Derek Webb and “What Matters More”

Have you heard of the cackle around Derek Webb’s new album (Stockholm Syndrome) and the lyrics especially in “What Matters Most–re”? What are you hearing? Too explicit? Too sensitive? Too harsh? Sure, but needed?

What Matters More, by Derek Webb

You say you always treat people like you like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality
You love when people put words in your mouth
‘Bout what you believe, make you sound like a freak

‘Cause if you really believe what you say you believe
You wouldn’t be so damn reckless with the words you speak
Wouldn’t silently conceal when the liars speak
Denyin’ all the dyin’ of the remedy

Tell me, brother, what matters more to you?
Tell me, sister, what matters more to you?

If I can tell what’s in your heart by what comes out of your mouth
Then it sure looks to me like being straight is all it’s about
It looks like being hated for all the wrong things
Like chasin’ the wind while the pendulum swings

‘Cause we can talk and debate until we’re blue in the face
About the language and tradition that he’s comin’ to save
Meanwhile we sit just like we don’t give a shit
About 50,000 people who are dyin’ today

Tell me, brother, what matters more to you?
Tell me, sister, what matters more to you?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Luke S

    I think all the upset it’s causing simply emphasises the point he’s making.
    Flippin great record too!

  • Dustin

    I think the line that says it all is this:
    “‘Cause if you really believe what you say you believe
    You wouldn’t be so damn reckless with the words you speak.”
    I think that line goes both ways. I wish we could get past all the angry language on both sides of the issue and begin to have a conversation that is based in love. I think those on the “conservative” side of this issue need to change there tone and begin to love people regardless to this sexual identity. I don’t think that tone of Derek’s language helps the conversation, but rather polarizes both sides.
    Just my two cents…..

  • Alice

    I think Jesus might like what Derek Webb says/sings … He makes a bold, strong point in a shocking way that will most likely make religious people mad. Hmmm … who does that sound like?

  • Scott Lyons

    Ah, if only he were Catholic, then he’d be able to get away with that. ;)

  • Matt K

    A little harsh and explicit– but that does not make it bad. While his critique might be fair when targeted at the truly biggoted, The better question is this “needed”?
    The rate at which the social-political debate around sexuality and law in our country is moving so fast that there is a lot of nuance lost in the middle. While I am often nauseated at some of the hateful things Christians say and think about homosexual people, I’m also dismayed at the way some conservative believers are generalized also. That is to say, not everyone opposed to Gay Marriage “hates” Gay people. With that in mind, is Webb’s rhetoric here constructive in that way? No. Neither side seems willing to have honest and constructive dialog about human-sexuality. That’s the tragedy.

  • Matt K

    Reading through the lyrics a second time, I’m even more convinced that this is less and less fair to conservative believers. For instance, isn’t it just as accurate to say that “tolerant” and “open-minded” people are culpable in the same apathy about extreme poverty that kills the 20k children (“Meanwhile we sit just like we don’t give a shit
    About 50,000 people who are dyin’ today”).
    Quite frankly, artists who peddle stuff like this don’t actually seem interested in changing any minds. Its about solidifying yourself with your own reference group. I’d be much more interested in listening to people who seem interested in listening.

  • Scot McKnight

    MattK, thanks.
    My own view is that there is a point to be made that looks like this: until we get some more of our stuff in order we have lost our prophetic and moral voice. OK, I get that.
    But that only goes so far … it must go with getting our stuff in order and with helping constructively.
    Now, on top of this: I don’t know this musician’s stuff at all so I don’t have much to say. That’s why I asked the question. I’d have to see if he has an angry voice, and this is one more rant (fashionable and hardly something creative or new), or if he has a solid voice and this expresses frustration and a new prophetic tone.

  • http://www.rustinleecomer.blogspot.com Rustin

    Scot,
    I agree with you on the prophetic voice aspect. I think, as a generalization, in the world of “christian music” this is especially true (there could be a whole other conversation about the sacred and the secular here). It seems to me that Christian music has been copying the secular world with very little originality, creativity, and prophetic voice at all, for the last 20 years (a little harsh I know especially since im only 30). Yet I believe this to be true. We continue to create everything the world creates and then add jesus too it or tag the word Christian on and believe it to be original when in fact it is simply forgery of a product that is even better in quality then what we are offering.
    Webb, since leaving caedmon’s call, has made a real attempt at gaining a creative and prophetic voice to speak into the world from which he came (the Church). Like all prophets, speaking the truth to power has come at a cost. Churches that once welcomed him no longer want to hear what he has to say. He has had church people leave his concerts in droves and even experienced boycotts by youth groups. Yet the world outside of the church has begun to take notice. The world longs for Christian artists or artists in general to ask these questions. As a pastor I hear people in my parish asking these same questions, as seen in the Stockholm syndrom, on a regular basis. It is my opinion that his art is expressing the cry of a younger generation of the church. Our inability to listen or acknowledge the profundity of his questions or to pass him off as another Christian artist simply trying to curse on an album to make himself famous would be foolish.
    check out his album mockingbird or the ringing bells.
    (mattk) One note to add from a personal note: Derek webb isnt just asking the questions in his art, he is also trying to live differently in the world. He is the personal friend of one of my very dear friends. He is striving to make a personal difference in the loss of life by the poor and hungry around the world. He is “walking the walk” as our old youth pastor use to say.

  • http://www.rustinleecomer.blogspot.com Rustin

    a second thought: who says that the point of a prophetic voice, or art for that matter needs to be fair? in fact, doesn’t that what makes it less prophetic to some extent? if the prophetic entails to some extent speaking the truth to power, then the prophetic will always be considered unfair to those in the seat of power.

  • http://joiningtheconversation.blogspot.com robyn beckley vining

    i’d be slow to assume he’s speaking “to all ‘conservatives’.” He’s more likely speaking to the angry voices that sound hateful; not “conservatives” in general. (But I also think we need to be careful with the use of the word “conservative”; doing that lumps a diverse people group into one of two groups. My experience is that people are more diverse than two groups, and these terms have become merely relative as related to each other.)
    the language doesn’t bother me. I’d rather those words be used to speak of the real junk going on in the world, versus your taco tasting bad or you just dropped you cell phone on the ground. bigotry? human trafficking? oppression? those words have a place; i think webb has fairly assigned them.
    the content is fair. it’s a voice that should be heard. greenday is calling out these things in their recent album. my favorite line is, “gloria, gloria. we bless your name and then we pee up on the wall.” prophetic voices: please, let us hear you. let us not be swine enough to not hear you.
    one last note: as a woman, i’m glad to read women included in the rebuke. often it is left at “brother.” call me strange, but i felt included in the rebuke, and i felt that appropriate. a small detail, or maybe not…

  • http://jeffandsarataylor.blogspot.com Sara Taylor

    I love the song, appreciate the honesty and agree with the message. I appreciate that he is a Christian artist exercising creativity in his music and lyrics and I appreciate that he moves beyond the cliche and the safe world that is often (but not always) characterized by that industry.

  • Peter

    Can anyone explain to me what this has to do with the Stockholm Syndrome, or is that just the name of the album?
    Thanks.
    Peter

  • Matt K

    I certainly don’t have reason to say Webb isn’t genuine in his walk and I do respect a lot of his music. I appreciate a lot of the ways he’s “rubbed” some of his Christian audience. No argument there. My point here is that right now there are plenty of people in media and arts who want to paint people who hold traditional views about sexuality as backwoods hate-mongering fundamentalists. I’m just not sure that this song contribution here is any help to the cause of getting people to “love others” better.
    On propheticism/fairness: I don’t say “fairness” to mean we assume all ideas are equally legit. I only mean that one’s message will resonate more if the critiques are accurate. Its certainly legitimate to call out the religious right for bigotry and hypocrisy, but I don’t think its legitimate for the other side to insinuate that conservatives as-a-rule “hate” homosexuals or that apathy to global hunger is a vice reserved for the red-states. Truth is much more complicated than the Heroes and Villains our various factions prop up.

  • http://joiningtheconversation.blogspot.com robyn beckley vining

    okay, i just looked up Stockholm Syndrome. here’s the link:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_syndrome
    p.s. i read it, laughing half-way through, and ending up landing on this word alone:
    Brilliant.

  • http://freeinchrist.wordpress.com Freeman

    Peter,
    The name of the album is “Stockholm Syndrome” and Derek is talking about how the church is being tricked by the culture to believe that we love the world when it is really enslaving us. It’s a great album (and I usually don’t even like computer-generated music).
    Freeman

  • http://kylejnolan.blogspot.com Kyle Nolan

    last spring (2008) I heard a Q&A with Derek at Calvin College. He said that he was tired of the trend of trying to make everything so “organic” and that he was going to make his next album using everything but (or maybe including) the kitchen sink. I love it and love the lyrics.
    One of the comments on the You Tube page the video is posted on suggests that Webb was influenced from the following quote from Tony Campolo:
    “I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”
    Brilliant.

  • Randy

    I usually really love Derek Webb. I like that he’s edgy and unafraid to offend. That being said, I can’t Stand this song. It sounded like Newsboys, which I haven’t liked since The 90′s, and the message is a little too late I think. Still, I respect Derek and his willingness to say it like it is.

  • http://www.facethequestion.com Anette Ejsing

    Kyle Nolan,
    I love that Campolo quote. Hits it right on the head.
    At the same time, though, we cannot legitimize doing something bad simply by referring to something worse being done elsewhere.

  • http://kylejnolan.blogspot.com Kyle Nolan

    Anette, I agree. Jesus said:
    “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
    I think that sums up the point pretty well. It’s just a critique of a church with its priorities out of whack.

  • Joey

    Derek Webb definitely impacted my decision to go into ministry. His record “She Must and Shall Go Free” is so powerful and lovely.
    This new record is a needed and necessary confrontation of hatred that the American church has accepted as normal and fine. Even the title of the album “Stockholm Syndrome” is brilliant. The idea that we have become so enslaved by our ability to hate and be systematically self interested that we’ve fallen in love with our captor.
    I don’t think he is being unfair to conservatives. He has regularly and consistently attacked things that are anti-christ, not just conservative ideas. He never claims it is only conservatives, that just happens to be the audience of a few of his harshest lines. It is a loving and strong call to return to Jesus command that we love above all else. I admire Derek for his courage.

  • http://krusekronicle.typepad.com Michael W. Kruse

    Latin comes to mind here: ad hominem. The songs plays on the template that people who do not agree with appropriateness of homosexual behavior are uncaring callous people absorbed in tangential theological constructs. Not only are people who oppose homosexual activity mean to gay people, they probably secretly like watching poor people die.
    I know the response will be that Webb is only talking about mean-spirited opponents, not all opponents. Not buying it. In our culture, “tolerance” has ceased to mean agreement to abide with someone while still articulating a differing view. It now means embrace and affirmation of another’s view as equally valid to your own. Therefore, the simple statement, “I think homosexual behavior is wrong,” is an act of intolerance. It is hate speech. We’ve seen this play out more than once in threads here at Jesus Creed.
    This song is a blast into an echo-chamber filled with those who share Webb’s views, solidifying the true believers in the righteousness of their views and reinforcing their perception of the depravity in dissenters.
    I don’t find this prophetic at all.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann

    Logic: this violates the law of the excluded middle. IMHO, Webb is off target.
    Yes, justice and reconciliation matter – deaths by starvation, malnutrition and preventable diseases are the product of wars, corruption, and broken systems.
    Yes, justice and reconciliation matter – our words toward everyone need to be words of grace *and* truth.
    But neither means that reconciliation, biblical justice and truth in the area of marriage and biblical sexuality do _not_ matter.
    Jesus cares about all of this and all of us, wholly & holistically. Our goal is Jesus, and we mustn’t take our eyes off of him as we bear grace and truth into whatever area affects our life most personally.

  • Russ

    When Tony Campolo said it, it was prophetic.
    When Derek Webb repeats it to horrible music, not so much.

  • http://bramboniusinenglish.wordpress.com brambonius

    I just wrote a blog about it… I don’t understand the fuzz about the s-word at all, as a belgian. After all that’s one of the fine things your culture has been spreading around the globe: the f- and s-word which are also part of our common dutch language now… I just don’t get the whole thing with that word and americans…
    The song is terrible, but that’s just because I find the electronic arrangement shallow, and it kills the soundcolor of his voice. My opinion…
    I don’t know if it’s too harsh. I’m not in the USA. Ik know some people exagerate about gays as if they were the biggest enemy and stuff. But I don’t know the context enough.
    but I’m not shocked at all by the lyrics. I got a feeling someone’s got to say it this way once to make some people think. But honestly I don’t know…
    shalom
    Bram

  • http://www.willkinchlea.com/blog Will K.

    First off, I’m not offended by the language whatsoever.
    Second, I felt convicted that at times my priorities have been out of whack in the past concerning matters of ‘biblical truth.’
    Most importantly though, I think that Webb, like any good artist, is attempting to display a medium through which dialogue can happen. Is he successful? Like previous people have said, I think it’s a little late in the game for a song like this to impact the dialogue to any real extent. “A New Law,” from his Mockingbird Album, still has a very strong resonance, even for someone not from the States, like myself.
    Another very strong Christian artist in the same prophetic strain is Jon Foreman of Switchfoot. His Seasons albums have very creative, uplifting, original, and convicting music.

  • http://teamrose.blog.com Aaron Rose

    G’day Scot,
    I wonder why people need to comment on the quality of the music the lyric is set to…let’s attack the artist any way we can? That’s not needed…
    As far as I can tell regarding “What Matters Most” is that it’s initially caused a stir (certainly with his record label, INO) because of the use of “explicit” language, to the extent that two versions of his new album had to be made. It is quite ironic given Webb’s lyric (and Campolo’s quote) that the message has been muddied by Christians caring more about ‘the law’ that the church has created (in this case, “not using swear words”), than the tens of thousands of people dying.
    Concerning Christians’ public stance on sexuality, I don’t think he is saying that sexual immorality doesn’t matter, he is saying there are more important things that Christians should be known for (love – Webb articulates his view on this better in his song “T-Shirts” from I See Things Upside Down, 2004) rather than pulling specks out of people’s eyes.
    I think the fact that the song has made blogs such as this one shows that it can and does create conversation around Christian priorities and what we need to be focusing on and known for.

  • http://www.samandress.blogspot.com Sam

    Derek Webb is an artist, a poet, and a Christian. I find nothing wrong with his use of this pointed and pungent word.
    So much “Christian” music today (and I know Webb is not a “Christian” music guy) lacks theological, social, and cultural reflection and is saturated in meaningless flowery words. I find the use well placed vulgarity to be refreshing, simple because it’s vulgarity describes the weight of the point being made.

  • pam

    Love the dialogue in this thread. The artist challenges our status quo in ways that send us to the deeper questions. Those questions were raisd in this thread, and Derek’s work was a catalyst.
    Love the Stockholm Syndrome title. Scot, I agree with you in #7, and comments 8-12 were well put. I first heard Campolo say that line 25 years ago, and believe me, in every church he has said it for these many years, his ‘prophetic voice’ was challenged because of his language. It is because of his courage to challenge us in these ways, that many of my friends (myself included) would credit Campolo as one of the most influential voices in their life of ministry. At Urbana in 1987 he asked “if Jesus had $40,000, would he buy a BMW?.” This got him in all kinds of trouble as a ‘legalist’, using unnecessary and harsh language about brothers and sisters who drive BMW’s. Words and story are his art. That is the only line I remember from Urbana that year. Is that a bad thing? I think more of us need to add to that voice from our respective ‘arts’.

  • Christian

    as much as i agree with derek webb on most things, i think it was inappropriate, i think he could have made the point without such language, i mean we as christians are supposed to speak truth in love and we are supposed to season our words with grace and ths is not seasoning with grace. i think he could have used a much less offensive word, we are called to be different….

  • Paul Rose Jr

    I find it interesting that many of the people commenting on this entry have no idea who Derek Webb is, what his background is, or what he has attempted to say in the past.
    I will say that, just as Campolo’s quote points out, when you use vulgarities, you lose some of the audience – especially Christians – because they focus on the words instead of the message. That said, I am not offended by the language, nor do I think most people should.
    I also understand Webb’s frustration. He has been writing some fantastic songs for years – first expressing his fears and foibles in relationships while in Caedmon’s Call, later, with his solo career, reaching out to the church he understands too well, hoping to effect change.
    To only focus on this one single or even this one album is inappropriate and irresponsible. It’s like reading the first four chapters of Isaiah, but ignoring the rest of the book, the song of the vineyard and the prophecies about Christ. This is Derek Webb’s 5th completely new CD, remixes and Sandra McCracken aside, and each album has attempted to speak to the church with truth and create a dialogue.
    To be upset about how Webb expresses himself in Stockholm Syndrome, you HAVE to look back at what he has said before AND the fact that he ALWAYS points the finger back at himself as well as his listeners:
    “She Must And Shall Go Free” – The Church as Christ’s bride – second chances, though she may look like Hosea’s prostitute, Christ still sees her as His Bride – Take to the World – “This Love, this Hope and Grace/Take to the World/This rare, relentless grace”
    “I See Things Upside Down” – Reaching beyond the “normal” vision of the church – Webb almost comes across as a Luther of sorts – I Want a Broken Heart – T-Shirts (What we should be known for) – “They’ll know us by the t-shirts that we wear/And they’ll know us by the way we point and stare/At anyone who’s sin looks worse than ours/Who can not hide the scars of this curse that we all bear”
    “Mockingbird” – Webb has nothing “new” to say, he just wants to repeat the words of Christ and the prophets, echoing the truth he’s heard – Rich Young Ruler – Dealing with Christian consumerism – A New Law – “There are days i don’t believe the words i say/Like a life that i’m not living/A song that i’m not singing but to you… because i can’t afford to pay/For most of what i say…/I am like a mockingbird/I’ve got no new song to sing/And I am like an amplifier
    i just tell you what i’ve heard… and yes, it’s true that i need this more than you/Like one whose name is many/Have mercy, please don’t send me away…”
    “The Ringing Bell” – Christ’s love is greater than our differences, truth conquers and resolves – A Love That is Stronger Than Fear – I Don’t Want to Fight – Webb’s plea to not be the prophet, if it just means arguing – “I don’t want to be right anymore/I don’t want to be good/I don’t want to change your mind/to feel it like I do… I don’t want to fight/Brother I’m not joking about peace/We can have it here tonight/It all comes down to you and me… You know the tree by the fruit/But just between me and you/I never do what I want/I do what I’m taught/And I’ve been learning a lot/About the violence I’m capable of/So I’m walking away from this/Before I hurt someone/’Cause I’m facing enemies/On both sides of the gun”
    Unfortunately, it seems that Webb can’t walk away from his prophetic duties – despite his best efforts to speak the truth, peppered with grace, it seems he’s gone past that.
    Still, one song out of dozens (hundreds?) that maybe steps over the line – a little harsher than what we want to deal with – that’s an easy trade to make if Webb’s voice does make a difference – even if it’s just leading to discussions like this.
    God Bless,

  • http://www.sunrisevisits.blogspot.com Liz

    Has it been pointed out that his song is being released at around the same time his friend Jennifer Knapp has made a public stand about her sexuality? It seems to me to be a cry of anguish about some of the bile he has seen spewed on her. There is definitely an emotional element to it.


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