Music at Mars Hill is a weekly column by Luke Larsen that seeks to find God amidst the newest trends in both mainstream music and independent music.
An article went up yesterday that was being passed around various entertainment blogs and publications. It created a stir in both Christian and non-Christian circles for parents who are concerned about their children. The article spotlights a primary school’s decision to replace the patriotic country song “God Bless the USA” with the Justin Bieber song “Baby” in a kindergarten graduation ceremony. The principal Greta Hawkins made the call, defending her decision by calling the “God Bless the USA” religious and patriotic overtones “age-inappropriate” and “offensive.”
These claims are particularly fascinating to me. For so long, the Christian music industry has made a name for itself by being music that is a “positive alternative”—music that is wholesome and safe for the whole family. The industry has prided itself in providing youth with music that rejects the constant barrage of sexual innuendo and rough-housing that plagues secular radio stations.
But what happens when the tables are turned? What happens when secularists find elements of Christian music offensive and “age-inappropriate”?
Lee Greenwood, the 69-year-old singer and writer of “God Bless the USA,” responded to the controversy saying, “I feel compelled to echo the faith of our forefathers who all believed in God and a respect of a higher authority. Personally, denying the children of PS90 to sing ‘God Bless the USA’ offends me as a Christian. My song is about hope, faith, spirit and pride. How could that be wrong on any level?” Greenwood was bewildered that a song about godly patriotism could be inappropriate for 6 year olds. What Greenwood may not realize though is that not all parents would consider nationalism to be the end-all, appropriate response for graduating kindergarten.
Whether or not you think “God Bless the USA” is an appropriate song, was “Baby” really an appropriate replacement? Although the song isn’t exactly promiscuous, it does talk about teenage love in with a certain amount of unabashed fervor. One conservative representative from the state has responded, saying: “When a Justin Bieber song is deemed an appropriate substitute for a song about patriotism and love of country, what message are we sending our youth? It’s time we stop letting our political correctness destroy our values and American traditions, and start embracing the exceptional people and cultures that make our country great.”Now, according to an update to this story, the principal (Hawkins) has decided to cut Justin Bieber from the commencement due to the attention the decision was receiving.
Ultimately, I’m pretty sure that neither “God Bless the USA” or “Baby” would spiritually, emotionally, or any in other way scar a kindergartner. I’m also pretty sure that neither of these songs are what I would call “age-appropriate” for 6 year olds. But maybe this whole controversy it isn’t about the kids at all. Because in this season of commencement ceremonies, Justin Bieber isn’t the only one making headlines. Drew Dixon wrote a response to the controversial high school graduation speech in which an English teacher told the graduating class straight up that “they are not special.” And while some were offended by this statement, I think this English teacher may have had a point.
Perhaps the real problem—the real offensive thing—has much less to do with what music we play at a kindergarten graduation ceremony and much more to do with the fact that we even have kindergarten graduation ceremonies to begin with. Perhaps the reason why these people can’t agree on music that is appropriate for the occasion is because the graduation ceremonies themselves are “age-inappropriate” for the kids.
If we are going to go around fighting culture wars about what songs are offensive and appropriate, we’d better realize that not everyone thinks our own music is all that wholesome. There is a reason why an entire generation of young people have essentially left the CCM industry behind. They’ve gotten out into the world and realized both that the world isn’t as dangerous as they were always told and that following Jesus isn’t always “safe” either.