Justin Bieber has spent quite a bit of time hanging out with the people behind Hillsong, a church that started in Australia but has now franchised itself all over the world. So what’s this place all about? There are questions, you know. Is this a legit church? Could it be the new Scientology? GQ takes a look.
What if I told you I had a Justin Bieber story that would break your heart? Or at the very least, put an asterisk on what you think of him? No, listen: About five years ago, Pastor Carl got a phone call. Carl is one of the lead pastors at Hillsong NYC, a mega-church so reputedly, mystifyingly cool that cable-news outlets cover its services like they’re Kardashian birthday bashes at 1 Oak. On the other end of the line was one of Carl’s best friends, Judah Smith, another mega-pastor who also happens to be the chaplain for the Seattle Seahawks. “I need you to help me with a young man,” Pastor Judah said, and Pastor Carl rushed to agree, because helping is Carl’s thing, and the young man was, yes, Justin Bieber.
In general, people are critical of Justin Bieber for his many alleged human-rights abuses—I heard he once used a wheelchair to cut in line at Disneyland—and this upsets Pastor Carl, because Justin “lives his life on Front Street,” which is a southern way of saying that we can see all that he does, while we get to conduct our sins in relative anonymity. But no Christian, no person, could live under the scrutiny that Justin faces, says Pastor Carl. “This boy is 21. He’s in a horribly toxic world. He is trying to do his best to figure this out. He has never been anybody but who he has professed to be, which is a work in progress.”
Last year, Justin moved in with Carl and his family for a month and a half, and they worked through stuff. During that time, Carl says, he saw tabloid reports about horrible things Justin was supposedly doing, when meanwhile Justin had been sitting there in his kitchen the whole time.
It is helpful to think of Justin Bieber here, at this point in his life, as a biblical character at the very bottom of a Jobian well of his own making. He had been caught being monstrous to just about everyone around him. He seemed to be spending more time with drugs than with Jesus. His music was bad. There was a petition circulating online to deport him back to Canada. I may have signed it. But one day, according to Carl, Justin looked in the mirror and he was ravaged by feelings of loss. He got on his knees and he cried. “I want to know Jesus,” Justin Bieber sobbed to Pastor Carl. And so together they prayed. Suddenly, Justin was overcome by the Gospel, and he said, “Baptize me.” And Pastor Carl said, “Yes, buckaroo”—he really does call Bieber buckaroo, and now you should, too—“let’s do this. Let’s schedule a time.” But Justin Bieber couldn’t be Justin Bieber for one minute longer. “No, I want to do it now.” And Pastor Carl saw salvation in Justin’s eyes, and knew that his baptism couldn’t come quickly enough.
You’ll want to keep reading.