Why won’t Christian Musicians get political?
John L. Cooper (photo by @marynikkel insta)
An article was written for CNN entitled “Why Christian Music’s biggest stars refuse to change their tune for the Trump era? that I think deserves a response. The gist of the article is suggesting that christian music (referred to as CCM-Christian contemporary music) stays away from speaking out against Trump and social issues for a variety of reasons. The article attempts to show many sides by interviewing an artist called Tauren Wells(who is a friend of mine) and also a few sentences that were semi-gracious towards the integrity of some CCM artists. But the majority of the article leaned in to negativity against CCM artists for not calling out Trump and speaking about social issues. The article claims reasons such as 1) Fear of losing money or fans; 2) a general lack or courage to speak truth to power; or 3) what i considered to be the most outrageous part of the article…”The America these artists love to evoke in their songs is stuck in what one columnists called “a hideous loop of hate.” White supremacists march in public chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” A man guns down Latino shoppers in an El Paso Wal-Mart. School shootings now seem almost as frequent as proms. ”
I do not even know where to start with how offensive and ridiculous this last statement is. It sort of puts the possibility out there that CCM artists are unaware of racism or possibly worse-that perhaps they are not bothered by racism and hate. The other points of discussion are more valid IMO and I thought perhaps I could shed some light on it. As an artist who has the unique position of being both a CCM artist and a secular Rock artist, I live in both worlds and would like to answer these questions and add a few extra thoughts.
Two necessary points before I begin: first, This is NOT a political statement. My aim is to give opinion and information that will hopefully not be offensive to anyone. Secondly, I need to mention that I could easily put together a long list of CCM songs and CCM artist (including yours truly) who speak out against violence, school shootings, hate, and racism. While it may be true that CCM artists tend not to speak out against a singular person, they do speak out against issues and injustice.
1. The article begins under a wrong assumption. Firstly, It assumes (without statistics) that CCM fans are all Trump supporters, and secondly it assumes that all CCM artists are against trump. Neither one of these can possibly be true of course, being that Christians are made up of all sorts of people. Ironically, if one agrees with the premise that all Christians are Trump supporters (which i do not agree with) then this entire article is mute from the start?because to assume that all Christians are Trump supporters would mean that all Christian artists would in fact ALSO be Trump supporters according to the authors own logic- which would end the authors argument that the artists are fearful of standing up to their fans. In my view, this entire premise is fallible.
2. The article assumes that all music listeners (CCM AND secular) want their favorite musicians to not simply make great music but to also be political activists. I know FOR A FACT that this is not true of my fans. In fact I have been told over and over by my fans that they appreciate that a Skillet concert is void of political commentary. Is it possible that other fans in CCM and in secular music feel the same? I can only assume so because I do not think that Skillet fans are completely unique. And secondly for further evidence, I have been touring exclusively with secular rock bands for YEARS, and I have yet to hear one political statement from any of those artists on OR off stage. I literally have NO IDEA what my secular artists friends think about politics or Trump. Some artists and fans want music to be political free zones. Surprisingly, this article seems to suggest that CCM focusing their songs on ?love and not division? is a negative thing. In my experience, music brings people together and gives people hope. So why would it be an immoral goal as a musician to focus on the positive rather than the negative? I am not saying that all singers should follow that rule, of course. But is this not a viable explanation?
3. The article seems to suggest that CCM artists refuse to speak truth to power because they are afraid of losing money. I would argue that the very fact alone that CCM artists are willing to put the term ?Christian? before the word ?artist? is already proof enough that they are willing to stand for something. By simply taking on the title of ?Christian artist? one is making a stand for something that they believe. And yes, by doing so, the possible demographic of listeners is cut dramatically, even more so for Christian pop artists. Is an artist risking money by having the title of ?CCM?? Yes absolutely! But Personally, I do not mind the risk because my faith is more important to me than my career. So I do not think the argument that CCM artists are cowards is a strong one being that they have already shown their willingness to stand for something they feel strongly about. I should also mention that I do not believe that secular rock artists are cowards either. Rock n Roll was born in rebellion and Rock artists typically love to rock the boat! I say that because the secular rock bands I tour with tend to stay politics free, and none of them are cowards IMO.
4. One of the biggest reasons for not being political is that Christians do not believe that our ultimate hope and peace and justice lies in a president. This was stated very well in a quote from the article by my friend, Tauren Wells, when he stated, ?It really doesn’t matter as much for me who’s in office because I don’t serve at the pleasure of the President. I serve at the pleasure of the King [Christ].” All I can say is AMEN! Our hope is in Christ alone. Therefore we choose to sing about Him because if we focus on Christ, then we will become more like Him. And as we become more like Him, then we will naturally begin to help the poor and needy. I think what this article is not understanding is that the Bible doesn’t teach us that it is the job of the state (or government) to feed the poor or to change people’s hearts. On the contrary, it is the job of Christians to take care of the poor and Gods job to change hearts! Sometimes God changes hearts through the testimony of His people. I am not saying that government can not or should not help. I believe it CAN help. But ultimately I believe that only God can give true justice and peace. Therefore the more we focus on Him, we will begin to reach out to the poor and the broken hearted. Simply put, CCM fans like to hear songs about Jesus because everything else in life is secondary. A life spent loving Jesus will result in a life spent loving others.
5. Also very important…this article briefly mentions but fails to recognize the impact of Christians living out the ?actions speak louder than words? philosophy. Statistically the entire world is being lifted out of extreme poverty because of the generosity of Americans. Not the generosity of the government, but the generosity of America’s PEOPLE. And statistically, the majority of that generosity is given by religious Americans. It is a mandate of our faith and of Jesus himself that we help the poor and the ?least of these.? Modern culture tells us that if we are not ?calling out? people on twitter or in our songs (as the article suggest), then we are not helping the poor or speaking against injustice. On the contrary, I believe that Christians are silently doing the ACTUAL work of helping people. For instance, many candidates who are currently running for president released their tax returns earlier this year. This was meant to be a sign of openness and transparency that would highlight the obvious lack of transparency from Trump concerning his own tax returns. While I appreciate that transparency, shockingly the most stunning thing I learned from this was the incredible lack of generosity these candidates show. I personally could care less about someone else’s charitable donations because it’s not my business! But they made it everyone’s business! This proves the point that we should not place all of our hope in a politician. These are the loudest voices in America calling for economic justice and income equality-yet according to their released tax returns, they all gave so little to charity that they actually gave half of what the average American gives according to statistics in ?Fortune.? They made 3x, or 4x, or even up to 7x (or more) than the average American income, yet only gave half of the percentage of their income as the average American to charity! They were almost as stingy as Trump himself (for the one year of tax returns we have of his)! So I ask, which is better- 1) to shout about economic inequality, or 2) to feed and clothe the poor, To build wells for clean water in Africa, or to give medical care to refugees? Americans are doing an extraordinary amount of the worlds work towards ending extreme poverty, and that work is getting done NOT because of celebrities screaming on Twitter. It’s getting done because of the generosity of Americans. And it is a statistical fact that religious people are putting their money where their mouth is. Actions speak louder.
6. The article says that issues of white supremacy and school shootings are not making its way into CCM music. First of all, that’s just not the case. Secondly, I cannot remember the last time I heard a song on pop radio that discussed feeding the poor and fighting for heavens justice? Every pop song that I hear is about breakups, relationships, having YOLO fun, or just sex. Am i missing something? The article also quotes Bono as saying (basically) that CCM isn’t doing a good job because it doesn’t sing about injustice, and furthermore he wants to hear a CCM song that is so stirring that it requires you to do something. Bono is a hero of mine and I don’t necessarily disagree with Him on this, except for the fact that what he longs for is no longer the culture of music today. People increasingly want music for the purpose of chilling, not changing. Music listeners tend to want an escape from all of the political drama and the toughness and cruelty of life. That’s why typically CCM songs and secular pop songs are about very similar topics currently-such as love, loving people, hope, unconditional love, and general positivity to fight for what you believe. Listeners today prefer to interpret lyrics in whatever way they choose. Bono isn’t wrong, but his statement is not a criticism of CCM IMO but rather a criticism on the state of modern music at large. I personally think that’s a fine criticism. But ironically, I would guess that there are currently MORE CCM songs than secular pop songs that speak of injustice.
All of this to say, I think it’s obvious that CCM listeners want to hear songs about Jesus. Everything else is background noise. They want a break from all of the finger pointing and screaming, and the calling out and social justice warrior-ing. I think that Christians generally understand that people on the left and the right both want justice, but may disagree on policy. Just watching the democratic debates this week should show us that people have different ideas of how to get to equality and justice. Christians want to love God, which will in turn cause them to love others. They don’t want to scream and shout about giving to the poor-instead they just GIVE to the poor. Christians typically want to stand for their faith, but our current “call out culture” is making us confused on what we are standing for. Therefore, rather than jumping on every social justice trend that we may or may not fully understand, we just boil it all down to the source: what does the Bible tell me to do today? And the answer is easy. Love God and obey His commandments. Should Christians speak “truth to power” as this article suggest? I believe we DO. We speak truth in our every day actions and relationships and doing the ACTUAL work of helping the “least of these.” In fact, we don’t just speak truth to power, but we also speak truth AND power. We speak the TRUTH of the risen Christ who is Lord of all creation, and we also speak of the POWER of God who raised Jesus from the dead, and whose power has broken the chains of sin and bondage for all who call on His name. There is only ONE NAME by which we are saved. And it doesn’t begin with the title ?president.? It begins with the title “KING”.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13)