Singer and actor Demi Lovato grew to fame as a Disney Channel star in the Camp Rock films. She’s since released seven studio albums, all pop rock-flavored.
Her latest album—whose title we won’t reprint—has taken two distinct detours from her previous work: it’s hard rock, and it takes the church to task for its imperfections.
“I saw I didn’t fit in”
In a candid, explicit interview with Vogue, Lovato said of the album, “I wanted to take my power back. I grew up in the church as a Christian, and I had some anger towards it. Being queer, I definitely felt like I was misunderstood. There was also a kind of sexual oppression that I felt came from the church. . . . I also write, ‘I met God just for a minute, sat in his house, took a look around and saw I didn’t fit in.’”
In another explicit interview with Apple Music, the interviewer asks Lovato how her faith has held up through years of addiction, an overdose, and stints in rehab. Lovato then relays how she’s developed a “burned view” of the church and religion, reducing her faith to a “spirituality based in energy.”
She cites five concerns common to those who’ve left the church.
One issue that led to the dismantling of Lovato’s faith was improper behavior exhibited by one of her former pastors. She chose to leave one church after she “found out that the pastor of the church bought a twenty million dollar jet with the church’s money.”
This quote from Lovato may lead to speculation, as there is no easy way to prove her claim. Should it have been enough to lead Lovato away from her faith though?
If there was proof that the pastor bought a jet to enhance his lavish lifestyle, and Lovato came to a place of not being able to trust the pastor anymore, the most drastic thing that may have needed to happen was finding another church—and this may have been the case.
Unfortunately, leaders in our faith sin. They are humans too. Moreover, these situations can affect our trust in other imperfect beings, but they should not affect our trust in a perfect God. We have to find a balance between looking to others for direction in our faith and letting others’ actions dictate whether or not our faith in Jesus exists.
A flawed understanding of the Bible’s most challenging verses
Lovato also pointed to the impossibility of following what the Bible teaches in certain instances. For example, she recalled being taught Matthew 5:30 at a young age: “If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
She recalled herself as a child thinking, “I can never do this!”
However, in The NIV Application Commentary, the author concludes that “Jesus is not advocating for the dismemberment of one’s own body. Rather, through dramatic figures of speech, he indicates the kind of rigorous self-discipline that committed disciples will display.”
Shame for being LGBTQ+
Lovato identifies as nonbinary, and she reported feeling shamed by the church for her sexual preference. Sadly, her experience isn’t atypical.
How Christians respond to the LGBTQ+ community has long been a contentious issue. (Read more in my article on Lauren Daigle’s response to the question “Do you feel that homosexuality is a sin?”)
It would not be surprising if Lovato, with the exposure she has been given, has faced bullying online and ridicule from the Christian community. For example, within the realm of cyberbullying, victimization among LGBTQ+ youth is 50 percent higher than for other cohorts.
Misunderstanding the purpose of church
In discussing Lovato leaving the church, the interviewer says that the principle of religion is community driven. The idea is to find solace in the arms of others and not just yourself.
But Christians know that religion’s purpose entails more than just community. It’s not about finding others with similar beliefs; it’s a relationship with God.
In most religions, this relationship is greatly affected by whether or not a person lives morally and gains the favor of the god they put faith in. But that is not Christianity!
Because of the corruptness in humanity and the ramifications of sin, imperfect people can do nothing to appease God. It was out of unconditional love for us that God sent his son, who was both God and man, to defeat sin and provide redemption for all who believe in him.
The church was created so that the redeemed could gather together under Christ, follow him toward their own sanctification, and make his redeeming power known to the world.
Denying the denial of self
Lovato also alludes to how Christianity compromised her standard of living, asking, “How are you going to tell me who I should and should not love and be attracted to?”
At one point she mentions that “I saw things that I didn’t like.” Though she continued going to church, she “kept hearing things I didn’t like.”
At the end of the interview, she mentions how one of the songs on her new album was written for the purpose of “taking the power back of [her] anger” toward what had previously suppressed her. This power was exerted in sexual promiscuity that, by her own testament, Lovato continues to invest in.
In other words, Lovato appears to place a high value on her truth being affirmed and her desires being met.
How should Christians respond to those burned by the church?
In 2010, Barna reported that “among unchurched adults . . . nearly four out of every ten non-churchgoing Americans (37%) said they avoid churches because of negative past experiences in churches or with church people.”
Demi Lovato may be famous and her latest album may make headlines for its sacrilegious nature, but her experience is woefully similar to many who have left the church.
So how can we as Christians who desire to speak the truth in love respond well?
1. Seek God’s truth.
Pray and study God’s word. Lovato’s interview is an example of how Christianity can easily be distorted and served on an inviting platter. To discern truth from error—like whether you should truly cut off your hand—you must know what the Bible says.
2. Pray for the dechurched.
We must pray for Lovato. Even if she were our enemy, Jesus would tell us to love her and pray for her. Even if she should go on to persecute the church she is at odds with, God still sent his Son to redeem her and provide the means for her salvation.
3. Ask for forgiveness and accept God’s grace for our imperfections.
The church is comprised of imperfect people who fail in loving their neighbor and communicating truth. We should ask forgiveness of the ones we’ve hurt.
And we should fall on God’s sufficient grace. He has forgiven us for taking the task of loving others into our own hands. Furthermore, God has reconciled our mistakes to his purpose.
4. Speak the truth in love.
Ephesians 4:15 calls us to approach others with truth in a loving manner. But we do not have the right as followers of Jesus to cast shame on anyone.
5. Deny yourself.
Jesus told us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him (Matthew 16:24). To Lovato, this statement might make God seem like a cosmic killjoy. However, the truth is that God is calling us to something much better than the fulfillment of fleshly desires.
This is demonstrated through Galatians 6:8: “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
Let us sow to please the Spirit.