Religion is one of those taboo topics we’re told to never bring up around the dinner table or with friends, because it isn’t polite. If we want to keep our relationships harmonious and peaceful, then it’s best to stay clear of that topic. But I have to admit, I’m not sure how much of an opinion I can legitimately have, because I’ve never fully learned about other religions and what they mean to my friends. Logan and I decided to interview a group of three incredible women (Jada Owens, Blair Baldwin Medina, and Reagan Roberts) on their experiences with religion and spirituality — what they believe and what about their specific beliefs empowers them. As you read this interview I hope that, like Logan and me, you will be able to broaden your view on religion and spirituality and the impact that it has on other people.
What is your religion, spirituality, or belief?
JO: I’m Christian, but I grew up Baptist. For me that’s where it started, but I’m more on the road to nondenominational because I’ve been exposed to a lot of different cultures believing in Jesus. I’m steering away from the church in terms of how I was raised.
BBM: I don’t believe in anything right now, but I’m not an atheist. I don’t believe in the Bible, either, but I believe in good deeds and human kindness.
RR: I’m a Christian and was also raised Baptist. I wouldn’t call myself any specific denomination. I don’t use the word religion in my life much and I don’t think that any one denomination has it right. What it boils down to is that I believe the Bible, and I’m constantly praying and working to interpret the Bible for the truth. I know I have flawed views on it; every human does. My core belief is God created us, and God created the world.
What has the evolution of your faith looked like? Has it changed as you’ve gotten older?
JO: I’ve enjoyed the experience of the evolution of me. I’ve grown as a person because I’ve allowed myself to experience things on my own. I’ll go back to my home church and look around and think to myself, “I’m so glad I left.” It’s hard to see how stuck people can be in their ways, and it makes me sad. It’s hard to express [to them] how much I’ve changed, because they don’t want to accept new ways. My mom has supported me through it all. My family has allowed me to grow in a way that I feel will nurture and benefit myself. At the core of my beliefs has always been Jesus and the Bible.
BBM: I went to an all-girls Catholic school from age 5 to 15. My parents didn’t focus on religion; they just wanted to put me into the best school they could find. I went to high school at an Episcopalian school, and then I got into a youth group at a Presbyterian church, and then I went to Christian camp for a summer. Growing up I was around religion a lot, but my family and I never talked about it. In high school I decided faith was something I wanted because I fit into that world, I had friends there. When I came to college, religion was still very much a part of my life; I was reading my Bible every day and helping other people get into it. I would highlight other people’s Bibles for them, and I wanted everyone and anyone to understand this version of acceptance that was out there. Then, I don’t know what happened, I just started doubting it. I was slowly figuring out who I was — and also, I started to have a sense of reality around the youth leaders and I realized that they weren’t that happy, and they weren’t living by what they told me to live by. I realized I didn’t want to be a part of that world anymore. I decided it wasn’t something I needed in my life; in fact, it made me feel worse. For a while, I didn’t try to believe in anything. I was just being a college kid. But within the past year, I’ve wanted to come to understand the world. I believe that there’s good in the world, but I think that it’s through our souls and love.
RR: I was raised to believe simply that there’s a truth about the universe and somehow the universe came to be, and something is going to happen when we die. There either is a God or there’s not a God. It can’t all be true, but something is true. Both of my parents, after a lot of thought, came to the conclusion that Christianity was the truth. We went to a Christian church, and they raised me to know Bible stories. I was always taught to seek out truth, and that it’s possible to come to a conclusion about what you think is true about the universe. My dad would tell me that he trusted that I could seek truth and come to it myself. I fully believe that your beliefs aren’t passed down to you. You can be passed down a religious affiliation name, but you either believe something or you don’t. My parents didn’t tell me what to believe; I’m an individual. Around middle school I started questioning it and having honest conversations with my dad. I would say, “I don’t know if this is real. If you had raised me Buddhist, then I would believe Buddhism.” And he was like, “You’re right; do research, read books, ask people questions. I’ve raised you to seek truth; it’ll be fine.” So, I started reading and thinking a lot, and praying, but not really knowing who I was praying to.
Then I had an experience in middle school. I had started to see a lot of factual, scientific truth from the Bible, and then I also had a supernatural experience with the Holy Spirit; I felt the presence of God in a very visceral, undeniable way. So I ended up coming full circle back to what my parents believed, but now it feels my own. I fully believe the core truth, but I’m still questioning things — there’s still so much to be explored.
How does religion effect your everyday life?
JO: In the mornings I will listen to different pastors through podcasts; that starts off my day and gets my mind set. I want to make sure my instrument is ready to receive whatever God has for me. Everything on my playlist is contemporary Christian music, so I’m constantly putting myself in the environment to meditate on the things of God. I’m always trying to get better every day, and with God on my side I believe everything will shift for the better in my life. That’s what motivates me to keep going and it keeps me centered; this is the core of who I am.
BBM: I’m on this kick of me trying to be the best version of myself, and I believe that's rooted in love and understanding. I take that into my every day. Also, I take curiosity into my every day. I go into my day thinking, “I might learn something new today” — but if I’m closed off to it, it’s not going to happen. If you go into your day with the attitude of “today could be fucking awesome,” then it usually is.
RR: For me, the best part of my day is when I wake up and make coffee and I sit and read my Bible, and I pray and focus my day on what I want it to be focused on. I have some amazing mentors in my life, and older women who I meet with every week and who are constantly pointing me back to what I want to be pointed toward. I also lead a Bible study within the musical theatre program. Being in that community is when I find I’m the most at peace, the most fulfilled, and the happiest. I’ve had an anxiety disorder my whole life, and I've found more freedom in constantly going to Christ with that than I could've ever imagined, more than any medicine could've ever given me, and that’s radically changed my day-to-day life.
How do you think your religion/spirituality/lack of religion is perceived in our society? Do you wish to change this?
JO: Right now, I’m learning to play my part. No matter who my audience is, I must distribute the same love of Christ. My goal is to be a positive influence. I surround myself with different groups of people, and there are certain groups of friends who make it feel like as though they’re testing the waters, and I’ll doubt myself, like, “Jada, what are you even doing? What are you believing in anyway?” But I know I will be tested and people will perceive me as the “Jesus freak.” I don’t want to change anyone. I just want to be like, “Hey, this is what I believe. If you don't believe, then that’s fine. I’m not telling you to, I’m just showing you what I like.”
People aren’t always attracted to the Christian community because we’re always contradicting ourselves. One way I’d like to change the outside perception of the Christian community is simply by doing what we talk and teach and pray about.
BBM: I think I’m perceived as reckless and weird. I want to try everything before I die, and that’s my goal. I think that’s what took me away from the religion/faith world. Why would I play it safe? You get one life. But it’s difficult because I know I love worship and sermons, but I feel like an outcast because I love a certain type of person, I love a certain gender. So then I’m like, Well, why would I want to be a part of that? There’s so much more to learn and see and hear and think. I think we’re limited, and I want to be open to all things, and I don’t want to have a list of do's and don’ts. I know for sure my family sees it as weird and odd, and me just trying to make my life harder than it needs to be, especially because I identify as queer.
RR: America has called ourselves a Christian nation, but a nation can’t be Christian. A person can be a Christian, but America can’t. There’s this weird tension between Americans who call themselves Christians and those who believe the Bible. Like somehow if you’re a Republican, then you’re a Christian, or if you’re a Christian, then you’re a Republican. People tie everything a Republican does to a Christian, and that gets me fired up. When Trump says anything about being a Christian or the Bible, that’s a much louder voice than people like Jada, for example, and that hurts. What I would want would be for no one to call themselves a Christian, or claim it, unless they’re going to believe what Jesus taught. And what Jesus taught is rooted in love, peace, redemption, and grace. You don’t hear about the fact that a large portion of the people doing relief work for tragedies and natural disasters are from the Christian church. You don't hear the amount of good that's being done by believers in Jesus because you only hear those voices that are screaming things like, “The gays are going to hell.” Those are the loudest voices, but that’s not what it’s about. That’s just one voice.
How do your beliefs affect your artistry?
JO: I had no idea what my calling and purpose was when I was younger, and then acting came into my life and there was something in me that was like, “This is what I’m supposed to be doing." My art matters so much to me because this is what I am, this is everything I was created to do. So, in every class, in every masterclass, in every production, in every rehearsal, I feel I have to give everything — not just to show my love for the art, but for the one who created it for me. That way I’m doing two things at one time; I’m blessing someone else and exalting the one who created me. That gives me so much fulfillment in what I'm called to do.
BBM: Because I don’t have any limitations, I feel that I’m able to give more to my artistry. I’m able to experience things and then share those experiences. I’m able to open doors to allow people to see my true self, even if it scares them, and [I believe] it allows them to have empathy.
RR: Because I believe God created me and created humanity, there’s a closeness to God I experience when I explore all of the different kinds of people that are in this world. I think God created us to be artists, and he gave me the depth and breadth of emotion so I’m able to express through art, and that feels like an extension of what God has allowed humans to experience on this earth. It’s a form of worship, to me.
I also think art is so powerful and causes a reaction from humanity in a way that’s indescribable.