Say what?!? Organ music at ‘Duck Dynasty’ church?

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The White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ in West Monroe, La., is making headlines these days as the home congregation of the Robertson family of “Duck Dynasty” fame.

For me, mention of the White’s Ferry Road church brings back fond memories totally unrelated to duck hunting or reality television. That’s because — for two years during my early childhood — the Ouachita River community of West Monroe was my hometown and the White’s Ferry Road church my home congregation, as I shared in a 2012 column.

In light of the controversy over “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson’s comments on homosexuality, The Associated Press sent a reporter to cover Sunday services at the Louisiana church this past weekend.

The top of the story:

WEST MONROE, La. (AP) – “Faith. Family. Ducks.” It’s the unofficial motto for the family featured in the TV reality show Duck Dynasty and that homespun philosophy permeates nearly everything in this small north Louisiana town.

It’s perhaps most on display at the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ in West Monroe, where the Robertson family prays and preaches most Sunday mornings.

The family — including patriarch Phil Robertson, who ignited a controversy last week when he told a magazine reporter that gays are sinners and African-Americans were happy under Jim Crow laws — were in a front pew this past Sunday. And standing by beliefs they say are deeply rooted in their reading of the Bible.

The rest of the flock, decked out in Duck Dynasty hats and bandannas, stood by the family and the sentiments Phil Robertson expressed.

Alan, Robertson’s eldest son, helped deliver a Christmas-themed sermon. He started off by referring to last week’s controversy.

“Hope your week went well,” he dead-panned. “Ours was kinda’ slow.” He was referring, of course, to Phil’s forced hiatus: TV network A&E suspended Phil last week after remarks about blacks and gays caused a public uproar.

So far, so good.

But then came this spit-out-out-your-Diet-Coke transition, if you happen to be a part of this particular branch of the Christian faith:

But the controversy barely resonated above the organ music at White’s Ferry Road Church. Son Willie — the CEO of the multimillion dollar Duck Commander duck call and decoy enterprise that inspired reality show producers to give the family a show — put on camouflage wader overalls and baptized three people, including one man with cancer.

“Who’s going to be the lord of your life?” he asked, before dipping the man back into the baptismal pool at the front of the church.

Now, the baptisms weren’t surprising. Churches of Christ generally believe that baptism for the forgiveness of sins at the “age of accountability” is an integral part of the salvation process. That’s a different view of baptism than many evangelicals, which explains this reference in a “Duck Dynasty” column recently by Russell Moore:

If I don’t like that he goes to a church with a different view of baptism than mine, then I can go on the Internet and say why I think he’s wrong. And if you don’t like his religious views on sexuality (views held also by Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and evangelicals as well as by many Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and the Dalai Lama), you’re free to say why you think he’s wrong. And you’re free to change the channel.

But the first part of the paragraph did surprise me.

Organ music!?! Forget the “Duck Dynasty” wars! Now we’re talking about a controversial issue.

The Restoration Movement fellowship to which the White’s Ferry Road church belongs typically emphasizes a cappella singing (read: non-instrumental). A few Churches of Christ have added instrumental worship in recent years, but the trend is controversial.

To the best of my knowledge, the White’s Ferry Road church had not added an organ to its worship assemblies, so the AP reference caught me off guard.

I messaged the congregation’s minister to ask if the “organ music” note was accurate. He replied that it was not. However, the church played a video at its Sunday service titled “The Christmas Scale.” The video includes an organ. Still, the AP wording seems strange given that the story deals with an a cappella church.

I’m curious whether the reporter included that reference or if perhaps an editor unaware of the church’s a cappella music tradition added an awkward transition.

Does this issue really matter? Trust me on this one. It does.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • http://outofthedepths.blogspot.com/ steve

    Yes, from the late nineteenth century to late twentieth century, within the Churches of Christ it was viewed that acapella music was the only form of music properly authorized by the New Testament and those that did not practice it were in fact not treated as fellow Christians. But I’m thinking that today it is more a preference. Also, those of us in the CofC who do not think it is a spiritual life or death issue are OK with honoring the practice and not causing discomfort to those who are more worried about it. What fraction of members today are really against it? Does anyone in our fellowship know the answer to this? Has there been a competent poll taken on this? Anyway, it is interesting how there are ways to get around this prohibition, one is as in the example given, videos that are a part of announcements and within sermons which contain background instrumental music. Also, acapella choral groups are adept at producing instrumental sounds and everyone seems to enjoy them. You get the same fun without worry about offending. Oh well, there always someone offended about something.

    • John Pack Lambert

      I have to admit that to me having a video of any kind in primary worship service is much more just not a workable idea than having organ. Maybe this is because this is how Mormons do it. In our sacrament meeting services, no one ever shows videos. Actually visuals of any kind are highly discouraged. Yet we have organs, and unpaid organists.

    • Holly Dianne Erickson

      All of this sounds legalistic to me.

  • Edward_Willett

    That reference leaped out at me, too, as someone brought up in the church of Christ and the son of an elder and song leader. Thanks for asking. I thought White’s Ferry Road might have slipped off the straight and narrow. :)

  • Julia B

    You guys are aware that “a cappella” means “in the style of” the Sistine Chapel, right? Think Gregorian chant, Allegri and Palestrina.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sistine_Chapel_Choir

    What you are talking about is unaccompanied singing.

    http://www.cappellamusicalepontificia.va/sistine_music_chapel.html

    A cappella was originally intended to differentiate between Renaissance polyphony and Baroque concertato style. In the 19th century a renewed interest in Renaissance polyphony coupled with an ignorance of the fact that vocal parts were often doubled by instrumentalists led to the term coming to mean unaccompanied vocal music.[1]

    Here’s an incredible lecture by a YALE professor about all this music that was known as “a capella”. http://oyc.yale.edu/music/musi-112/lecture-15

    • John Pack Lambert

      Words mean what we intend them to mean, no more and no less. Words are not forever tied to their etomology.

      • Julia B

        I guess “is” means whatever you want it to mean, too?

        How can people communicate with each other when you never know what the other person’s words mean?

        Particularly, in this case it is a foreign language term. It should retain the same meaning as the term had in its native tongue. “In the style of the chapel”. If that’s not what is meant, then invent another word.
        .

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    The music doctrines of various churches and congregations is not the real issue that most needs to be looked into here, but an editor adding a fact that apparently isn’t true. And does a needed a “transition” word or phrase give a license to create a fact out of whole cloth to help along the journalism enterprise. Facts matter. And it seems it wasn’t difficult for Bobby Ross to get the real “scoop.”i

  • James Sundquist

    Dear Bobby,

    I think you be alerted to my letter to Phil Robertson’s church.

    Kindest regards,

    James Sundquist
    ****
    Dear Pastors, Members and Elders of White’s Ferry Road Church,

    In followup to my appeal to you about Rick Warren, you should be alerted to the following.

    I am still hoping you will respond to my last email regarding Rick Warren.

    Now it is widely known that Robertson is a Fundamentalist Christian, for which he should be commended! But Rick Warren thinks Fundamentailst Christians are enemies of the 21st Century. So why would Phil Robertson, an elder at your church, speak at Saddleback Church? And why would your church promote Rick Warren which is also Fundamentalist Christian in its beliefs (not the denomination). I agree we should defend the beliefs of Phil, but shouldn’t we defend the victims of Rick Warren?

    In 2006, Rick Warren told Charlie Rose that he told Eric Sawyer, gay activist leader: “how can I help you get your message out? This does not sound like what Phil Robertson believes. Do you support Rick Warren getting that message out?

    Also, do you stand by his latest false advertising that Warren’s PDL book is “the best selling non-fiction hardback book in history” and “most translated” too, which is easily refuted?

    So I appeal to you and to Phil Robertson to reconsider your support and promotion of Rick Warren.

    I look forward to your response!

    Sincerely in Christ,

    James Sundquist
    Director
    http://www.perfectpeaceplan.com

  • John Pack Lambert

    I think this is a case of a reporter totally not getting religion. To the elite NYT and other east-coast liberal types, all churches are the same, and all have organs. The fact that there are many differences in form between Catholics and various Protestant groups, and in many ways even more so between protestant groups really catches these people off guard.
    Of course, it probably does not help that people have spent so little time in covering the history of things like Church music. I have read a book on the history of LDS music, and other materials on it as well. I can tell you that in the 1950s and 1960s or so the General Church Music Committee had a general attempt to get local congregations to have pipe organs over electric organs. I know the first LDS hymnal only had words, and that LDS meetings for the first 20 years were primarily out-door or in rented halls or houses. I have even read a work on the building of the conference center organ, and read much on the Salt Lake Tabernacle Organ. Yet I cannot tell you if the church ever had a conscious decision to allow organs in worship service.

  • freerepublicunderGod

    “Trust me, it does.” Ummmm…no, I don’t think I will. I’ll read for myself (and I have)to see if God actually says anything about being condemned for attending a worship service where an organ is played ( it does not). To take out of all that the Robertson’s have done and are doing getting the gospel out to millions upon millions of people across the entire world, resulting in lives changing and you want us to instead focus on something this trivial? How ridiculously legalistic and unloving. People like this are the reason we have difficulty convincing the world that we have a better way. The see “religion” such as this and pass on the option before they ever are able to hear of love, forgiveness, peace, joy, and freedom from the sin that has them trapped. Until you learn what real love and worship is, please stop poisoning the message. How’s this message working out for you? How many have you brought to Christ? How many are you deterring?
    God bless you and hopefully your eyes will be opened.


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