By Jonathan David Faulkner
My brothers and sisters who have been following this site for a while know that a huge part of my story has been a journey from hating the Church and its people, but still being a Christian, to falling in love with and developing a heart for the people of God in ways I never thought possible. Part of that has come through ministry and some of it has come through hard conversations with pastors and fellow Christians. A lot of it has come through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the ministry of the word as experienced both personally and corporately. Having mentors and a pastoral staff that understand my struggles have been devices used of God to draw me back to His people whom I had largely given up for dead.
This semester has also been a part of that healing journey and learning to fall in love with God’s people. As I have seen a great man in my church fall to exhaustion and sin and have read books like Dupont’s “Mississippi Praying” and Philip Drey’s “At the Hands of Persons Unknown” Alongside works like “The Next Evangelicalism” by Soong-Chan Rah and “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin, but also as I have paid attention to the Christian Music Industry I once covered so closely during my time at Altrocklive.com. Specifically, the drama that has unfolded between BadChristian Records, Lecrae and the Christian Music Industry as a whole.
For those who do not know: BadChristian Records was founded by Toby Morrell of the band Emery and operates under the banner: “Bad Christian, Good Savior.” The title of their most recent release, from the acoustic Emery side project, Matt & Toby being “I Quit Church” a collection of Hymns with two featured songs that follow the story of a man who left Church because it quite literally did not minister to him at all and in fact, left him hurting. Even the preacher coming by his home could not persuade him to return, something I can relate with seeing as I was very nearly “that guy.” Lecrae on the other hand has been vocal about divorcing himself from “White Evangelicalism.” A move that has drawn critics from everyone from some groups of casual churchgoers to the upper echelon of the biggest CMG’s (Christian Music Groups) and labels in the industry and support from Christian Evangelical Leader John Piper. It has not affected sales of his recent record “All things work together” A solid album worthy of air-time and purchase, and likely the most important Christian Rap Album of the day. His compliant laid out brutally and honestly in the song “Come and Get Me” The second verse is quoted below:
Huh, once upon a time, God Opened up my mind
And showed me I don’t have to be a product people buy
With this God given wisdom I can climb up out these holes
Stay up out the system cause the system never let go
Speak the Truth with no fear, it’s gonna ruin my career
I’ve been a mascot for too long, I ain’t come here for no fears
First of all, let me be clear one time Let me be real one time
If you want a religious puppet you’re gonna have to hang this guy
I’ve been around the world, seen pretty girls caged up as sex slaves
Crooked cops done pulled me over treated me like I ain’t made In the image of God and that’s so odd
I’m at Sunday service with a snapback
And if ya hatin’ on me go and hate, but if you gon’ ride
You better tell me if you’re with me.
Honestly, this is a difficult lyric for me, who has read thousands of lyrics and listened to much more than that in actual music. I struggle to even put my own thoughts into words after reading it and reading again. The same struggle as I listen to the stories of my brothers who have been profiled and harassed by police for simply being Black. It is true though, to many in the church Lecrae and his music has served as the token black man, the reinforcement of stereotypes about Black men in Christian Music. Not rockin’ the boat, but definitely rocking the flock. He has been used as the managements way to reach Black neighborhoods and while he has risen to one of the greatest names in Hip-Hop, His rise has been used to ease the consciousness of an industry that still tries to relegate rap (as a genre) to the underground and who does not take kindly to rappers stepping out of the mold that was set for them. Like when Josh Feuerstien attacked Andy Mineo for using the F-word on Twitter (not even in a song) or when Lecrae tweeted a July 4th Photo with the caption: “This is what my ancestors were doing on Independence Day.” A remark which was meant with everything from nasty looks to death threats.
Of course, this is not relegated to the Christian Music world, I am, of course, referring to the response to Collin Kaepernick’s Anthem protests that have now led to him filing a grievance with the NFL due to the fact that he has been blacklisted and been denied job after job and passed over for many jobs in favor of QB’s with much worst records. He too has faced death threats and endured a great amount of media persecution and hatred and vitriol from football fans who failed to hear why he was protesting. Taking it as a slight against the flag and against the troops instead of a statement that the flag truly never has represented him or his ancestors, and by the way, historically he is right, so are BLM’s founders, Black Lives have not mattered unless they capitulate to the White requirements, but as Lecrae and Kaep have shown us, if you step outside the boundaries set before you, you cease to matter and are going to be instantly dehumanized.
I must contrast this with Emery, who is an all-white Emocore band that left Tooth ‘n’ Nail records to form its own label. But who has always been critical of the church and of Americanized Christianity. Their song “Listening to Freddie Mercury” from “The Question” should have got them kicked off their label because of how sharply it pushed back against the works based, health and wealth righteousness and gospel that is so essential to American Chrstendom. The line “What About God” that is screamed throughout the song is an indictment, and one that should ring in our ears and, if we were constant, hate Toby and the band for their words. Instead, they produced two more records on TnN and the album went gold. See the problem?
Yet most of us do not sit back and think about these things, we want to be entertained and those who entertain us better not step out of their boxes or use their platform as a way of pushing some sort of agenda. Or, we would rather choose to be ignorant or repeat the lines so long used “Just wait your turn” or “Things are so much better for you, stop complaining.” In some ways, a concession can be made that, yes, things are better, but in a lot of ways we have to acknowledge that things are worse and what is subtle is much more dangerous than what is blatant. We defend statues in the name of “not erasing history” but we forget the historical reason those statues were put up; to enforce Jim Crow and celebrate the White Supremacy of the South. We do not want to acknowledge the sins of the Church and we choose to live in ignorance, turning our back on those who are hurting and condemning anyone who speaks up for the disenfranchised.
It may be too soon to see the fallout from I Quit Church but we have seen the effects and fallout of Lecrae’s words and actions. And we have responded wrongly, to him and to Kaep. We have continued to force the marginalized further into the margins and for fear of losing our power perpetuated what Rah calls: “The Western Captivity of the Church.” Carried out through “White” evangelicalism. Claiming we have the corner of the market on doctrine and the authority on what makes a human and what makes a Christian. Defining the imago dei so narrowly as to deny it to anyone who does not capitulate to the framework put forward by our limited History. Never before have Bonhoeffer’s words at Union been more correct, we are a church “without Theology” or the words of Schaff been more prevalent, we are a church “without history.” The sin of the discovery doctrine continues to get repurposed for modern times, the cycle repeats, in more subtle and dangerous ways and through it all we try so hard to remain ignorant and not listen to one another. When we are confronted by it, we are silent, and when we are silent, we are complicit.
So how do we address this? How do we begin to seek reconciliation in the midst of a world that does not seem to want to. How do we bring to the churches attention as a whole, not just to those who are already listening, but to those who are unintentionally ignorant and those who know and who know and know better? I heard a statistic in class recently that if 2% of the population believe in an idea then it will affect the entire culture. The best way, in my mind, is to turn to God, turn to Scripture and turn to one another and hear, on the individual level, on the corporate level and on the international level. To listen to the voices that are speaking, that are using their platforms to be a voice for the oppressed and then let their voices spur us to action. In that action, we cannot simply turn the oppression onto the oppressor, but must actually seek to reach liberty and justice for all, as we claim too in our nations pledge.
Toby Morrell has a reason to “quit church,” Lecrae has a reason to leave behind “White Evangelicalism” both are true and they should make us run to the only one who can bring reconciliation. If there is to be genuine reconciliation, then there does need to be acknowledgement of and genuine repentance from sin. To turn a 180 and see that the Imago Dei is inherent in all people. Stop seeing this as a “Them” or “Their” problem and see it as our problem.
This is hard, these topics do not just go away, they must be discussed and debated and acted upon, brothers and sisters, there is not ever going to be a quick solution to this. We will never poach the elephant on the roam if we are not willing to even acknowledge his existence. We cannot, and I will not, be silent anymore. I will pursue righteousness so that Justice may be done for all. I have come to love the Church too much to be silent, anymore.
- Mississippi Praying: White Evangelicals during the years of the Civil Rights Movement – Carolyn Rene Dupont
- The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Captivity – Soong Chan Rah
- Jesus & the Disinherited – Howard Thurman
- The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin
- At the Hands of Persons Unknown: A History of Lynching in Jim Crow South. Phillip Drey
Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. .