Born to a Pentecostal father and an Ashkenazi Jewish mother, Shia LaBeouf grew up in Jewish tradition. While playing a Christian in the film Fury, released in 2014, the actor declared at the time to have converted to Christianity. In a recent interview on YouTube granted to Robert Barron, bishop of Winona-Rochester (State of New York), Shia LaBeouf explained that he chose Catholicism during the filming of Father Pio. This biographical film, in which Shia LaBeouf interprets the Italian saint, should be released in theaters at the end of 2022. In the interview granted to the “youtubeur” bishop, the actor insists on the fact that it is the Tridentine Mass (or Mass of Saint Pius V) which attracted him to the Catholic Church. All media, and a fortiori the Christian media, relayed the news of this sudden conversion.
Joël Thibault is an evangelical pastor and sports chaplain. He spiritually accompanies many well-known high-level athletes and sportsmen, such as footballer Olivier Giroud. Maintenance.
The news of Shia LaBeouf’s conversion received a lot of media coverage. Is there a risk for personalities that their spiritual life is thus brought to light?
I think you have to be able to distinguish the person’s desire to bear witness, and the overexposure of a person’s spiritual life which can also be exploited by the Churches for marketing purposes. When rapper Kanye West announces his conversion in 2019 and finds himself a few weeks later in Lakewood, the megachurch of Joel Osteen (who is really a person whom I will not recommend) to testify, I see there a use by this televangelist pastor of the image of Kanye West for marketing purposes, a form of opportunism.
The danger is immediacy. After his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, the apostle Paul spent three years in the desert before taking on a public ministry. It shapes his character, makes him better understand his mission, and only then does he address the crowds. In the “Christian coming out” of certain stars, there is an immediacy which is ultimately a reflection of our society, but which can be risky.
Can this be harmful for the very spiritual life of these personalities?
Certain Christian personalities are extolled as emblems, whereas they are above all people with their path, like the others. Many athletes tell me of their difficulties in going to churches, where they are not considered as people but as stars. All eyes are on them… but eyes must be fixed on Jesus, otherwise they are idols! And that can be difficult for people in reconstruction, for whom the question of the ego is difficult to manage. When we go to church, we go there to relate to others, not because we have a bigger wallet or VIP access. Of course, with the phenomenon of influencers, it can challenge young people to know that such and such a person is a believer. But they are not the ones who will save us, bring us peace, daily bread…
I think that as such, church leaders must be made aware of not always highlighting personalities. Because it can be dangerous! It’s very easy for anyone to get used to being the center of attention. And it’s all the more complicated, when you’re very much in demand for your fame, to suddenly be anonymous. Yet it is necessary. Fame can also be a spiritual battle that we must accompany.
How do you spiritually accompany the stars in their spiritual life and testimony?
It all depends on the desire of the person in question. For example, Olivier Giroud wanted to accept the magazine’s invitation Jesus to appear on the cover. I was afraid it would be too early, but Olivier wanted to so we accompanied him. But it is not always easy: sometimes, we ask the opinion of stars on theological questions, for the simple reason that they are personalities! I’m not saying they don’t have an opinion, but it’s all under construction.
In Christian communities, I sometimes feel this side “because we are known, we necessarily have something interesting to say”. But these stars are believers like everyone else, they don’t necessarily have the necessary maturity!
Shia LaBeouf lives his conversion under the gaze of the media, but we have to see what it will be like over the long term. Conversion sometimes provokes a positive emotional shock, but this requires a form of caution, that it be accompanied over time. It is essential to accompany people so that they can be witnesses where God places them, in the cinema, in sport… and to be vigilant against the risk of monopolizing, of using these spiritual paths which can be sometimes fragile.
When a personality speaks for the first time about his Christian faith, some Christians tend to react with a side “he is one of us”, in a movement of legitimization of his own faith… a fortiori in a global context of secularization. Do you observe this same phenomenon?
I actually see this legitimation side, with a certain community aspect. We suddenly have more sympathy for such a personality because she is “one of us”, as if there were two camps. However, I observe that we do not always have the same degree of requirement, especially in terms of lifestyle. Suddenly, what the personalities say becomes the word of the Gospel, while the authority is the Bible! Sometimes we highlight people by making them testify, but do they really seek to follow Christ in their lives?
As a chaplain, I follow the paths of people better known and more famous than Olivier Giroud, but no one knows because they are on their way. My desire is for them to find inner healing, peace. But exposing yourself as a Christian can be complicated: people have expectations, their view of us can change, even though we are in the midst of a reconstruction phase. Don’t be ashamed to share the gospel, but saying it too soon can do damage.
Giroud, Kaka, Neymar… In the world of sport, many footballers display their Christian faith. For them, as for stars of music (pop star Justin Bieber, Kanye West) or cinema (actor Chris Pratt and therefore Shia LaBeouf), can faith sometimes have an incidental or momentary side?
There is of course an element of emotion in faith, and all the more so in conversion, which can confine the person in a form of image. This is why I insist on support: is someone there to take care of the star? With athletes, God can be the solution for a moment when we are in a hard blow, support, and when things are better, we pick up. Things clear up over time. I really admire guys, like Justin Bieber for example, who seem to have a real journey of faith. Christ does not leave anyone indifferent. Let us pray for these people, but do not put them on a pedestal.