Going to a Christian college in Santa Barbara, it was hard to escape the shadow of Katy Perry. Every third person had known her growing up–they were in elementary school together, or sang in the same church choir, or took dance classes together. I even ended up at the same party as her sister once, a year after graduation. It was 2008, and “I Kissed a Girl” had just made pastor’s daughter Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson a sensation.
People were quick to tease me–my father is a pastor, too–about good girls gone bad, rebellious phases, and all manner of not-so-funny jokes. I don’t feel any particular kinship with other people whose parents happen to share the same jobs, but I do know that children of pastors are often scrutinized, their faith (or lack of) put on a display to be examined, commented on, and deemed acceptable.
Perry, whose marriage to Russell Brand famously ended via text message in 2011, has had a rough couple of years, all very much in the public eye. Her documentary Part of Me was filmed while her marriage was falling apart, and she confessed in an interview with Billboard that she had thoughts of suicide in the wake of her divorce. Her parents, pastors in the Pentecostal tradition, had a strange take on the divorce: “I’m sure Katy is trending on the internet just to get you to church tonight,” her mother told a congregation in Ohio. Her father had similar words: “‘God has given us a platform to go in and meet people — and they like us because we are cool. We are not threatening.”
Several years ago, Perry told Vanity Fair that she didn’t have “‘a childhood,’ … adding that her mother never read her any books except the Bible, and that she wasn’t allowed to say ‘deviled eggs’ or ‘Dirt Devil.’” Now, in a recent interview with Marie Claire, Perry had a good deal to say about the faith of her childhood–and why she no longer calls herself a Christian:
“I’m not Buddhist, I’m not Hindu, I’m not Christian, but I still feel like I have a deep connection with God. I pray all the time—for self-control, for humility. There’s a lot of gratitude in it. Just saying ‘thank you’ sometimes is better than asking for things.”
Perry’s spiritual-but-not-religious journey is a common one for her peers. In May, a Pew Research poll revealed that 1/3 of adults under 30 years old are religiously unaffiliated, the highest amount ever in Pew’s polling. But she will always wear the mantle of “pastor’s daughter,” which means not only that her theology will be scrutinized but that her public narrative is fixed. Because she is successful, the Christian world will still claim her as our own but look at her as an outsider, a fallen star.
“I feel like my secret magic trick that separates me from a lot of my peers is the bravery to be vulnerable and truthful and honest,” she told Marie Claire. “I think you become more relatable when you’re vulnerable. When you try to market yourself like some supernatural figurine who can’t be fucked with, I always resort back to Scripture: Pride comes before a fall.”
Perry may have left the church but in this way, it seems, the church hasn’t left her.