By now, you’ve probably heard that Josh Duggar was one of the many Ashley Madison account holders who were outed this week. To be honest, I had not heard of Ashley Madison (which, as it turns out- is a website and company devoted entirely to helping married people have affairs) and I had no idea who Josh Duggar was until a few months ago when it was revealed that he molested his sisters as a teenager. To many, though, he is a household name as a member of the Duggar family of TLC’s cancelled 19 Kids and Counting – a show of which I must admit I have never seen an entire episode. The only reason that any of this raises my interest now is that he and his family are professing Christians who have achieved celebrity status in churches across our nation.
As I read and listen to the reaction of believers to this news, I feel compelled to offer some thoughts about the general relationship of the average, ordinary believer (from the perspective of social, not spiritual, status) to the celebrity Christian. From Tim Tebow to the Robertsons of Duck Dynasty fame to Bono, there seems to be an endless supply of famous Christians who, more often than not end up causing controversy of some kind. In no particular order, here are some thoughts that I hope you consider before jumping into your next Twitter battle over something a famous Christian did or said.
- Be wise. Remember that you don’t actually know these celebrities. Despite the seeming free and unlimited access, the image you have of these celebrity Christians has been carefully crafted for the public eye. I’m not saying they’re fakes, I’m just saying that we don’t really know them and should therefore use wisdom in how we support, promote and identify with them. Since you cannot verify their personal relationship with the Lord, be wise in how closely you identify with them. I urge you to take advantage of evangelistic opportunities that popular Christians might open up for you, but do not align so closely with them that your message becomes dependent on their faithfulness.
- Be discerning. The self-applied label of Christian does not make someone a genuine Christ-follower. Show discernment in what you buy, listen to, watch, read and talk about – even if the source claims to be Christian. Also, show discernment in regard to who or what you defend. You don’t have to defend every celebrity that claims to be a Christian. (I’m sure there are many who regret defending Josh Duggar a few months ago.)
- Be trusting. Though we should be wise and discerning, we also don’t want to become cynical. You don’t have to be skeptical of every celebrity who claims to be Christian. Though there are many imposters, there are celebrities who seem to have a genuine relationship with Christ. We should approach these celebrity Christians in the same manner that we ought to approach any believer – we hope they are genuine believers, look for fruit in their lives and trust God for their salvation and sanctification.
- Be gracious. You can’t expect perfection from a celebrity Christian (or any Christian). Most of us acknowledge that we sin in some way on a regular basis. We repent; we try harder; we expect others to understand that we just might mess up from time to time. Then we turn around and say that Shia Labeouf can’t be a Christian because he swears. The Christian life is a process of growing more like Christ and also occasionally failing. Thankfully, most of us don’t have our sins publicized.
- Be reasonable. You can appreciate the positives of a Christian celebrity without condoning the negatives. I see too many Christians unwilling to accept the fact that Christians have flaws. This leads to opposite but equally tragic extremes. One extreme is that they defend a sin in order to avoid admitting their hero is flawed. The other is that they abandon or deny their Christian brother because he sinned. We don’t have to condone Phil Robertson’s inappropriate comments nor do we quit watching his show or reading his books simply because he made a mistake. It’s ok to appreciate positives and condemn sin in the same celebrity.
- Be focused on Jesus. You don’t need a popular celebrity to represent you. As believers, we are on the side of Almighty God and we are represented by His precious and holy Son Jesus Christ. While it may be nice on occasion to see our world accept and appreciate one of us, we do not need the world’s validation.
As you consider these various celebrity Christians, remember that Satan would like nothing more than to use a professing Christian to cause harm to the name of Christ. This certainly happens when there is a public sin committed, but it also happens when we allow a celebrity to become a point of contention in the body. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the fame and success of a good Christian person, but do not get too high with their success or too low with their failures. Keep your eyes fixed always on Jesus. He should forever be our greatest Hero of the faith.