The_Monster_Ball_Tour_at_Madison_Square_Garden_posterCirca 2009, around the time of The Fame Monster, there were very few American high schoolers cool enough to talk down about Lady Gaga. For both girls and guys, she was edgy enough (and inevitable enough, releasing single after single after single) to leave everyone feeling at the very least a distant admiration. She did however possess a particular power in the art classes, one that you wouldn’t see her having on, say, the lacrosse field, and this was because art classrooms have always been…interesting places. Mine was no exception: it was by all accounts an underground church, the House of Gaga, in which “ra-ra-roma-ma” was the liturgy and three pharisaical devotees—two girls and a guy—imitated her look by dressing up in long blond wigs and Ray Bans. For the skinny boys and the overweight girls, for the black-nailed brooding basket cases who were counting down the days until graduation, Gaga served as the “voice from beyond” who reminded us that there was a better place ahead.

The biblical Middle East probably had a few art classes, too, little pockets of society that sheltered the “ceremonially unclean” — people who were damaged in some way or living in violation of the law — who were ostracized, separated, and in some cases cast out of mainstream society totally. So when Jesus came to town, in Luke 8 for example, healing and performing miracles, we might suspect that it was due to an underground network of rejects that the bleeding woman’s knew this was the guy who could save her. In the same way, the art kids shared the details of Mother Monster’s life and tours — “Did you see the bubble dress!” Her religion was never a secret; she wasn’t shy about sharing that she was from an Italian family, that she went to Catholic school, but for me her faith was never more pronounced than in the way that she talked about her fans — her monsters. Like Jesus, who called the lost, Gaga called the monsters.

Gaga’s instagram has been pretty religious these past few months; she recently posted some Psalms and then, just last week, she posted a picture of herself with a priest, and the caption reads, “Thank you Father Duffell for a beautiful homily as always and lunch at my pop’s restaurant. 
I was so moved today when you said.. ‘The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but the food that God gives us.’”

This week, Gaga tussled over her own sanctification — meaning, there was some debate over how good she is at being a Christian. On her Instagram, Gaga responded to an article which, to be fair, as it stands now, is more sympathetic than judgmental, but which does warn readers that some celebrities who boast of their Christian faith may be essentially two-faced Professor Quirrells — one face singing hymns, the other singing, well, not hymns: “Many celebrities are sharing Bible verses, quoting priests, and singing Christian music while at the same time still leading a typical Hollywood lifestyle void of Christian values such as modesty and purity.”

But the thing is, whether we like it or not, Christianity doesn’t exclude the Hollywood lifestyle, because if anyone were to be excluded from the faith according to his or her lifestyle, the doors would shut on all of us. True, on a scale, Lady Gaga’s public displays of, ahem, immodesty probably far exceeds the average pew plunker. But every living human is a sinner. And this is not to defend sin but only to say that, whether by being unnecessarily judgmental or by having supersecret illicit sexual desires or just by not being as perfect as God (Mt 5:48), we all fall short. Gaga says it best—and don’t miss this:

Mary Magdalene washed the feet of Christ and was protected and loved by him. A prostitute. Someone society shames as if she and her body are a man’s trash can. He loved her and did not judge. He let her cry over him and dry his feet with the hair of a harlot. We are not just “celebrities” we are humans and sinners, children, and our lives are not void of values because we struggle. We are as equally forgiven as our neighbor. God is never a trend no matter who the believer.

(“What are you reading these days?” “Tim Keller’s Prayer. You?” “Lady Gaga’s Instagram.”) What a pleasant surprise! (I am personally thrilled to find that Gaga is unafraid of the word “sin,” which is such a fundamental one in Christianity; “flaw,” its more celebrated counterpart, may or may not reflect the same idea — “flaw” can seem glamorous and release us of responsibility. “Sin” carries the weight of centuries of guilt.)


For whatever reason, so many of us develop the understanding that Christianity is a mixture of obscure beliefs and strange behaviors charged by high moralism; that it’s for good people getting better. Christians and non-Christians alike can’t grasp the full weight of sin, and so we often isolate our ideas of sin to what we can fix or what we think we can beat without realizing that it’s not our deeds but our full selves that are the problem. Gaga’s Insta led me back to J. David Hawkins’ book, The Useful Sinner, in which he writes:

As a wise man has said, original sin is the only empirically verifiable tenet of the Christian faith. Choosing wrong, violating conscience or the commandments are not rare occurrences in my life. It is a rare person who has not suffered from the evil behavior of another. Nearly all of us have had close relationships dissolve in pain. The canvas on which our lives will be painted is creased before the first brush stroke is applied and there is no possibility of even approaching a thorough goodness. When we are in the pain and trouble of our own making the acknowledgment of our inherent frailty is the starting point. This is not to justify our wrongful behavior but to put it in perspective.

As he repented of his murder and adultery King David said, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). A more succinct expression is in the book of Romans… “There is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12).

So for those who think Gaga is a phony because of her behavior, past or present, Christianity at its base seems to think otherwise. Gaga’s sin is as real as her redeemer. Hawkins continues: “I have come to realize the sin of which I am capable and how far wrong one man’s view of himself can be. I have also learned that God’s grace is both real and tangible.”

Whatever the state of Gaga’s soul may be, it’s safe to say that God is not in fact a trend and that he infiltrated her lyrics long before she could Instagram them. Born This Way, Gaga’s third album, features several songs of theological interest. Perhaps the best demonstration is in her anthem “Bad Kids”:

Don’t know wrong from right
I’m a bad kid and this is my life

Which is essentially a more updated translation of Luther, who wrote in his commentary on Galatians, “Concerning confession, it is taught that no one should be compelled to enumerate sins in detail. For this is impossible, as the psalm [19:12] says: ‘But who can detect their errors?’ And Jeremiah [17:9] says: ‘The human heart is so devious that no one can understand it.’”

All this to say, Gaga, like Luther, has reminded us that it’s the heart that matters most: “For if the inside is clean, then the outside will be as well.” Because of the judgment that Jesus took for us, God can no longer see us as anything but pure-hearted, even though we sin. The gospel washes us from the inside out, and so we become pure-hearted bad kids.

Don’t be insecure
If your heart is pure
You’re still good to me if you’re a bad kid, baby