When certain personalities get to the point of being celebrities, it’s easy for us non-famous people to forget that they are still people. And no matter what public image celebrities might portray, they’re in the middle of their own life journey with their perspectives on life, priorities and, yes, faith.
Despite the faith’s demographic popularity — 78 percent of all American adults identify as Christians — it can still be surprising to encounter conversations about Christianity in the media, outside of religious outlets. But even when it’s not within the context of church or Christian TV, the influences of the Bible and faith are prevalent among everyone from comedians and rock stars to business leaders and celebrities. And while their lifestyles and personal choices may not necessarily reflect a conventional view of faith, their thoughts certainly provide an enlightening — even inspiring — window into their spiritual journeys.
Here’s a look at eight unexpected conversations about faith, church, Jesus and Christianity in mainstream pop culture.
DMX’s Love of Praying in Public
Among the many, many wonderful moments that were shared in the wake of DMX’s tragic and awful passing last week were all the videos of him praying. DMX loved to pray, and would do so for anyone who asked. Whether in an appearance on the Breakfast Club, hanging out with Nipsy Hussle, during his live performances or after, the rapper and actor was serious about boldly asking God for blessing.
DMX prays with Nipsey Hussle and friends. End of thread. God bless you all. God bless DMX and his family. Thank you so much DMX for being an inspiration. It hurts that I will never see you make a joke or a song again BUT you left a lot of beautiful things for us all to enjoy.👑👑 pic.twitter.com/hhMU6hLB5T
— Brooklyn (@LodovicoOsiris) April 9, 2021
DMX grew up in a children’s home after surviving neglect and abuse at the hands of his mother. He was tricked into smoking crack when he was just 14 years old, which touched off a lifelong struggle with addiction. DMX was frank about his struggles, but just as earnest about his joys — family, friendships music and, above all, God.
Bill Gates on the Existence of God and the Importance of Church Attendance
Bill Gates sat down for a long interview with Rolling Stone magazine to discuss consumer technology, wealth and the huge amounts of anti-poverty work currently being undertaken by The Gates Foundation. (“I’ve been very lucky, and therefore I owe it to try and reduce the inequity in the world. And that’s kind of a religious belief. I mean, it’s at least a moral belief.”) Toward the end of the interview though, the discussion took a turn for the spiritual when Gates is asked about his views on faith. Not only does he discuss the importance of going to church (“The moral systems of religion, I think, are super important. We’ve raised our kids in a religious way; they’ve gone to the Catholic church that Melinda goes to and I participate in”), he also says that for him, the existence of God seems evident in creation:
But the mystery and the beauty of the world is overwhelmingly amazing, and there’s no scientific explanation of how it came about. To say that it was generated by random numbers, that does seem, you know, sort of an uncharitable view [laughs]. I think it makes sense to believe in God, but exactly what decisions in your life you make differently because of it, I don’t know.
Letitia Wright on Giving God a Chance
The star of Black Panther and Mangrove was open with RELEVANT about her own spiritual journey, which she started as a skeptic. However, conversations with Christian friends warmed her to the idea of giving faith a shot, and she’s been serious about it ever since.
“I’m coming up to completing five years of being a Christian,” Wright says. “It’s been so many different things. It’s a relationship I’m building with the Lord.”
Wright said that she “knew I wasn’t living a life fulfilled” five years ago, but didn’t know what to do about it. “I didn’t know that missing puzzle was Jesus,” she says. “I didn’t want anything to do with Jesus, actually. Especially as a young Black person, you think, “Oh man, it’s a white guy. I don’t want to worship that.”
But after seeing a few friends turn their lives around after becoming Christians, Wright started giving Jesus a second thought. She said that observing her friends’ faith helped her realize, “That’s what my life was meant to look like. That’s what my spirit is meant to look like.” She says a friend contacted Wright when she was at her “lowest place” and Wright made a deal with herself.
“I said, ‘I’ll try Jesus for a year. See what happens,’” Wright says, and then she smiles and shrugs.
“I’m still here and I’m not going back.”
You can read more of our conversation with Wright here.
Ira Glass on Why Christians Are Unfairly Portrayed in the Media
“What Christians really are is not being captured by the press,” This American Life creator and host Ira Glass said. “So that just created an opportunity for us to document the way people live their religion.” If you listen to the popular public radio and podcast series This American Life, you will likely encounter documentary-style stories on a variety of topics — including faith. But, unlike some outlets, on TAL, Christians have routinely been portrayed as complex, thoughtful subjects, navigating faith in difficult circumstances. In a 2012 interview with author Jim Henderson, Glass, who is an atheist, said that decision was intentional:
I feel that Christians are really horribly covered by the media … And there came a point early on in the show that I just noticed that the way that Christians are portrayed in movies and on television is almost always as these crazy people … Whereas the Christians in my life were all incredibly wonderful and thoughtful and had very ambiguous, complicated feelings in their beliefs. And seemed to be totally generous-hearted — totally opened to a lot of different kinds of people in their lives.
In this six-minute video interview, Glass tells stories of how interacting with Christians at work and on his show has helped shaped the way his radio series portrays real believers living their American lives.
John Lennon on Wanting the Beatles to Become a Christian Band
Though toward the end of his life, John Lennon seemed to embrace a New Age philosophy of religion, at one point in his career, he actually wanted the Beatles to be a Christian band. In an interview from 1969 — which wasn’t unearthed until 2008 — Lennon explained to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that his infamous comment about the Beatles being bigger than Jesus had been misunderstood, and he actually wanted to spread Christ’s message:
It’s just an expression meaning the Beatles seem to me to have more influence over youth than Christ. Now, I wasn’t saying that was a good idea, ’cause I’m one of Christ’s biggest fans. And if I can turn the focus on the Beatles on to Christ’s message, then that’s what we’re here to do … If the Beatles get on the side of Christ, which they always were, and let people know that, then maybe the churches won’t be full, but there’ll be a lot of Christians dancing in the dance halls. Whatever they celebrate, God and Christ, I don’t think it matters as long as they’re aware of Him and His message.
According to Steve Turner’s The Gospel According to the Beatles, there was even a time when Lennon claimed to be born again and corresponded with televangelist Oral Roberts about faith. Though he later seemed to adopt a very complicated view of religion despite the comments, the other notable thing in the interview was that in some cases it was judgmental Christians — not Christ — that turned him off from the Church.
Matthew McConaughey Prays Every Week
In 2020, Matthew McConaughey opened up to us at RELEVANT about his own spiritual journey, with a special focus on his prayer life, which he called “inventory.”
“Prayer is inventory,” he says. “I go to church once a week. I go, I pray and I do inventory. I take a deep breath, understand myself as me being number two in God’s house, and go back through my week.”
“I try to picture everyone in my life until I can catch them in a snapshot in my mind, when they are their most true selves,” McConaughey continues. “Now, some are very solemn faces: a friend of mine or a loved one or a family member. Sometimes, it’s a picture of them 20 years ago. Sometimes it’s a picture of them this morning. I’ll try to go through the Rolodex in my mind and see everyone has their most true self.”
“And then I end trying to see myself as my most true self. Now” — he leans forward, his voice dropping low — “that can be the hardest picture to grab in my mind for my prayers. I have to get one. I go, ‘No, you were trying to act like you were happier. No, you had more attitude. No, you were posing. No. No.’” He pretends to flip through false images of himself, discarding them with a swipe of his finger.
“I keep going through the Rolodex until I catch my self in a picture of myself, and go: ‘Ahhhh, there you are. There you are.’”
“And then each one of those pictures, when I see them, I just pray that that image of who that person was and how they felt inside, in their mind and in their heart and in their spirit at that time, can flourish. That they can carry that into the masses of the world and into the future. That part of them can grow.”
“That’s what prayer is to me,” he concludes. “And then I come out of that church with whatever lesson the pastor shared and go, ‘Alright. Tomorrow’s Monday. Let’s see if we can put those into practice.’”
McConaughey also talked about learning to accept that God forgave him and what that forgiveness means for his life. You can read our whole conversation here.
Megan Fox on Speaking in Tongues
In Esquire’s January 2013 cover story on Transformers star Megan Fox gained a lot of attention for the writer’s creepy fascination with her appearance (“The eyes match exactly. The brow is in perfect balance, like a problem of logic, like a visual labyrinth”). But it was Fox’s description of her church experience that took many readers by surprise. In the words of Esquire, the actress described how “Others in her situation have found release in booze and pills. Fox has found hers in church.” And for Fox, it is a Pentecostal church where she speaks in tongues during worship:
I have seen magical, crazy things happen. I’ve seen people be healed. Even now, in the church I go to, during Praise and Worship I could feel that I was maybe getting ready to speak in tongues, and I’d have to shut it off because I don’t know what that church would do if I started screaming out in tongues in the back … It feels like a lot of energy coming through the top of your head — I’m going to sound like such a lunatic — and then your whole body is filled with this electric current. And you just start speaking, but you’re not thinking because you have no idea what you’re saying. Words are coming out of your mouth, and you can’t control it. The idea is that it’s a language that only God understands. It’s the language that’s spoken in heaven. It’s called ‘getting the Holy Ghost.’
Russell Brand Respectfully Debating Westboro Baptist Protestors
In November of 2012, two members of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church visited the FX late-night talk show of English actor and comedian Russell Brand for a surreal conversation about their notorious anti-gay message. And though neither side represented anything resembling a conventional view of Christianity, what transpired (at least for the first half of the interview), was an entertaining and relatively well-mannered discussion about the dangerous — but passionately followed — theological perspective and hate-speech of the “church” members.
And though Brand did throw in a few off-color references, the discussion managed to strangely humanize the Westboro guests, even as they were booed for constantly using slurs. The interview doesn’t offer any real orthodox theology, but it managed to serve as one of the most interesting exchanges between the Phelps family and a media personality who was more interested in hearing what made them tick than just fighting with them. (Just a warning, the video of the interview embedded here does feature some slurs and crude references).
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.