I saw this one video the other day and thought it was really good–but something twigged in my memory about the band in it. From there, I began tallying up similar bands, and now I’ve got to ask: what’s going on with Christian music lately? Is it just me, or is there like a lot of them who started out Christian and now aren’t?
Pocket Full of Yellow.
The video that got me started on this train of thought is by Sir Sly. It’s their song “Gold,” which got attention because it landed on an Assassin’s Creed video that was popular a while ago. It’s a damned good video, the one they made for the song themselves:
I’d love to know who the actor is in this and what’s on the paper midway through, but sometimes we just have to be content with mysteries.
But I kinda remembered Sir Sly as being a little-known Christian band. Indeed, I seem to remember that this detail was in their Wikipedia writeup at one point somewhere, though it’s certainly not there now. Then I found an interview with the lead singer, Landon Jacobs, who said that he had once been a fervent little Southern Baptist who thought he was destined for the ministry one day. But the same questions that eventually destroyed my ability to believe destroyed his:
Two years after my wife’s mom died, my mom was diagnosed with brain cancer. And that was the last nail in the coffin for me, and a lot of beliefs I held dear. How do I believe in a God who cares, if everybody is being affected by this, no matter how good of a person they are? And no matter how many people they have around them, praying for them, they still die?
And now he’s making songs about being higher than balls (note: this one’s a real earworm):
A neuroscientist’s blog is what initially alerted me to this song. Take that however you like.
So What’s Up With These Bands?
This sure isn’t the first time we’ve talked about a Christian musician who’s left the faith. We’ve talked about the guy from Pedro the Lion, another from The Order of Elijah, and probably some others. Even Christianity Today has noticed this growing problem within their religion. Others might still believe to some extent, but leave their religion out of their music so they don’t alienate young listeners–who now range around 30% non-Christian, if you might remember.
Some musicians are chased out of the Christian music scene, like the musicians who have come out as LGBTQ (link goes to the letter one gay man wrote regarding his situation–it’s heartwrenching, and readers of this blog will recognize quite a lot of what he describes in there). And others flat out deconvert, like one of the co-founders of the popular-at-one-point Newsboys, who is now an atheist. There’s also at least one deconverted Christian musician who tried to commit a horrific crime against his wife, and you can bet that Christian media had an absolute field day with that story. But most of the people who leave do so fairly quietly–and outside of their fanbase and genre fanbase, chances are very few people know what’s going on.
I’m not sure if the situation is just demographics–these are fairly young people, so maybe they’re just a reflection of the massive churn rate going on with young people generally right now.
A Sea Change.
I just know that when I was a Christian, this situation cropped up exactly twice, and one of those was ongoing while I was Christian but I only found out about it much later. There was a rumor going around in my high school that U2 had gotten a Dove Award for the masterful 1987 hit song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and turned it down because they weren’t a Christian band, which shocked a lot of us teenybopper Christians at the time. And years after my deconversion I found out that Amy Grant had evolved in her Christianity quite a lot and had married a Christian guy who was way into hardcore drugs while she was busily pretending for years that Jesus made her life perfect. (There’s no indication that she got into the same substance abuse pattern and obviously his abuse patterns are not her fault; it’s just that the songs of hers that I heard while I was Christian didn’t even hint that there were such serious problems in her life.)
That, literally, is about all I can remember of Christian musicians who maybe struggled with religion. None however were Christian and then left the religion entirely. Even crossovers, which seemed to sprout up here and there in the 90s, weren’t a thing when I was Christian. Even then those crossovers got a lot of attention and still do. A lot of Christians got totally outraged when Amy Grant crossed over to regular pop music. Over at Jesus-is-Savior.com, the writer there flat-out said that she was “on the Devil’s side.” (She’s not an untalented musician by any means, but surely “the Devil” could find a more popular and world-altering artist than this to spread his evil and unthinkably unholy message of tolerance, goodwill, kindness, familial love, and compassion for one’s fellow human, all embedded in fuzzy 80s-style tunes?)
Or maybe Christian culture is getting so polarized that it’s much harder now to be a musician in that tribe and be able to express oneself freely and without constraints, as this Christian satirizes to such great effect here:
That same repressiveness may well be behind this post about bands that are Christian without tooting their religious horn too much: Lenny Kravitz, Switchfoot, Underoath, Kings of Leon, and others. Given how few young people are identifying as Christian these days, they may also be trying to avoid making specific religious references because they don’t want to hitch their wagons to a star that is rapidly becoming synonymous with quite a few anti-progress, anti-humane stances that young people (even Christian young people!) are increasingly rejecting. (Whoever would have thought that someone could have a religious opinion and yet create art that almost anybody could enjoy? Heresy!)
“And if anything goes wrong, one of you can join the Newsboys.” Cuz we’ve seen how well THAT goes. (That channel’s pretty funny, btw.)
So as usual, Christians are their own worst problem. We’re all shocked, right?
A Tidal Surge.
What I’ve described here is only the smallest fraction of the deconversions and farewells that Christian music’s seen over the last ten years.
We could hardly talk about deconverted Christian musicians without touching on Katy Perry, who famously was raised fundagelical by minister parents and then later kicked that to the curb to express herself without artificial constraints. That same link discusses other artists like actor Brad Pitt, who was raised fundagelical as well and later escaped, and author Anne Rice, who converted to Catholicism later in life only to discover that it was on the wrong side of every social issue ever (I just wonder why people who convert to that denomination don’t know that ahead of time).
But those are really big names. Many, many lesser names litter the ex-Christian landscape–many profiled over at Friendly Atheist, like this one about Jason Barnes, a onetime member of the Christian metal band Haste the Faith. (He’s headed for greener pastures with other bands, it seems.) Reddit’s ex-Christian community named bands I’d never even heard of or barely knew by name: Project 86, Spy Hunter, MeWithoutYou, someone with Paramore and a couple from Five Iron Frenzy, Falling Up, Quiet Company, MxPx, Earthsuit, and probably some others.
Some of the artists have gone full atheist; others are everywhere in between Christian and atheist–including some who fall into that “I love Jesus but not the church” thinking that we talked about not long ago.
Meanwhile, the ones who haven’t specifically left Christianity itself find themselves in the crosshairs–as Jennifer Knapp could tell anybody, having come out as gay amid a fairly successful career–of a tribe that comes down brutally hard on anybody who doesn’t toe a very, very shifting and subjective line.
The ones who remain discover that not only do they face that shifting and subjective line, but they also have to carefully tiptoe through topics that their chosen tribe might find difficult–though those are topics that pretty much all young Christians face, like doubts and concerns about the religion’s various talking points and doctrines. Address one of those topics in a way that the tribe decides isn’t Christian enough, and metaphorical bricks will be thrown through the band’s metaphorical window in short order. (Just ask Eugene Peterson, an elderly Christian minister who discovered just how “loving” and “compassionate” his tribe is when he said in an interview that he’d be okay with officiating a same-sex wedding. Please note particularly what that article’s author stated was the one topic out of the many discussed in the initial interview that had drawn the most abuse of the minister: equal marriage.)
The Biggest Problem By Far, for Christians.
One kinda funny result of this shift in Christian music may well be that now young Christians have the problem of not knowing if their favorite bands are Christian or not.
“The D-word?!? NOOOO!” Also: FPM. (I like his channel too.)
I wonder how long it’ll take young Christians like that last fellow to realize that there’s no real difference between Christians and non-Christians–except in negative ways.
See, someone can be as Christian and true-blue and sanctimonious as they please. They can scrunch and squinch up their eyebrows like Kirk Cameron on a preaching binge and they can cry crocodile tears over people caught in “lifestyles they don’t believe in” that are, coincidentally, none of their goddamned business even if that were the case. They can smile those super-duper-earnest and falsely-reassuring Jesus Smiles as they explain why it’s actually totally loving and compassionate of them, not hateful and bigoted, to deny equal rights to the people they’ve decided shouldn’t have them, and to control the lives of people who never asked for their input. They can sniff disdainfully about how charitable they are–when their donations are almost entirely kept within their own religious network and benefiting their own people, not anybody who actually needs help. They can declare that they follow the “whole Gospel” and that means they have to showboat in public and swan around screaming prayers in public while thumping their chests just like Jesus told them to do all the time, and harass people in their private moments without invitation because obviously that’s how you make new customers who’ll last for the long term.
Sure, they can do all that if they like; it’s not like anybody could stop them. We’ve sure tried to tell them how badly all of these efforts backfire (if their goal was actually what they said it was).
And yet after doing all of that stuff they will still be nowhere near the goodness and compassion of a band that drops 10 F-bombs-per-minute per song, and young people particularly are coming to that awareness.
I expect the exodus of artists from Christianity to continue apace as a reflection of greater culture’s progress. Creativity in general just doesn’t seem to be a part of modern Christian culture; it’s damned near considered an enemy by the hard-right wing of the religion. Freethinking, by contrast, has never been particularly welcome. As music surges forward into more new forms and new ideas by the day, and as Christianity itself becomes more ossified and stultified, it doesn’t seem like much else could possibly happen.
Seeya next time! We’ll be talking some more about that minister Eugene Peterson and what the pitchforks-and-torches fundagelical crowd’s abuse of him means–because there’s a reason for it, as there always is in the worst, darkest corners of any broken system. Maybe it’s time we clawed our way back to some of those ideas.
Also, we’ve got a forum now and you’re welcome to come hang out if you want! Same rules as the blog, with some very gracious regulars moderating and whatnot. It looks like the forum’s taken quite a lot of the off-topic Disqus overload while not affecting on-topic discussion here, so I’m going to call it a success so far. Here’s your link: https://rolltodisbelieve.com/index.php