Evangelicals still trail Jehovah’s Witnesses in tribal Billboard No. 1 contest

For some people, Christianity is a life-shaping faith and a source of hope and meaning. For others, it’s a tribal competition in which life is all about scoring points for Team Christian.

Good news for people in the latter category, Christianity Today reports that Team Christian now has the No. 1 album in the U.S., according to Billboard magazine:

Chris Tomlin’s new album, “Burning Lights,” topped the Billboard 200 album chart yesterday with 73,000 units sold in its first week.

He is only the fourth Christian artist ever to hit No. 1; TobyMac’s “Eye on It” … was the first since 1997. Both artists have been top award winners in Christian music.

Four No. 1 albums for Team Christian is impressive — although it still leaves us well behind Team Jehovah’s Witness.

But wait … only four Christian artists have ever had a No. 1 album?

That seems low. Sœur Sourire was a No. 1 album in 1963 based on this hit:


But Jeanine Deckers, aka “the Singing Nun,” apparently doesn’t count as a “Christian artist.”

Sorry, sister, but Christianity Today says you’re not a Christian artist.

OK, so Dominican sisters can’t be Christian artists — how about Baptists?

Well, since Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Alice Cooper, Whitney Houston and Patti LaBelle’s No. 1 albums don’t seem to count, I guess Baptists cannot be “Christian artists” either.

Just consider that small handful of artists and try to come up with some way that phrase “Christian artist” makes sense.

I suppose we could take a moralistic approach to clarify that “Christian” really only refers to real, true Christians who don’t drink or do drugs or commit adultery or wear eyeliner or marry Bobby Brown or sing about “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi.”

But that still doesn’t explain ruling out Sister Jeanine.

It also seems kind of unfair to Alice Cooper — who, off-stage, has always been a pretty straight-laced Baptist pastor’s kid.

Plus ruling out Johnny Cash puts you at odds with Billy Graham, who loved to have Johnny sing at his evangelistic rallies. If singing for Billy Graham at revival rallies doesn’t make the grade as a “Christian artist” then what does it take?

But the truth is that Sr. Jeanine and Johnny Cash and the scores of other Christians who have recorded No. 1 albums don’t count here as “Christian artists” because they weren’t “Christian” in the tribal sense of playing for Team Jesus.

Meaning the sales of their albums did not profit Team Jesus.

That is what “Christian artist” means in this context. And that is all that “Christian artist” means in this context. It means someone who records albums for a “Christian” record label, preferably one based in Nashville.

It’s not about the faith of the artist and it’s not about the art of the faithful. It’s about who gets the money.

Tribal religion always seems to be about who gets the money. Go Team Jesus!

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  • EllieMurasaki

    Florence + the Machine! “You’ve Got the Love” and “Bedroom Hymns” are the obvious ones.

  • Jenora Feuer

    And ‘Fire and Rain’ was also covered by Blood, Sweat, and Tears, just like ‘God Bless the Child’.  No big surprise, both of those covers came while David Clayton-Thomas was the lead singer…

  • stardreamer42

     That’s what we call “fish on the business card” advertising, and it’s not just applicable to publishers. For that matter, I’m not down with pagan symbols in the advertising either (unless your business is directly related, like a religious supplier) — in both cases, it’s arguing that something other than your actual business reputation should be a selling point.

  • We just got a new choir member who was telling us how glad he was to find a place with talented singers, and mentioned a church he visited once where they played a recording of Johnny Cash’s “Water into Wine” for their communion song.

  • Original Lee

    What about Debby Boone and You Light Up My Life?   That doesn’t count?????

  • lowtechcyclist

    The money may be a big part of the story, but I think control’s an even bigger part: having people in the tribe in a position to do the vetting on who is, and who isn’t, a ‘Christian’ artist.  The labels institutionalize that vetting. 

    This way, if a ‘Christian’ artist starts saying things that the Tribe doesn’t like, they’ll lose their record contract, won’t get picked up by another ‘Christian’ label, and will thereby cease to be a ‘Christian’ artist.

  • Jenny Islander

    “Tribal” is definitely a loaded term.   I think that a less loaded term would be “seagull pecking,” after an experiment in which one healthy seagull in a whole flock of them was splotched with pink paint–and promptly pecked to death by its own flockmates.  Look like us, dress like us, do your hair like us, recite our exact list of shibboleths, and hate the people we hate–or we will consider you to be our enemy even if you grew up with us and live out the principles we espouse.

  • I don’t have faith in faith.
    I don’t believe in belief.
    You can call me faithless,
    and that’s faith enough for me.

    But I still cling to hope,
    and I believe in love,
    and that’s faith enough for me.

  • Jenny Islander


    I have told the story here before–repeatedly I think–about the time I tried to expand my collection of Bach CDs by shopping at the Christian bookstore and got told (rather pityingly IIRC) that they only carried Christian artists.

    I started shopping at the Orthodox coffee-shop-cum-bookstore instead; they didn’t have any Bach either, but they did have some lovely albums of cantatas by other Baroque composers.  I admit to schadenfreude upon learning not long afterward that the “nondenominational” Christian bookstore had closed.  It’s been years since then, but Monks Rock is still in business.

  • But that still doesn’t explain ruling out Sister Jeanine.

    There’s a simple explanation for that – she’s a Papist

  • Jenny Islander

    “Hotel California” compares the bad record contract the Eagles were stuck in at the time to being trapped in a horror movie that just won’t end.  But I suppose it’s really about Satan worship.  Just like “Life in the Fast Lane” is about the damage that cocaine addiction does to people, but it must really be about how much fun it is to sniff cocaine.

    So what did the lady think was going to happen, that there was an ad on the back of the book you were reading for another book that quoted Hamlet in the title?  Did she think the book had to be a sex’n’drugs’n’Satan manual or something?  (According to the Intertubes it’s about an idealistic pacifist in a space opera universe who joins the civil service in order to do good, but gets hijacked into doing government-sponsored assassinations under cover so deep that he doesn’t even know he’s doing it until it’s over.)

  • Worthless Beast

    Aaaand, yep.  Good ol’ U2.  I’m a huge fan, been to a couple of their concerts as birthday gifts.  Taking me to a U2 concert was the excuse my fiance’ used to propose to me in fact. Long story. 

    Their songs are filled with Biblical / Christian symbolism and members of the band aren’t shy about having faith… but their music is made to appeal to lots of people, and to address serious issues… and some of their causes are so Hippie-type!  And… Bono use the F-word sometimes!  Get the smelling salts!  

  • Fusina

     Sounded like a person trapped in a bad life wanting desperately to get out, and not knowing how. So I can see the contract comparison. But yes, I was told they were worshipping Satan and _liked_ it.

    All I remember is that she kept repeating that God doesn’t remember our sins, and that therefore the book was obviously evil, talking about remembering sins. Finally found a copy of it, but haven’t read it yet…it is in my ever growing pile of things to read, which got hijacked by the Game of Thrones series a month or so back. Two books to go.

  • The_L1985

     But remember, quoting the Bible doesn’t count because the Byrds were hippies.

    Just like the following quote from Amos doesn’t count because loud guitars and cursing:

    Out of Zion shall come forth the law
    And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem;
    Nation shall not raise sword against nation,
    And they shall not learn war any more…

    The song?  “Liberate,” by Disturbed.  (Yes, Jewish, but still.)

  • The_L1985

     There are a few Demon Hunter songs I like, but for all the wrong reasons.  (Look up the lyrics to “Not I.”  Now imagine how you could say those exact same words and mean the exact opposite of what DH probably meant.)

  • Ross Thompson

    Reminds me of a little Genesis number…

    Jesus he knows me
    And he knows I’m right
    Ive been talking to Jesus all my life
    Oh yes he knows me
    And he knows I’m right
    Well he’s been telling me
    Everything’s gonna be alright, alright

  • Launcifer

    Hell, pretty much the entirety of Disturbed’s second album was a kind of religious concept album.

  • OnlyMe

    Many people came from all aroundTo hear this man preach, glorious soundHe spoke of man in harmony and love aboundHe died for the tears in your eyes-Prince(who, from what I understand has recently joined Team JW)

  • Jenny Islander

    You know, looking back, I think one of my first impressions of fundamentalism was precisely this kind of unthinking reflexive fear.  I was raised American Lutheran (now Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).  We were taught to carefully read, discuss, and consider new ideas and guided away from snap decisions of any kind.  I can just imagine the two pastors of my youth reacting to this woman if she had been one of their parishioners:

    “Pastor, PASTOR, Fusina is reading a book that advertises evil things!”

    “What do you mean?  What book?”

    “It had an ad on the back for a book called All My Sins Remembered! But God doesn’t remember sin!  It’s an evil book and Fusina is being led into evil!  Oh, Pastor, I’m so worried!”

    “Is it a religious book?”

    “I don’t know!  But it talks about God remembering sin!”

    “If you don’t know whether it’s a religious book or not, how do you know it talks about God remembering sin?”

    “Because of the title!”

    “The ad on the back of the book?”

    “Yes, the title!”

    “So you think Fusina is reading an evil book because the ad on the back jacket is for a different book whose title is All My Sins Remembered?  You know, that sounds like a quote.  Let me grab my copy of Bartlett.  Yes, here it is.  It’s Shakespeare, Hamlet talking to Ophelia.  He is asking her to pray for him because he is a sinner.”

    “Oh.  But it’s still about sin.”

    “Which book, the book Fusina is reading or the book that’s been advertised?”

    ” . . . ”

    “You know, I bet the library could get a copy of either one for you.  How about you give them a read and let me know what you think?”

    After which neither you nor he would have heard another word about either book from her, because the pastor wouldn’t play the Fear Game.  Of course, the parishioner might well have left the church in search of “strong preaching,” reason and logic and doing one’s own thinking being so ungodly and all.

    Talking to fundamentalists is frustrating and exhausting because they insist on being scared, scared, scared.  And it really pisses me off that the popular image of an American Christian is just like the lady who flipped out about the ad on your book.

  • Personally, i’ve always been partial to that one song that’s basically just a paraphrase of Isiah 21. How does it go again? Oh yeah:

    All along the watchtower,
    The princes kept a view,
    while all the women came and went,
    Barefoot servants too.
    Outside in the cold distance,
    A wildcat did growl.
    Two riders were approaching,
    The wind began to howl.

  • Fusina

     I grew up with this sort of thing–well, after I was 13. Before that we went to a Lutheran church (Missouri Synod) and there I learned about bullies.

    My Mum left there and went to an AG, there I learned that it isn’t what you think and ponder, it is what the leadership tells you that counts. This was also the church where I encountered the woman when I was reading that book. After those two, I dropped out of church entirely for a while. Found my way to the Episcopal church, where I found the liturgical trappings I liked from the Lutheran church, and the thinking and pondering that I did anyway. So I stayed.

    As to the growing up stuff, the AG church hates people to think and question, at least the one I got to attend until I moved out of my parents house. My Mom likes the security of having someone else tell her what to think and believe. I happen to prefer the freedom to, as someone mentioned here, “work out my salvation in fear and trembling”. I wrote a poem about it, here it is.


    To abandon old beliefs,
    to fall
    into a billowing pillow of grace
    and infinite love
    to leave behind the hellfire of damnation
    the way I learned,
    is hard
    and frightening: but
    I know
    that all are wholly beloved
    unless God is not as good a parent
    as I am.

  • It’s the blues. It’s not trying to instruct anyone on how to live their lives. It’s a song about the way the world is.

    “Strange Fruit” isn’t about how awesome lynching is, either.

  • Ani DiFranco sings a glorious “Amazing Grace”. Also there’s this, from “Served Faithfully”:

    You gotta try to understand
    the grandness of the man behind the petty crimes 
    and let him off easy sometimes

    And Laura Love:

    You got plans
    You got dreams
    You got names for everyone who doesn’t look — doesn’t act — doesn’t smell just like you do
    But our house is open to you too
    If you are able
    To put down your little stick — and to sit at our table
    Each and every one of us is happy to set another place for the likes of you

    That’s from “Welcome to Pagan Place”. If you want Christian ideals, gotta run as far away from corporate Christianity as possible.

  • Tricksterson

    After watching the current season of American Horror Story I can’t even think of that song without a shudder.

  • Tricksterson

    Oh now, that can’t possibly have anything to do with the Bible! ;>

  • Tricksterson

    Awesome?  Yes.  Best guest star ever?  I’d certainly put him on the short list but Elton John, Zero Mostel and Peter Sellers would have to go up there too.

  • Tricksterson

    “Sorry Sherman but like most of America’s cultural elite I worship Pan, the goat god.”

  • Tricksterson

    Hadn’t known that was what “Hotel California” was about.  What I never got was people seeming to think that the narrator was supposed to have a positive view of the events in the song when, as you say, it always came across as a horror story to me.  As for “Life in the Fast Lane”  Did those people listen to the lyrics?  At all?

  • Amaryllis

     I… didn’t know about that, because I refuse to watch any more of that show.

    Is nothing sacred?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    You think “seagull pecking” is less loaded than “tribal”?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Still wasn’t as bad as the time I was reading a book and there was a blurb on the back cover for another book, “All My Sins Remembered” by Joe Haldeman, and a lady who about had a heart attack on seeing it. Even I knew that it was a bit from a quote out of Hamlet–I might have been all of 16 at the time. Church folk can be a bit weird.

    Agreed. When I was at uni I went to see a professional production of Les Miserables and was raving about it to my lab partner the next day. He sniffed that it was evil because there are ghosts in the final scene, and apparently that wasn’t on according to his evangelical theology. I didn’t ask why, because I was dumbstruck about the idea of having to hate everything that may include some tiny reference to any obscure doctrinal matter that you didn’t agree with.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Turns out I’m not finished riffing off your comment :)

    Err, that last was sarcasm. Also a bit of annoyedness at the church people (Assemblies of God–got a lot of wounds left from there) who condemned an entire group for one song that when I listened to it, and read the lyrics, it was the saddest song I ever heard, but not evil like I was told. (Eagles, Hotel California).

    First, yeah, I don’t understand how people miss the sadness in the tone of Hotel California.

    On condemning great music–I knew a guy who was a HUGE Beatles fan. Just adored their music (and rightly so). He’d play their albums constantly but had to skip The Ballad of John and Yoko (because of the blasphemy, see), and when listening to the sublime While My Guitar Gently Weeps would sigh and say (with genuine sorrow) that it’s sad that George Harrison is in hell now. Because of the Eastern religions thing.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I just saw the movie Monday, no previous experience of book or
    musical (things I wish I had been warned for, because they didn’t trigger me but they’re sure as fuck triggery: rape, violence, and lots of death, including a child and a suicide), and, uh, those didn’t look like ghosts to me. That looked like heaven. Heaven is not populated by ghosts. Ghosts are by definition souls that have not gone to heaven, or (by some definitions) to hell.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    A distinction my lab partner clearly didn’t care for.

    For future reference, epics 19th century novels focusing on society’s outcasts tend to have a lot of potentially triggery stuff. Now that I think of it, I can’t recall any novel that I love that doesn’t have potentially triggery stuff.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I wonder what your lab partner would think of whichever Left Behind book features the dead people brought back with glorified bodies.

  • P J Evans

    it’s sad that George Harrison is in hell now

    He’s busy equipping the heavenly choirs with new instruments, I suspect.

  • Worthless Beast

    Dude… I JUST watched that!  Seriously! I’ve been watching old episodes of “The Critic” and that was one I watched tonight, and yes, it made me think of this thread. 


  • Jenny Islander

    Doesn’t assume that people who organize themselves into tribes are therefore a bunch of pig-ignorant xenophobic yahoos, but keeps in the knee-jerk irrationality of the attitude.

  • Drop Kick Me Jesus thru the Field goal of life.  Now that’s a Christian song!

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    And adds the imagery of the group killing any one of their members who is different. Not inflammatory at all.

    Lucky our side never does that!


    …and even make it a point of pride that they have no DJs in their pre-recorded “We don’t take requests, we play what we want!” bits
    between songs and before and after advertisements.

    Wait, you’ve got Jack FM? They recently vanished from the airwaves ’round here (their number on the dial is now sports radio) and I was wondering where they went.

    (I wasn’t a loyal listener, but I appreciated some of the songs they played. The setlist was just a hair off from neighboring stations of similar genre.)


    I remember seeing one old bag picking up a copy of Rez Band’s Live Bootleg record and slamming it down in disgust.

    You know what would be nice?

    Having just one day go by without encountering misogynist slurs from people who are supposedly on my side.

    Today is clearly not that day.

  • The_L1985

     I really wish more DJs operated like that.  It’s one of the main reasons that I hate radio morning shows–the obviously-staged quality of the patter is just so irritating!

    Meanwhile, I listen to podcasts, which have the same talk-to-music ratio, and it’s a world of difference.  Podcasters, as a general rule, only have a relatively small listenership, and tend not to make money of the podcasts–so it has that same “I’m doing this for my friends” sort of feel.

  • You know what would be nice?

    Having just one day go by without encountering misogynist slurs from people who are supposedly on my side.

    Wouldn’t it be grand? 

    I look forward to being an “old bag” myself. Of completely no use, of course, as I will no longer be deemed fuckable, and of course that’s what women are for. There’s going to be a certain amount of freedom to that. No — a LOT of freedom. 

  • Barry_D

    I posted a comment there linking back here; it was deleted.