#PlanetCCM: When Planet IFB has no CCM

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.

So that’s fun.

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

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  • I remember well the evils of rock music being denounced as you describe! My father had his radio smashed by my grandfather. Things weren’t so strict at our house, but I did listen very quietly to the best of the 80’s tunes at home, and loudly in my car. I never did care much for most CCM.

    Oh, and movies! Ah, the day mom found that soggy ticket stub from my pants pocket in the washer… 😉

  • tentativecynic

    My family didn’t buy wholly into IFB or ATI or any of the other stringent anti-rock-music groups, but they did start out with the “some types of music are intrinsically evil and ugly” approach. Then they transitioned into “that music just sounds rebellious” followed by “that music is okay to listen to, but the artists dress in a worldly way” followed by half-hearted appeals to “remember, whatsoever things are lovely” as we loaded our iPods with Relient K, Newsboys, and (secretly) Skillet. Finally, they said it was just too shallow. Then, as I grew older, I saw the issues with CCM during my journey further out of fundamentalism.
    So it was an interesting trip for me as well. For a while, CCM represented rebellion, then it represented escape from legalism, then it represented easy-believism and the pitfalls of American evangelicalism, then it represented the fundamentalism I had abandoned.
    Thankfully it was never a huge guilt contributor, though. I’m sorry about that.

  • “One pastor I knew even thought jazz was evil because the improvisation aspect was a “rebellion” against musical form.”

    Hah! Yes. I heard that quite often. My parents hesitated to let me listen to big band music because of that. We had sermons about how awful the beat in rock music was, and how it was directly opposite of your heart’s rhythm, so you would probably have a heart attack listening to rock music.

    You should totally do the post on Reliant K. That song makes me sick with its sexism.

  • Guest

    We were pretty much taught the same growing up (rock and roll) is meant to arouse one to have sex. :/

    I remember one Sunday School teacher talking about this guy:


    They thought the demons were conjured by witches in the recording studio and CCM was just a ploy for Christians because since they were saved, the spells (which are the lyrics) in secular music had no power over them but the pulsating beats in CCM could. It was all creepy and confusing back then.

  • Kristen Rosser

    I had never heard of Relient K or “Mood Rings.” I just went and looked up the lyrics. Are they really a Christian band? Nothing remotely Christian about those lyrics.

    • Yeah, Relient K is a Christian band. They were, and still are, my favorite of the CCM bands, even though as an adult I can see a lot of problematic sexism in their lyrics. The thing is, Relient K had a lot of theologically deep songs and a lot of “silly” songs. Mood Rings is one that is most definitely “silly,” which doesn’t excuse the problems with it, of course. But they also had songs about college being a waste of time and songs about how exciting it is to be asked by a girl to go to the Sadie Hawkins dance. That’s one of the reasons I loved them so much. I wasn’t raised in a culture that said all music was of the devil, but I WAS raised in a culture that said all worthwhile music had to be explicitly worshipful and about Jesus. The fact that a Christian band was up there singing about… life… the complications of romantic relationships… the fear of college… stuff that I as a teenager cared about was life changing for me.

      Look up “I’m Getting Into You,” “I Am Understood?,” “For the Moments I Feel Faint,” “Be My Escape,” “I So Hate Consequences” or some of their other songs and you’ll see that they really have a deep understanding of one of the most important aspects of Christianity…. grace. The struggle to get it right, the inevitable shortcomings, and the acceptance that God offers anyway. Some of their stuff is problematic, but some of it is really good.

      “Mood Rings” is on one of their earlier albums, and they’ve definitely matured a lot since then. None of this is an excuse for how sexist some of their lyrics are, of course. But there’s a lot of good there too.

      • Kristen Rosser

        That’s all very well, Marian, but I maintain that there is nothing remotely Christian about “Mood Rings.” No matter how much they understand grace, they have no grace for “those girls” they’re singing about. No understanding, no compassion, no fellow-feeling– just judgment. No sense that they really believe women are actually human beings like themselves– not in that song. I can’t say anything about their other songs, and I’m not saying anything about them as people. Just that no matter what their other songs are about, this is not a Christian song.

  • Alice

    I remember being floored by “secular” music as a teenager when I started listening to it behind my parents’ back because it reflected the full spectrum of emotions and experiences. Anger, lightheartedness, sadness, depression, sexual desire, fear, adventurous, confusion, etc. The Christian music I grew up with was only about God, it couldn’t have hardly any hard questions in it, it had to have a tidy, moral ending, etc.

    I found that “secular” music helped me as I learned how to recognize my feelings, sit with them, and accept them instead of trying to squash them with religious band-aids.

    CCM was very appealing when I was a preteen, because the only music I was allowed to listen to before that was accapella Christian music. Blech. There were all these stupid debates over if a group could still be considered accapella (i.e. holy) if they used computer-generated sound effects.