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Today's Christian, March/April 2005

Double Devotion
Twin actresses Tia and Tamera Mowry, of Sister, Sister fame, talk about the challenge of staying faithful in a culture of celebrity worship.
By Dan Ewald

Double Devotion
Tia and Tamera Mowry
Courtesy of DRM Management

Actresses Tia and Tamera Mowry are best known as the stars of Sister, Sister, their 1994 to '99 sitcom about twins separated at birth who end up meeting each other in a shopping mall. The show had six successful seasons and continues in reruns on the Disney Channel. But the acting started much earlier in their lives.

When Tia and Tamera were 8 years old, they asked neighborhood friends Ron, Vanessa, and Tameya to come over and "play church." The twins sang songs like "Go Tell It on the Mountain"—music they learned from their mother who sang in the choir. Then it was time for the preaching. Tamera remembers her messages: Be good, and love your neighbors as you love yourself. "It wasn't anything deep," she says, "because at that age, of course, we didn't understand everything."

The Mowry girls might not have grasped the intricacies of adult faith, but they knew how to mimic what they were seeing at their own church. Their play-sermons would involve prayers and invitations to receive Christ as Savior. "Then we used to lay hands on people and they'd fall out," Tamera laughs.

Tia says her faith became more real in her teenage years. "I didn't know why I was going to church. I didn't know why I was reading my Bible. I didn't really know why I was praying," she told The 700 Club a few years ago. "But I can remember at 15 years old I said, 'I'm going to walk with Jesus Christ. I want to know Him for myself.'"

Adds Tamera, "Our grandmother always taught us that you've got to know Jesus for yourself. You've got to get into that Word for yourself! But I think I was about 15 or 16 when I realized: You know what? I have to be real for Christ. And that's when you grow."

Celebrity problems
Unlike other professed Christians in the spotlight, Tia and Tamera remained close to the Lord during the height of their popularity. "My sister and I—not naming any names—run into so many people who say before they get famous, 'I will never [compromise],'" Tia says thoughtfully. But then they get famous, and "all of the sudden we see them taking their clothes off."

Fame is a strange phenomenon. Whoever sells the most magazines, records, and movie tickets gets treated like a god. And in Hollywood, the worship of celebrity even infiltrates the unlikeliest of places—church.

Tia and Tamera used to attend a large church in Los Angeles renowned for the famous faces that populate its services. "We started going there before it was a huge church," recalls Tia. But it later became "the place" for the stars to worship, and attendance boomed.

"We don't see ourselves as celebrities. God sees us all the same and looks at our heart."—Tia Mowry

Soon, the sisters realized the church showed favoritism towards celebrities. "Yeah, you had special parking spots," Tia laments. "Some people got offended when they'd let that basketball player in [a special parking spot] and they'd been going to this church a lot longer." The sisters became uncomfortable with the lack of equality. "Jesus Christ wants everybody to see that whether you're rich or poor, a doctor or a janitor, God sees us all the same and looks at our heart," says Tia.

The parking situation was not all. The famous twins used to be escorted to the front for special seats. "My sister and I are not really that type of people. We don't see ourselves as celebrities," Tia insists. Still, she says, it wasn't just the church staff: "One time, I had my hands lifted up. I was crying and praising God, and then someone touched me on my left side and said, 'Can I have your autograph?' That was extremely odd—how someone could forget where you are."

Tamera says that although church is for fellowship, it's also personal time. "When I praise and worship God, I like to block everything out. To have 50 people stare at you while you're worshiping feels weird."

The sisters do admit that sometimes public figures need special assistance. They remember attending an evangelistic service where a woman walked up to them, pointed a finger in their faces, and accused them of not being women of God. "It was scary," says Tia. "Because you're in the public eye, you're a target. If we didn't have somebody escorting us, it would have been difficult."

Getting dramatic
In a departure from her sitcom roots, Tamera recently joined the cast of Lifetime TV's hospital drama Strong Medicine, starring Patricia Richardson (formerly of Home Improvement). Tamera plays Kayla Thornton, a second-year resident in emergency medicine at Rittenhouse Hospital.

"I love being on the show," she says. "It gives me a chance to show people that I'm not the same little girl from Sister, Sister, and that I can do drama."

She also enjoys the challenge of being a witness on the set. She says she didn't have to announce that she is a Christian. Her colleagues knew there was something different about her. They labeled it "a different aura."

"We're supposed to be known by our walk with Christ," she says. "You know a person by their fruit."

One day, Tamera was in the makeup room talking to her mother about having to say the word "damn" on the show: "Mom, don't get mad at me. I know I'm a Christian. I have to say it—it's called for."

How did the makeup artist react when he overheard Tamera saying she was a Christian? "He was like, 'Yeah, I knew you were,'" she says, laughing.

"Everyone respects me because I'm not a judgmental Christian," she adds. "There are people who force things on people and there are others who just plant the seeds. I try to figure out how Jesus did it."

Weekday believers
The Mowry sisters both say they feel called by God to reach out to the younger generations. As a result, they regularly speak to youth groups about peer pressure, education, and dating. "We want to help people to have a relationship with God on the weekdays, as well as on Sundays," Tia says.

Finding a less celebrity-driven church became important to the Mowry sisters, too. They recently discovered just such a congregation (which they would rather not name). It wasn't long before their entire family switched over. "This church that we're going to right now basically treats everybody the same," Tia says. "If you are a celebrity, they don't move you to the front of the church. You just sit anywhere you want."

The sisters—whose father, Timothy Mowry, is white and mother, Darlene, is black—also appreciate the racially mixed congregation. Their former congregation was predominantly African American. Says Tamera, "I'd been praying for a church that's ethnically diverse. We're biracial, and I've never been around an area where it wasn't mixed. It felt weird going to a church with one ethnic background. It was like, 'Hmm, I know heaven isn't like this.'"

Tia and Tamera, who are 26 and single, both say they are becoming more focused on getting married someday. "We do want to get married and have kids," says Tamera. For now, though, they share a house in the San Fernando Valley. While Tamera works a day job on Strong Medicine, Tia works on film and voice-over projects. And they are both avid readers.

Tia says it's a challenge telling her friends in Hollywood that there is more to life than fame and fortune. "People don't want to hear that God doesn't care whether you have a 'Dr.' by your name or whether you've won an Oscar. In Hollywood, you're not on the cover of a magazine because you helped the poor or volunteered at a hospital; you're on the cover because you're worth so-and-so amount of money."

And the sisters' response to the misguided values of our celebrity-obsessed culture? "We have to focus on the fact that all of this is temporary," says Tia. "The main thing God is concerned about is what we're doing for Him."

Dan Ewald is a journalist, screenwriter, and producer living in Los Angeles.

Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today International/Today's Christian magazine.
Click here for reprint information.

March/April 2005, Vol. 43, No. 2, 42



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