Music superstar Michael Jackson was definitely one of the most scrutinized people in history. His spiritual beliefs, however, rarely became a topic of discussion.
Now the issue has taken on more importance with Jackson’s death and funeral.
Did the entertainer believe in a supreme being or a place where people spend eternity? What will happen to Michael Jackson now, according to his own beliefs?
Of course, Jackson’s exact spiritual views at the time of his death were a personal matter that will probably never be known.
However, throughout his four-decade career in music, Jackson gave credit to a higher spiritual power for his special gifts and talents, stating that they were “God-given.”
Jackson’s parents, especially his mother Katherine, raised him and his eight siblings in a household that observed the Jehovah’s Witness faith.
Jackson wrote about his upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness in his autobiography Moonwalk, one of a few authorized sources written about his life. He mentioned how Katherine Jackson demonstrated the importance of having steady faith in God as she battled polio and the family faced challenges before reaching stardom.
“My mother knew her polio was not a curse but a test that God gave her to triumph over, and she instilled in me a love of Him I will always have,” Jackson said. “I knew God had tested me and my brothers and sisters in other ways – our large family, our tiny house, the small amount of money we had to make ends meet, even the jealous kids in the neighborhood who threw rocks at our windows while we rehearsed, yelling that we’d never make it.”
Jackson said his mother helped him realize that his talent for signing and dancing was “as much God’s work” as a beautiful sunset or a storm that left snow for children to play in. He also had many memories of attending services at a Kingdom Hall, or place of worship, even as the Jackson 5 became famous.
“Despite all the time we spent rehearsing and traveling, mom would find time to take me to the Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, usually with Rebbie and LaToya,’ Jackson said.
With a reported 7.1 million members worldwide, the U.S.-based Christian denomination is best known to outsiders for its door-to-door evangelizing, objection to military service and blood transfusions and its popular magazine, The Watchtower.
Jackson reportedly remained a practicing Jehovah’s Witness into adulthood, but unconfirmed reports claimed he left the religion during the late 1980s. Writers covering Jackson’s death on the Jehovah’s Witness website, www.watchtower.com described him as a “former” Jehovah’s Witness.
During the last decade of his life, Jackson supposedly explored other faiths.
Some suspect Jackson flirted with Judaism after being deeply moved by a 1993 visit to the Museum of Tolerance’s holocaust exhibit. In 2001 he met Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, controversial leader of the world’s only Jewish state, allegedly against the counsel of advisers who warned the encounter might offend some fans.
In 2005, after being acquitted of charges of child molestation, Jackson was seen leaving a California courthouse with a red bendel (string), which is worn by celebrity adherents of Kabbalah, a form of Judaism.
One of Jackson’s older brothers, Jermaine, converted to Islam in 1989. In 2007 it was reported that Jackson also began to express an interest in the faith, leading to unproven rumors that he converted to Islam and changed his first name to Mikaeel in November 2008 while on a trip with Jermaine to the predominantly Muslim country of Bahrain.
Representatives of Jackson, however, never confirmed if he was a follower of either faith, or if he had ever left the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the first place.
According to the faith’s website, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that a select 144,000 faithful will go to heaven to be with the Lord, and other good people who die will one day be resurrected and live on Earth after it is redesigned as a paradise.
Several reports indicate that while he was not a devout follower of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jackson still publicly mentioned it as the foundation of his spiritual journey as recently as four years ago.
Last week Firpo Carr, a Jackson family friend, told CNN that Jackson once said “he wanted me to study the bible with him because he was raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses early in life, and he would want his children to be raised the same way.”
Within days of Jackson’s death, false Internet reports began to circulate that Jackson adopted mainstream Christianity following an encounter with famed gospel artist Andrae Crouch and his sister Sandra, just days before he died.
The Crouches, personal friends of Jackson, confirmed he met with them to discuss two songs he wanted to complete with their choir for his upcoming album. He prayed with them, but did not specifically state his acceptance of Christian salvation.
“We sang together, prayed together and had a wonderful time,” Sandra Crouch wrote on her Facebook page. “We explained to him about the anointing of the Holy Spirit and Jesus and he gladly joined us in prayer.”
Although Jackson’s spiritual beliefs remain unclear, observers do agree that he respected people of all faiths and found beauty in the principles of love and charity outlined in the world’s major religions.
“Michael always had a respect and curiosity for spiritual things,” Crouch said. “We are praying for Michael’s family and desire nothing less than God’s best for them.”