The soul of the Rev. Al Green

I think it was Elvis Costello who once, when asked if he believed in miracles, thought about it and said something to this effect: Well, I have seen Al Green. That is a start, if you want to find the holy grail of R&B. But what about the Rev. Al Green?

That’s a bigger story. I have, for a week, been trying to get a link up and running to this fine news feature by music critic George Varga at The San Diego Union-Tribune. This story takes the spiritual side of Green’s work seriously, but does not turn him into some kind of shaman.

The key to the whole situation is that Green’s talent is real and so is his faith. The questions about the tense turf in between the stage and the pulpit are real, too. But this is not a new question. Others have been there and managed to hold both sides together. But it is tricky. Varga basically deals with the facts and lets this Green update unfold. Here is a solid chunk of it. Enjoy.

(It) wasn’t until recently that Green, who in April was ordained as a bishop by Pentecostal Bishop Albert E. Reed of the Church of God & Christ in Memphis, really felt comfortable embracing non-devotional music. And he is still stung by the scorn heaped on him from various religious circles, including members of his Memphis congregation, for recording a pop duet in 1988 with Annie Lennox. . . .

The song was a remake of Jackie DeShannon’s uplifting 1969 hit, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” But no matter. His outspoken critics were incensed that Lennox wasn’t born-again, and they let him know it — especially after the song became a Top 10 pop hit.

“‘Put a Little Love in Your Heart?’ What could be more religious than that?” Green asked. “I just couldn’t understand their (objections). “There is a whole cauldron of religious people having such frustrations with love and happiness. . . . And I didn’t have any problem with that, otherwise I wouldn’t have sung it. I started evaluating all the things they had a problem with, and they had a problem with everything. So I went to re-evaluate, really, what all they had problems with. They had problems with everything that doesn’t seem to have a Jesus righteousness, a God reflection, to it.

“But not only did God make Sunday, He made Monday, too, and Tuesday, Wednesday. . . . So if God made all those days, he’s in all our days, not just the one you want to put him in.”

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • James Freeman

    “But not only did God make Sunday, He made Monday, too, and Tuesday, Wednesday. . . . So if God made all those days, he’s in all our days, not just the one you want to put him in.”

    Reverend Al just nailed it, diagnosing the central problem of Western Christianity — the great divorce between faith and life.

    When we willingly shoehorn the faith into “Christian” ghettoes, taking that salt and light out of the larger world, our little branded enclaves might seem “Safe for the whole family (TM),” but outside the walls, the practical result is “To hell with everybody else.”


  • Daniel Baker

    Good grief, the Rev. Green should not be accused of apostasy for covering “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” with Annie Lennox. He is merely guilty of bad taste.

  • Marie

    There are tons of singers who aren’t born again. But keeping company with the unsaved, the tax collectors and unclean, isn’t that something that Jesus would do? The gospel is not just for the well and the saved but it should be brought in close contact with the sick and unsaved. Getting mad just because of who you work with is silly.

  • Molly

    I need to get new glasses; I thougt Marie had written “unSHAVED” and was about to ask her if she had SEEN Annie Lennox lately!

    I suspect the uproar may not have been about the song choice, goofy as it is, but about his duet partner.