Sometimes a story comes along to intriguing yet so provocative that even I get a little nervous writing about it. But the recent story, offered by Huffington Post’s Senior Religion Editor Paul Raushenbush, was too intriguing not to talk about.
First, there’s the matter of the Band’s name, which I’ve deemed is simply too inflammatory to post here. They use a slang term for female genitalia which usually is meant to denigrate both men and women in the ways it’s used. I think their intent, aside from the obvious shock value, is to flip the meaning and “take the power back,” as it were. It reminds me of what rapper Ice T did back in the 80s, reclaiming the “N-word” as a symbol of empowerment.
That’s all well and good, but that doesn’t mean I should use the word. I’m not really sure if the power-flip strategy works, especially when the terms at the heart of the matter are so laden with negativity, oppression, and the like. But enough on that; on to what the real story is.
The all-female Russian punk band whose name shall not be mentioned (kind of like Voldemort in Harry Potter) was arrested following an uninvited “punk prayer” of protest against Russian president Vladimir Putin and his iron-fisted grip on the forthcoming election. Their boisterous prayer-performance was offered to the Virgin Mary at the altar of a Russian Orthodox church. They’ve been serving six months in jail since the event, and they face up to three more years behind bars.
On the surface, I appreciate the demonstration. One could argue that even Jesus engaged in rather shocking prophetic displays inside temple walls to make a powerful point. And I appreciate that the band members were willing to go to jail (not a surprise they got arrested, really) for what they believe, and on one level, it’s exactly the kind of thing that the punk ethos is all about: shocking people into awareness about the injustices around them, stirring people to action.
I also get that, if the demonstration had been done anywhere other than within the confines of a church, it would not have garnered so much attention. But for me, the same question arises about this event as I ask about many preachers, worship leaders and other folks claiming to seek to bring people closer to God:
Where are your words and actions pointing? Are they directing attention away from yourself and toward the issue, or toward God, or do they actually put the focus more squarely on yourself?
In the case of the latter, I think even the most well-intended prayers, songs, or shocking punk-style prayers of protest slide from the realm of prophetic teaching into self-referential pandering.
I’m hardly a prude, and I’m actually a big advocate of going against the religious grain to do the work to which we feel called. But in this case, I can’t shake the sense that this was more about grabbing headlines and selling records. I could be wrong, and I hope that I am. Ultimately, that’s something that can only be settled between the band members and their Higher Power.
As for their more immediate earthly fate, the Russian Courts will determine the severity of punishment for the band’s stunt on Friday. And considering President Putin’s track record of clamping down on free speech, I’d say any plans for a world tour would be very premature.