We’re not going to talk about problematic theologies.
We’re not going to talk about worship services that are more about spectacle than worship.
We’re not going to talk about songs with language that border on creepy, and would be considered problematic were they not about a deity.
We’re not even going to talk about the almost total and complete absence of LGBTQ+ representation, inclusive lyrics, or the representation of God as anything other than a white man.
Those are all problems to be solved another day.
Today we’re here to address the problem that Christian artists, speakers, and others don’t recognize as a problem, but will eventually blow up in their faces.
The continued association with, and lack of public opposition to Trump (and people who support him) says a lot about the “Christian” sector of North American culture. The biggest message it sends is that musicians, speakers, and others are more committed to profits, than to a prophetic message.
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
- Matthew 6:24 (NIV)
In their defense, they may not actually believe in what Mr. Trump is doing, but because of their association with certain groups, they are complicit in putting children in cages, persecuting religious minorities, and allowing the US to be led by a man who is as far from Christ as is possible.
When Christianity Today put out an article calling for Trump’s removal from office on Dec. 19, 2019 it was the culmination of months and years of deep thought and prayer. In their own words, they had tried to stay neutral and not use their editorial power to influence people.
That changed when Trump was impeached.
They provided the same explanation as when Bill Clinton was impeached, that the President of the United States no longer had the moral authority to govern.
As many people expected, a response from Franklin Graham, son of Christianity Today’s founder, Billy Graham was swift to come. Calling it “unfathomable” that the magazine would call for Trump’s removal from office, Graham’s response likened Trump to a God by praising him for just about every possible thing.
It’s also worth mentioning that Graham’s response could very well incite foreign terrorists by claiming that Trump defeated ISIS, a claim that is utterly ridiculous.
The problem for artists and others who brand themselves as “Christian” is their continued association with Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. Both of these groups are led by Franklin Graham, a man whose estimated net worth is north of $10 million USD and who earns more than 40 times the Federal US minimum wage.
Franklin Graham is not a Christian. Franklin Graham is much closer to a Pharisee than Jesus Christ.
Jesus went on to make these comments:
If you’re honest in small things,
you’ll be honest in big things;
If you’re a crook in small things,
you’ll be a crook in big things.
If you’re not honest in small jobs,
who will put you in charge of the store?
No worker can serve two bosses:
He’ll either hate the first and love the second
Or adore the first and despise the second.
You can’t serve both God and the Bank.
When the Pharisees, a money-obsessed bunch, heard him say these things, they rolled their eyes, dismissing him as hopelessly out of touch. So Jesus spoke to them: “You are masters at making yourselves look good in front of others, but God knows what’s behind the appearance.
What society sees and calls monumental,
God sees through and calls monstrous.
God’s Law and the Prophets climaxed in John;
Now it’s all kingdom of God — the glad news
and compelling invitation to every man and woman.
The sky will disintegrate and the earth dissolve
before a single letter of God’s Law wears out.
Using the legalities of divorce
as a cover for lust is adultery;
Using the legalities of marriage
as a cover for lust is adultery.
- Luke 16: 10–18 (The Message)
I grew up in mainline Protestantism, a branch of Christianity not necessarily known for “popular” music — at least not past the end of the 19th century.
Don’t get me wrong, we have our own musical traditions that are beautiful and sacred in their own right.
But growing up, I wanted to be able to hear sacred music similar to what was on the radio. I wanted sacred music that made me dance, made me shout, made me feel connected to the people around me.
As I approach 40, I recognize that some of that was the natural teenage need for connection and desire to be part of something bigger than myself. But it was also about music connecting to a part of my soul that was Sacred.
In my 20’s, I began to recognize some of the problematic theology associated with “Contemporary Christian Music”. Specifically the lack of representation of the Sacred Feminine, and the deliberate exclusion of LGBTQ+ people from the entire industry.
I ignored it for as long as I could, but eventually I couldn’t reconcile the image of people sometimes paying hundreds of dollars to idolize a singer or a band. If this was truly about worshiping God, then why did they need to make a profit?
Why did they need a dozen tractor-trailers to haul their stage show around?
Why did they have riders that read more like superstar musicians, than people who were called to give everything away?
“If you want to give it all you’ve got,” Jesus replied, “go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me.”
- Matthew 19:21 (The Message)
I won’t say it broke my heart, but these musicians have helped me find new ways of understanding my faith, and whose music I loved.
They also stand for a version of Christianity that no longer makes sense to me.
Like many people, I watched in horror as Donald Trump made his seemingly unstoppable run to the White House. His election left me fearing for friends around the world, particularly those who are marginalized.
I was long past any appreciation for Franklin Graham, or anything he was associated with. As far as I’m concerned, he represents the worst of Christianity and is a stain on all of us who bear the name of Christ.
His whole-hearted supported for Trump just cemented that.
As I looked into Franklin Graham and his connections to Trump, I also began to realize that many of the artists I had loved in my teens and early twenties were also complicit in supporting Trump through Franklin Graham and his organizations.
- Crowder, the former frontman of The David Crowder*Band who has been nominated for a Grammy three times. Their interpretations of mainline protestant hymns served as a great transition between hymns and contemporary music for me.
- Jeremy Camp, whose song “I Still Believe” is actually full of fantastic theology and is one of the rare CCM songs to actually speak from a place of brokenness. Despite this, his continued association with Franklin Graham makes me unwilling to support him.
- Michael W. Smith, who was my gateway into CCM with his 1983 song “Friends”. I continued to follow his work, particularly with his tribute to Cassie Bernall after the Columbine massacre. The fact that it wasn’t likely Cassie who was asked about her belief in God hasn’t changed the song. He continues to be an avid supporter of Franklin Graham and his organizations, even performing at Billy Graham’s Funeral.
These are all fantastic artists who make great music…but their continued support of Franklin Graham, his organizations, and by extension Donald Trump means that they are on the wrong side of history.
When Christians of the future look back at the early 21st century, they will find too many examples of “Christians” who have chosen Mammon instead of God.
They have forgotten that the Kingdom of God does not belong to the rich and righteous, but to the poor and broken.
We are not called to profit, but to be prophets, to preach not prosperity but compassion.
We are not called to put children in jail for daring to seek a better life away from war, famine, drugs, and sexual exploitation. We are called to liberate those who are imprisoned unjustly.
We are not called to put millions of dollars into mansions, private jets, and luxury vehicles, but to cast off our riches and serve humbly.
We are not called to drink water illegally taken from the ground for pennies, but to ensure clean water is available to everyone — regardless of income.
By choosing to align themselves with a type of Christianity that explicitly rejects the call to care for those who need it most, they have chosen to deny the way of the risen Christ, and follow the path of self-righteousness.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
- Matthew 25: 37–40 (NIV)
Can you see Trump doing any of those things?
When he’s holed up in a country club that costs 13 times the US Federal minimum wage earner’s annual income, how often do you think he sees someone who is hungry, thirsty, needing clothes, sick, or in prison?
Do you think any of the “least of these” will be able to afford tickets to see any of the artists above?
The biggest problem with Christian Music is not the theology, imagery, or even the exclusion.
The biggest problem is that they are chasing Trump instead of following Christ.