gospel music

Read it all: The New Yorker offers a stunningly good take on the 'Christian' rock wars

Read it all: The New Yorker offers a stunningly good take on the 'Christian' rock wars

First, here is yet another tmatt confession: I am so old that I attended one of the original “Jesus music” rock festivals held in Texas in the early 1970s. Then I went to Baylor University during the era when various branches of Word Records in Waco were releasing early albums linked to what would become Contemporary Christian Music.

There’s more. Anyone digging into the roots of “folk” and later “rock” music inside church doors will eventually hit a 1967 landmark — the “Good News” folk musical by Bob Oldenburg. Who played the role of the “skeptic” the first performances? That would be my big brother, Don, who was playing a ukulele before it was cool.

As a journalist, I have been covering the “Christian music” wars since the late 1970s and, of course, that topic ended up in my book “Pop Goes Religion: Faith in Popular Culture.” The key theme: CCM is music defined by unwritten rules about lyrics and the belief that all “Christian art” should, in reality, be evangelism in disguise.

Hold that thought. I wrote all of that to add punch to my praise for an almost unbelievably good New Yorker feature by Kelefa Sanneh that just ran with this epic headline:

The Unlikely Endurance of Christian Rock

The genre has been disdained by the church and mocked by secular culture. That just reassured practitioners that they were rebels on a righteous path.

It opens with a quotation that left me stunned. I have read shelves full of books about “Christian rock” and have never been clubbed over the head with these words.

Try to guess the minister who had this to say in 1957, addressing whether gospel music could be wedded to rock ‘n’ roll. This Baptist pastor from the South was blunt:

Rock and gospel were “totally incompatible,” he explained: “The profound sacred and spiritual meaning of the great music of the church must never be mixed with the transitory quality of rock and roll music.” And he made it clear which he preferred. “The former serves to lift men’s souls to higher levels of reality, and therefore to God,” he wrote. “The latter so often plunges men’s minds into degrading and immoral depths.”

Who said that? That would be the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Take it away, Aretha Franklin.

It’s hard not to quote every other passage in this must-read piece, which punches all the right buttons — from the copycat “Jesus is my boyfriend” style of worship music to battles over loud drums and heavy-metal guitars. Yes, U2 is in here. Ditto for Bob Dylan.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

A whole lot of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Aretha Franklin, the preacher's daughter who became 'Queen of Soul'

A whole lot of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Aretha Franklin, the preacher's daughter who became 'Queen of Soul'

If you're reading the tributes to Aretha Franklin, who died Thursday at age 76, then you know that religion is a vital part of her story.

It's impossible to write the Queen of Soul's obituary without giving prominent attention to her upbringing as the daughter of a Baptist preacher.

Her gospel roots, after all, influenced not just her musical career but her entire life.

Good news: Major news organizations are giving a whole lot of R-E-S-P-E-C-T to the faith angle.

For example, here is the opening of the Los Angeles Times' lengthy obit:

Aretha Franklin, the preacher’s daughter who became the “Queen of Soul” and forged the template of the larger-than-life pop diva with her exuberant, gospel-rooted singing, has died. She was 76.

Franklin died Thursday of advanced pancreatic cancer, according to her publicist Gwendolyn Quinn.

In a career she began as a teenager in the 1950s, Franklin went from singing in her father’s Detroit Baptist church to performing for presidents and royalty as she took soul music to its creative and commercial pinnacle.

Meanwhile, this big chunk of religious background (my apologies for the length of this blockquote) is included in The Associated Press' main obit:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Dollars, demograpic decline and the gospel (or Gospel) of new Washington Cathedral dean

Dollars, demograpic decline and the gospel (or Gospel) of new Washington Cathedral dean

Talk about candor. From the get-go, the recent Washington Post story about the selection of a new dean at Washington National Cathedral is very upfront about the fact that this highly visible Episcopal Church landmark faces a crisis of dollars and demographics. And then there was that earthquake thing, literally.

Consider the headline, for example: "Needing to raise ten of millions, Washington National Cathedral picks a fundraiser for its new dean."

Now, I realize that college and university presidents are frequently hailed as great fundraisers. However, I don't know of many pastors, preachers or priests who have welcomed that label. In this case the Rev. Randy Hollerith -- for some reason the Post editors drop "the Rev." or even "Father" on the first reference -- makes it clear that this isn't his label of choice, either.

There is also the question of whether he plans, as was the norm with the Hollywood-shaped previous dean, Gary Hall (once again, now clerical title on first reference), to use hot-button cultural and theological issues to push the cathedral into the headlines.

Hollerith says he won’t enter the position with plans to focus on specific social justice issues, a contrast to Hall, who was on the national news within a few months after coming in August 2012 by announcing that he’d open the cathedral to same-sex weddings.
“I’m not an issue-driven person. I’m a gospel-driven person,” he said. “Of course, the gospel at times is prophetic and has things to say to the world. But I don’t approach things from the point of view of hot-button issues, so to speak.”
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t share with Hall and other recent deans a focus on one topic in particular: race. The Episcopal Church -- a small Protestant denomination that until recent decades represented the faith of the American elite -- has become less diverse racially in the past few decades, Hall said. ...

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Actor Terry Crews repents, again, on porn -- leading to God-haunted news coverage

Actor Terry Crews repents, again, on porn -- leading to God-haunted news coverage

So let's walk through the basics on this story, shall we?

What we have here is a video in which a former National Football League player, now a mid-level star in network television (and advertising), talks very openly about his struggles with pornography. He puts the video on Facebook and it goes totally viral.

A key element in this story is the fact that his wife of 25 years -- Rebecca King-Crews -- has stayed by his side during this fight with addiction. She is a former beauty queen and a famous gospel singer, in her own right. The two also made news when they decided, to help build communication and intimacy in their marriage, to take a 90-day "fast" from sex.

In the viral video, Crews talks about the fact that his wife stood with him because he was "repentant" and now, several years after the crisis, he wants to make it his "mission" to help men break this addiction, to take steps to get help rather than just "asking for forgiveness."

The video, targeting his "Facebook family," does not talk about his faith in explicit terms -- but even the most simple Internet search makes it clear that Crews and his wife are active Christians.

So now, with that information in mind, watch the ABC News clip at the top of this post.

What is missing? Do you sense a God-shaped hole in this report?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

'The Butler,' the usher and music of the Gospel

On the movie level, “The Butler” is getting mixed reviews, while also causing quite a bit of public discussion of race relations in recent decades of American life. Was Eugene Allen, the real man whose life inspired the film, a hero or a living symbol of a humble age that has thankfully slipped in the past. Is it possible that he can be seen as both?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Why can't press get religion, when covering black churches?

Let’s face it. The mainstream press really struggles when trying to cover life in African-American churches.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Behold: A pretty fair tribute to George Beverly Shea

Longtime GetReligion readers may recall that I grew up in Texas in the 1960s and early ’70s, the son of a Southern Baptist pastor. Suffice it to say that I have been to my share of Billy Graham meetings, back then and as a reporter on the religion beat in Denver and elsewhere.

Please respect our Commenting Policy