Does it matter who or what Katy Perry is praying for? She’s a pop singer, not the figurehead of a religious institution. (By the way, the pope is praying for teachers this month.) We are already able to follow celebrities’ every move, meal, and purchase. Should we be privy to their prayers, as well?