Dianna Anderson, my friend and fellow blogger, is hosting a synchroblog on contemporary Christian music (CCM) until the end of December. In her post announcing the synchroblog, she states “So here is our challenge: write a blog post about how CCM affected your life.”
At first, I planned to participate in this synchroblog by doing what I’m best at: analyzing Christian dating books. I was going to analyze the book The Complex Infrastructure Known as the Female Mind, which is based on Relient K’s song, “Mood Rings,” and has the band’s name slapped on the cover.
I’ll probably still do that later on.
But that’s not really how CCM affected my life.
I didn’t hear that message from Relient K growing up. Because I wasn’t allowed to listen to Relient K until long after they wrote this song.
My parents were taught by their church that Satan was the angel of music in heaven before he was cast to earth. Being the former angel of music, Satan uses music above all else to gain followers and destroy lives.
Not just any music though. Bach, Fanny Crosby, and, of course, John Philip Sousa were all off-limits to Satan. Nah, Satan was only interested in certain types of music.
What I learned growing up in church was that rock music–specifically the beat–was evil in and of itself. It wasn’t the lyrics that made it bad, but the music itself (the same, of course, went for hip-hop and rap). One doesn’t have to look too deeply into the reasoning behind this teaching to see that it was rooted in xenophobia and White Supremacy.
According to my pastors, rock music was evil because it was from the jungles of Africa, and voodoo worshippers used it to summon demons. One pastor I knew even thought jazz was evil because the improvisation aspect was a “rebellion” against musical form. J.S. Bach’s improvisational music was okay, of course. I think we can all guess why.
This same pastor, a musician himself, once tried to get into the theory of what is and what isn’t “godly” music. He insisted that “godly” music will have a clear melody, a tonal harmony, and will have limited, if any, syncopation (backbeat). Take a world music class and you will learn that though these traits are characteristic of much Western music, they are not universals. Some cultures’ traditional music doesn’t use the tonal (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do) system, etc.
In Independent Fundamental Baptist circles like the one I was a part of until later in high school, the music debate wasn’t just about pearl-clutching over songs about sex and drugs. It was about maintaining White Supremacy and Western superiority through religious beliefs.*
Anyway, because it wasn’t just about the lyrics, this meant Christian rock was just as evil as secular rock, if not more so. It was “demon-summoning” music set to Jesus lyrics. The concern with Relient K wasn’t their sexism (as evidenced in the song “Mood Rings”) but the fact that playing their music might attract literal demons who would possess you if you weren’t “saved” and just torment you if you were.
I was intrigued with rock music, partially because it was so forbidden. I’d hear it sometimes at the grocery store, or in a movie (though my dad would try to mute rock songs when we watched movies as a family), or sometimes I’d even catch my parents humming a Beach Boys tune. I cherished those moments, those snippets of music that didn’t sound like “Nothing But The Blood of Jesus.” I’d listen to the Oldies station on my alarm clock radio at night, turning it down so low I could barely hear it.
Sometimes I’d feel guilty about it after a sermon on the topic. The pastor would say, “You may think rock music doesn’t hurt, but how does it help?”
It made me feel good. That was how.
Which, wasn’t allowed in fundamentalism.
The IFB used music to communicate that feeling good is wrong, that bodies are wrong (music had to “speak to your heart, not your hips!”), that anything that was not white and Western was wrong. It did this by demonizing even Christian contemporary music.
So I’d beat myself up whenever a rocky commercial jingle got stuck in my head. I’d promise to stop playing the radio late at night. I never owned any rock CDs, so I never had to burn CD collections that were worth hundreds of dollars, but I saw so many other kids my age to just that. I’d feel inspired by their commitment, and I’d pray for God to free me from the “addiction” of rock music.
As weird as it might sound, the levels of confusion, shame, and self-hatred I felt over my secret love of rock music rivaled the confusion, shame, and self-hatred I felt over the fact that I sometimes masturbated.
When my family switched churches to one that was slightly less strict on the music front, I didn’t know who Michael W. Smith was. I’d never heard of the News Boys. I only knew DC Talk because a kid in my class at my Baptist high school got his CDs confiscated. I was confused that the kids at my new church listened to the music I’d always thought was “evil.”
I have a weird relationship with CCM, and with music in general, because of my history in an IFB church. Maybe I’ll write a post or two later about how CCM did affect my life, but first, I thought needed to say something talk about how it didn’t.
*For more thoughts on how fundamentalism is used to support White Supremacy/Western Superiority, check out this analysis–it’s a long piece, but the discussion of music is toward the bottom. Thanks to Samantha of Defeating the Dragons for sending me the article