Rag Time is a bi-weekly media investigation of a single celebrity story that's vastly more in-depth than you ever thought you needed. This week: Justin Bieber's forthcoming second wedding to Hailey Bieber.
Just about this time last year, Justin Bieber and his model girlfriend Hailey Baldwin walked into a lower Manhattan courthouse and got married. The newlyweds, now 25 and 22, kept their legal union under wraps at first. (Even TMZ, the gossip outlet with the most direct line to the pop star, didn't know at first whether they had really gotten married.) But eventually, Baldwin changed her Instagram handle to @haileybieber, tried to trademark "Bieber Beauty," and the couple began referring to each other as "husband" and "wife." In February, they were featured on the cover of Vogue, in which they acknowledged their marriage and the fact that marriage is, like, a big commitment. "Marriage is very hard," Hailey said. "That is the sentence you should lead with. It's really effing hard."
The Biebers are not giving up, however. According to People and TMZ, they are planning a more traditional Christian ceremony, to be held next week, in order to reaffirm their decision to bond themselves together for life. (They reportedly have not gotten a prenup.) Why did this young couple embark on such an arduous journey? And why are they determined to continue with it … forever? The answer has a lot to do with evangelical Christianity. Let's take a look back at what "church sources" have had to say about their union over the last year.
"I believe that God blessed me with Hailey"
From the beginning, Justin and Hailey bonded over a shared devotion to Jesus. Hailey is the daughter of the famously born-again Stephen Baldwin; Justin rededicated himself to the Lord in the midst of his treacherous ascendance to teen icon. (He was reportedly baptized by celeb-friendly Hillsong pastor Carl Lentz in NBA star Tyson Chandler's bathtub.) Both have regularly attended services at Hillsong over the last few years, and they have also made friends with Instagram-famous pastors at evangelical megachurches like Zoe Church in L.A., Churchome in Seattle, and Vous Church in Miami. These pastors are all friendly with each other and participate in each other's conferences, and they each have devoted celebrity followers. (Chris Pratt and Katherine Schwarzenegger are partial to Chad Veach of Zoe Church, for example; Kim Kardashian and Kanye West tapped Vous Church's Rich Wilkerson, Jr. to officiate their wedding.) Justin and Hailey have switched their alliances multiple times over the last few years, making it tricky to determine who, exactly, is advising them on spiritual matters at any given time.
We do know that the pair began their current romantic journey at the Vous Church conference in June 2018—they attended worship sessions during the day and hit the Miami clubs at night.
The couple's churchified reunion was a surprise to many tabloid readers: Although Justin and Hailey had dated before, in 2016, popular wisdom suggested Justin would eventually end up with his on-again, off-again girlfriend Selena Gomez. (Gomez and Justin were reportedly in Christian couples counseling with Lentz just a few months before Justin met up with Hailey in Miami.) But somewhere in the haze of that romantic church conference, Justin and Hailey decided to get serious, and fast: he proposed on a trip to the Bahamas just a few weeks later. They announced the news on Instagram, naturally.
In the lengthy but gripping caption to his post, Justin referenced their shared faith, quoting scripture and promising to honor Hailey for the rest of his days. "Gods timing really is literally perfect, we got engaged on the seventh day of the seventh month, the number seven is the number of spiritual perfection, it's true GOOGLE IT!" he wrote.
A month later, Justin was photographed coming out of Hailey's Brooklyn apartment with a copy of Thomas Keller's The Meaning of Marriage, an evangelical advice book that recommends, among other Christian conservative traditions, waiting until the wedding night to have sex. Perhaps that is why the couple rushed to the courthouse just a few weeks later, on September 13. Indeed, in the aforementioned Vogue interview, Justin confirmed that they abstained from sex before they were married, in accordance with church teaching. "I wanted to rededicate myself to God in that way because I really felt it was better for the condition of my soul," he said. "And I believe that God blessed me with Hailey as a result. There are perks. You get rewarded for good behavior."
Their (perhaps hasty) civil ceremony marked the beginning of a tabloid frenzy that has yet to die down.
"He's going from being a boy to being a man"
Though Justin and Hailey's pastor friends wear Supreme and pal around with celebrities, the messages they preach are not very different from traditional evangelical christianity. All of them—Lentz, Veach, Wilkerson Jr., and Judah Smith of Church Home—are married to God-fearing women, and all of them promote (heterosexual) marriage as a kind of salvation to their followers. Both the pastors and their stylish, photogenic wives post frequently about the joys of married life for their hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers.
When Justin and Hailey surprised fans by getting married so quickly last year, "church sources" went to the tabloids to insist that what they were doing was totally right.
"He has known Hailey for a long time," a source told People after they were spotted at the courthouse. "This might seem sudden, but they know each other very well."
Another "religious source" insisted that the couple would soon have a Christian ceremony to officially celebrate their marriage. "They're going to have a big blowout, in front of God and everyone they love," the source said.
In the months that followed, sources connected to the church continued to tell People and TMZ how life-changing marriage had been for Justin, even while it was publicly apparent by his own admission that he was struggling with mental health issues.
"If you were to talk to Justin six months ago, and talk to him now, you'd see how much he has changed," a source told People in March. "He's growing so much, he's going from being a boy to being a man. What he wants is to be a man of integrity, a great husband, a fantastic dad, and a spiritual person. He's making amazing progress."
"At least I lived my life believing in something"
At the end of this month, Justin and Hailey reportedly plan to show off that progress at their long-promised religious ceremony. They have had a few false starts: According to TMZ, the couple sent out four different save-the-dates this year, squashing the plans each time. (It was rumored that the February Vogue cover was scheduled to coincide with a Valentine's Day wedding, but that series of events did not materialize.)
Now, though, the tabloids are reporting that the Biebers have booked a venue for real. According to People, the couple will say their vows in front of God and everyone else on September 30—a Monday—at the Montage Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina. The couple has not announced any details about the day, but some are trickling out, and the rest will be reported soon enough. Pay close attention to whichever Instagram-famous pastor ends up officiating the wedding: if they go with Lentz, that means Hillsong is still the most dominant force in the celebrity evangelical world. But if they choose Veach? That indicates the power balance among the top pastors is shifting. Justin and Hailey have been photographed with both pastors and their families multiple times this summer.
Either way, the fact that they continue to extoll the benefits of young, Christian marriage shows just how influential evangelical Christianity has become in the millennial A-list community. Justin and Hailey could have simply celebrated at the courthouse last year and moved on with their lives, but instead, they have decided to make a big, religious wedding finally happen. It's the best advertising "church sources" can buy.
So, has marriage truly saved Justin? His pastors seem to think so, as does his father-in-law, who recently expressed admiration for the growth he's seen in his son-in-law to TMZ. He also explained his take on the role of religion in their lives: "Weddings and marriage are supposed to be a holy commitment one unto another. So I just think that this as Christians and as believers, they understand that if you don't have God's Spirit working in your marriage, it just makes it more and more difficult to make it work and have peace and find happiness."
"We're excited that they're going to do a very fun wedding," Stephen Baldwin continued. "They're going to have a lot of their pastor friends and a lot of their Christian friends around them at this time, so we're excited for now."
Justin seems to more or less agree. In a Notes-app statement posted to Instagram earlier this month, he acknowledged the sins of his past (drug use; disrespecting women) and expressed optimism about his future. "Now I am navigating the best season of my life 'MARRIAGE' !!" he wrote [sic throughout]. "Which is a an amazing crazy new responsibility. You learn patience, trust, commitment, kindness, humility and all of the things it looks like to be a good man."
In an interview with Australian Vogue released around the same time, Hailey said faith had made her relationship with Justin easier. "I live my life believing that when I die, I'm going to go to heaven," she added. "If I so happen to die and there's nothing at the end of it, at least I lived my life believing in something."
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.