Pattie Mallette's life as a mom doesn't resemble most mothers'. For years she's been circling the globe with her superstar son, Justin Bieber, raising him as he sings to sold-out crowds. She's helped him go from a young YouTube phenom to a full-blown celebrity before age 18. Known as a sweet, soft-spoken mom, there's not much that gets Mallette riled up. Except this: celebrity-bashing Christians.
"I would love to see the church encourage, pray for, and bless, rather than kick someone when they're down, judge them, and throw rocks," Mallette said in an interview for TCW.
"So many Christians have entered the entertainment world and there are so many temptations, so many things that are setting them up for failure. When the church turns their back on them, then it's reinforcing that outcome," she said.
Mallette urges a different response: "We need to rise up as a body and say, 'Not this one. We're going to pray for this one—we're going to encourage him, we're going to cheer him on and bless him,' instead of judging him and getting so angry."
In her memoir Nowhere But Up, Mallette explains how she dedicated her son to God: "When Justin was a baby, I dedicated his life to God in a special ceremony at my church, much the same way that Hannah dedicated Samuel in the Bible . . . . That day I prayed and asked God to raise Justin up to be a leader and a voice to his generation."
It's safe to say God answered that prayer. "I thought maybe he was going to be a youth pastor or a worship leader, but God had worldwide scale in mind," she said. "I think God definitely exceeded my expectations on a level of influence, in a good way."
It's because of their influence that Mallette highlights the need to pray for celebrities. "These are the people who are influencing a generation. They're influencing your kids and your kids' kids. They're in a place of leadership and influence, so they need our love and our support." Rather than responding to a celebrity by thinking, "Wow, you're supposed to be a Christian! Why are you acting that way? Why are you doing that?" Mallette hopes Christians would say, "Wow, you're my brother. You need my prayer and you need my support. You need my love."
A countercultural call
Mallette is not the only one asking the church to be more intentionally supportive of celebrities with a Christian background. Miley Cyrus's old pastor, Dave Roberts, reportedly has received hate mail from Christians because of the star's conduct. His response? He said prayer and support would be more valuable than their critique of Cyrus, and he wants Christians to pray for her.
Likewise, popular rapper Lecrae, himself a Christian, recently spoke out in a viral Facebook post, encouraging Christians to love instead of judge: "Sometimes I think we are absolutely looking for something wrong, off, or sinful about people."
Like Lecrae, when the rest of the country cycles between worshiping and condemning stars like Bieber, Mallette insists we can do better.
As his mother, Mallette says she knows her son's shortcomings better than anyone else. Bieber knows when she disapproves of his choices, and also when she's proud of him, she says. So, if in fact Christians need a "Bieber-tude adjustment," who better to call for it than his mother who knows him the best?
A mother's journey
Mallette may have been the one who put her son's videos on YouTube—videos that launched him to fame. But she was also the reluctant mother who didn't want her son to have anything to do with the music industry at first. As a single mom, she struggled to financially provide while her son grew up, often working multiple jobs just to put food on the table. Through it all, Mallette says she's tried to show him nothing but a mother's love and support, always wanting the best for her son.
Beyond being "Justin Bieber's mom," God has given Mallette her own worldwide ministry. With close to three million Twitter followers, she is influencing a younger generation completely apart from her son. "I know I'm a role model, and that's okay with me," Mallette said. "If my life and my story are able to bring somebody else hope, I think that's great."
While her son tours, Mallette is on her own speaking circuit at colleges, churches, bookstores, and other venues. And she knows that her book—which details her years of abuse, addiction, struggle, and ultimately hope—is making a difference. "I think with every book signing, I've had at least two people—sometimes up to six—tell me that they've stopped cutting . . . because of my story," she said.
Although she openly talks about her faith in Nowhere But Up, Mallette does not market to a specifically Christian audience. "I've actually had a lot of people tell me that they got saved, or dedicated their life, or renewed their faith by reading my story. So that's always encouraging," she said.
A prayer for Justin Bieber
Even after meeting Pattie Mallette, I haven't started playing Justin Bieber songs on repeat. I haven't bought tickets to his next show, and I most certainly would not call myself a "Belieber."
But instead of bad-mouthing him when I hear about another headline-grabbing incident, I do something different: I pray.
While all eyes are on Bieber and Mallette, may they live lives and influence the world in a way that glorifies God.
Kate Tracy is an editorial resident for Christianity Today magazine.