Features | Devotionals/Meditations | About LQ
Outdulgence and other Worldly Pursuits | Dancing About Architecture: Reviews
PRISM Editorials | PRISM Features/Interviews
The Seven Deadly Sins of Christian Contemporary Music
printer friendly version
We live in a world of great urgency and need, of overwhelming concern and brokenness. It is a world that desperately needs to see and know mercy and justice. Almost every day, we at Evangelicals for Social Action hear story after story that only serve to illustrate our world's inexhaustible need. Stories of father's being forced at gunpoint to rape their daughters in Bosnia-Herzegovinia, stories of the immense suffering in Rwanda. Stories of the political and social turmoil in countries like Haiti. Stories of glaring and atrocious poverty and the problem of homelessness in our cities, of the rising toll of the abortion crisis, and the social collapse that fuels it, the rising costs and falling standards in health care and education. We see the continuing moral and spiritual collapse of our nation and, in many ways, feel powerless to address it.
We know very little except that it is a world that needs Jesus. That much is obvious. And in context of such desperate need, the reader of this volume is more than a little justified in wondering why in God's great name we're wasting so much paper discussing the arts. When the world is going to hell in a handbasket, do Christians, and indeed, does the world, need Rock and Roll?
I'll be honest with you. There was a time when I thought so, but I'm not so sure anymore. As I grew up through the 60's I watched two seemingly inseparable entities blossom to maturity side-by-side. On one hand, my child's eyes saw a growing awareness that things were not well with my world. Every day, I saw signs of it, the biggest of which were the kids, just a few years older than I, in the streets. Angry and frustrated, they marched, yelled, swore, ranted and raged, and mostly, they sang. While a whole generation seemingly lost faith in the world, they found faith and hope in their music. Their loud, angry, rebellious, intemperate rock and roll was at once a rallying cry and the very thing around which they rallied, at once giving them voice when they had no other, and shaping that voice.
And like most kids my age, I grew up believing in the power of Rock and Roll. Despite all the anti-rock preaching I heard in my Pentecostal-Fundamentalist religious context (or perhaps because of it), by the time I was a teenager I had no doubt that music had the power to influence and change lives, and that a song could free the mind from old things, plant new ideas, soften or break the heart. I believed, because I experienced. For me, and for thousands of other kids like me, nothing came close — except maybe the swaying rhythm of the sweaty, tie-loosening evangelist at summer camp—to the spiritual, Godly, enabling power, and the fear-inducing, gut-wrenching, heart-pounding, crotch-grabbing power of rock and roll.
The Birth of "Jesus Music"
We knew music could change the world, because it was changing us. And for those of us who were Christians, we knew that it could change the world for Jesus too. It was inevitable that the Jesus Movement gave us "Jesus Music"-- Contemporary Christian Music--the radical revival's attempt to co-opt the powerful music of the counter-culture. Larry Norman, Randy Matthews, Love Song, Mustard Seed Faith, Barry McGuire, and others began to define a whole new genre, a rock and roll that recaptured the spiritual roots the music had lost. And in the heady days of the Jesus movement, and those that followed, many of us believed that this would be a key tool to bring our generation to Christ.
But something happened along the way. Popular music in our secular culture stopped being the compelling force for change that it had become. While always profitable for the gangsters of corporate America, rock had been terrifying to them, none-the-less. Ed Sullivan insisted that lyrics be altered, pelvises be avoided, and songs be short. Despite the demand for songs of protest, radio managed to censor and ban the best of them, and for every anti-establishment song or group that forced its way into the popular consciousness, the establishment invented something - say a group like the Monkees - or capitalized on something - like a hair style or a dance - to deflect focus to the trivial. While I would not arguing that the trivial didn't exist innately in Rock music - it was after all a youth movement - I do believe that the brokers of its distribution handled it delicately and fearfully, aware of its explosive and disruptive power, and tried desperately to turn it into something less than threatening to the establishment.
And they succeeded. Playing on the counter-culture's self-absorbtion and natural hedonism, (and its collective revolutionary exhaustion) corporate America not only helped mute pop music's subversive voice, they became an essential part of its voice. The danger associated with rock gave way to its immense profitability. It's rebel ends gave way to simple rebel posturing and bad hair, sex (to find free love) gave way to disco and one-night stands, drugs (as a way to enlightenment) gave way to cocaine to keep you intense, and (revolutionary) rock and roll gave way to corporate sponsorship of tours. All the form, all the fashion, and very little of the substance. Rock and roll, in just a few short years, went from a force that terrified our parents, preachers and politicians, giving voice to our protests, threatening and mocking and exposing our false values and tearing down our institutions, to being the voice of the establishment, reinforcing our values, false and otherwise, and resisting institutional change. In short, as the Boomers grew up, sold-out and grew established, their music did too.
Two examples from recent pop history will suffice. Anyone who watched, in October of 1992, the 30th Anniversary Tribute to Bob Dylan, (arguably the most important protest singer-songwriter of the 60's and perhaps this Century) could not avoid the painful irony of seeing Sinead O'Connor, regardless of how naive or misguided she might have been, being booed off the stage by a crowd angry with her now notorious ripping of the Pope's photo on Saturday Night Live. It was, after all, an act of protest! That same fall, one of Bill Clinton's key election strategies had been the courting of the MTV generation, through appearances on the Video network and Arsenio Hall. While 25 years earlier association with the rebellious rock generation would have been political suicide (remember Eugene McCarthy?), in 1992 it was essential to victory, a fact which is verified by Clinton's choice of which Ball to attend first on inauguration night - The MTV Ball.
1 2 3 4 5 6 Next>>