Ed: Barry, I got a text that said, “Barry Corey is on TMZ.” My first thought was, “Oh no,” but to my surprise you were the random guy in a video with Justin Bieber. What’s going on and how did you end up in this video?
Barry: My wife Paula and I were at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills meeting with a family whose children attend Biola. I had left something in the car, so my wife waited inside and I asked the valet guys to retrieve my car. While I was waiting there, this young guy wearing sweats, and a sweatshirt, with a baseball hat on, was hugging the bellmen and telling them they’re blessed or something like that.
Then, he started singing Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing,’ and I knew the song since it came out in 1982 when I was in college. I thought, This guy seems like a happy guy, he’s connecting with people. As he was singing next to me, I kept glancing to my left, and then I noticed that he was reaching his hand out to me.
I’m this 57-year-old out-of-touch dad, so I didn’t know who he was. But I did figure out he must be a celebrity, maybe a rapper or an actor or something, because of the way people were reacting to him and because of where we were. So I wanted to take a selfie.
Ed: So you didn’t know it was Justin Bieber?
Barry: No. And he was there with a young lady who I later found out was his new bride Hailey. But I heard somebody say, “Hey Justin,” and immediately I thought, “Oh, it’s Justin Timberlake.” Later, when I told my wife about it, she told me it sounded more like Justin Bieber than Justin Timberlake.
Ed: So you really are an out-of-touch dad. In the video, I see him reach out his hand to you and you’re looking over at it. What was going through your head?
Barry: I was thinking, This guy’s having a great time, and he’s singing unapologetically, and he has a decent voice. So when he reached out his hand, I thought, Why not?He reached out his hand, I grabbed it, and then he kind of pulled me a little bit and I pulled him into a dad hug and put my arm around him. The next thing I know, my right hand was coming out with my cellphone, and he and Hailey cuddled next to me and I took a selfie. Unfortunately, the selfie didn’t come out.
Ed: We have the selfie exclusive here today. This is the actual selfie you took:
Barry: Yes, no one has seen it yet and I actually retrieved it from my discarded photos just for you, Ed. I didn’t even know I could do that until my high-tech kids told me how to do that, so you are the first to see the incomprehensible blur, as I call it.
Ed: Well, I’m glad you were the random guy on TMZ, not some other story that might be negative. I have to admit, I immediately thought of your book, Love Kindness. I know that’s crazy, but I love your book, and I love the idea of you reaching out to someone reaching towards you.
You knew the song “Sexual Healing” is not a song I immediately associate with Biola University. And you didn’t know it was Justin Bieber, nor did you know that he has been on a spiritual journey, talking a lot about his walk with Christ and more lately. So here was someone you didn’t know, who you thought was a rapper singing Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing.’ He may have had a different view than you. Why reach back?
Barry: Because he reached out. If somebody reaches out, I think we need to reach back, and you can reach back without joining him in the song.
Ed: For sure. This is something that your book addresses. I quoted your book in my new book Christians in the Age of Outrage, and I told a story in there where you reached out and then someone reached back, which is going to be in the new edition of your book. Talk a little bit about that.
Barry: Right. So here in California, being a conservative Christian college, Biola is up against politics that aren’t always congruent with our deeply held virtues and values at the university. A few years ago, when some legislation was introduced that was kind of set on disrupting us because of sexual ethics that we hold at the university, one of the authors of one of the bills, Evan Low, was seen by many of us as someone who was unapproachable, and deeply antagonistic.
Through what I can only say is divine appointment, someone arranged for me to meet with him. I met with him, he received me, we began a conversation, and it’s been well over two years now that we’ve had many conversations, many meals together, and we co-wrote an article in the Washington Post.
Evan Low and I have been working together to try to figure out how we model civility without capitulating on our deeply-held values. From my perspective, how is the gospel going to be at work with someone who doesn’t see eye to eye with me? It’s been a beautiful story, and it was the story of the fact that it’s better to start a conversation by talking across a table than shouting across the street.
That’s what’s missing in such a stark way, in politics and media, even in higher education, and unfortunately many places in the church.
Ed: That’s great, Barry. If Justin Bieber read this, what would you want him to know?
Barry: I’d want him to know that when he went out to the valet guys and said, “Hey, bless you,” that I could tell that he had an attraction to people that seemed like it was from the heart. I am left thinking, This is a person who is trying to make a difference. Let’s get him to Biola and have a chance to tell his story.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.