Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Language in Christian Rock
For this post, I want to tackle another controversial debate between musicians. Is it okay for Christians to curse in their music? Furthermore, if an artist chooses to not use language, is that stifling their creativity or being legalistic? With the release of a couple controversial songs, these questions have started to arise between musicians, record labels and critics. Before I share my opinion on this issue, I want to talk about two high profile Christian artists who recently used language in their music.
First, is Derek Webb. He is most notably known as the lead singer of Caedmon’s Call. Since 2003, Webb has also ventured out by releasing quite a few solo records. In 2009, Webb released his somewhat provocative album called Stockholm Syndrome. The main point of controversy centered on the song “What Matters More.” This short, 3 minute track confronted the topic of sexuality, and Webb claimed that “What Matters More” was the most important song on the record. Because of his use of the words d**n and s**t, Webb’s label at the time, INO Records, attempted to bar the song from being on the album. A short disagreement erupted between the label and Derek Webb, but the issue was eventually resolved and the song was released.
The other major contention was on the latest album by P.O.D. The group released their highly anticipated record, Murdered Love, this past July. The final track, “I Am,” is told from the perspective of a non-Christian struggling with life and sin. Within the song, P.O.D. used a few derogatory terms like fa***t and ba****d, along with the word f**k. The word is bleeped out, but one can still easily distinguish the word, f**k, six different times. According to vocalist Sonny Sandoval, the process of thinking and praying about “I Am” was very long. Sandoval ultimately decided to use the word, but only if it was bleeped out in the song.
I want to begin by saying that I am not judging these musicians or any other Christian musician who decide to use language in their music. I am not judging their Christian faith. I have seen the ministries of many bands, including P.O.D. and Derek Webb, and I know they are doing great things for the kingdom. I am not judging their beliefs at all. I simply want to tackle the debate of language in Christian music. I do have to give these musicians credit. They have a lot of courage. Despite the opinions of critics, fans and record labels, both Derek Webb and P.O.D. are standing by what they believe.
I will shout from the rooftops about artistic freedom and expression. I think all musicians should have the freedom to sing about whatever subjects they choose. But, I have a bigger question. My question would be, “As Christians, should we take advantage of our freedom in music?” Our faith is not defined by what we do or say, but our faith is defined by our relationship with Christ. So, does that mean we have the freedom to say or do anything? My answer is no.
For all of my opinions and beliefs, I have to come back to Scripture. I want to lay out what the Bible says about using language. There are quite a few verses related to how Christians are called to act, but I just want to share three passages with you.
“But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Colossians 3:8
“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” James 3:10
Finally, when you have time, read the 14th chapter of Romans. Paul goes into great detail about making your brother or sister stumble in their walk with Christ. He is not talking about the sins that are described in detail throughout the Bible, but he is talking about things that are trivial and do not matter within your relationship with Christ. The first half of the chapter lays out how we are not defined by the beliefs of those around us, but we are identified by our relationship with Christ. In the second half of the chapter, Paul describes the act of making your brother stumble. This includes your Christian brother, as well as someone who may not know Christ. What’s interesting is that Paul condemns both good and bad behavior in the second half of Romans. He said we must not do things that make our brother falter, even if it’s something harmless or good. Meaning, if we do something that is perfectly fine and good, but it makes our brother stumble, then our actions will be counted as a sin.
I don’t want to become a legalist by simply throwing out a couple of verses. I pray every day that I do not become a legalist. However, I do not agree with artists who choose to use language in their music. The Bible does not specifically condemn certain words or phrases, but it does give us a warning. The Bible speaks, in multiple passages, about not using filthy language and causing your brother to stumble. Scripture also speaks about what comes out of your mouth. In Matthew, Jesus says that whatever comes out of your mouth is from your heart.
I believe it is the right of any band to say and sing about the subjects they want. It is their right and freedom, and I think musicians should take full advantage of it. But, I would urge Christian artists to use discretion. When bands choose to use inflammatory words, the meaning of the song is sometimes stripped away. I think both of the songs by Derek Webb and P.O.D. are phenomenal. The messages behind them are tough to swallow, but they definitely need to be said. Webb speaks about loving everyone and P.O.D. sings about Jesus dying for every sinner in our world. Yet, people lose sight of these powerful meanings by simply picking out a few, select words in a song. I fully admit that this post is also adding to the discussion. But, if bands do not want their message or song being broken down into a couple of curse words, they might want to think about not using language. Christian artists who use curse words in their music, run the risk of being defined by those few, inflammatory words.
Is it okay for Christians to curse in their music? My answer is no. If an artist chooses to not use language, is that stifling their creativity or being legalistic? Once again, my answer is no. As a Christian artist, you may want to prove a point or reach a different audience, but think about your heart. Your language does not define your relationship with Christ, but it’s still a factor in it. Even though bands have the freedom to use language, I would say use discretion. It’s much better to not use language, than to cause someone else to falter in their walk with Christ.