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:

YouTube Preview Image

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!

  • AnonymousSam

    Well, meet me, Jesus, meet me
    Meet me in the middle of the air
    And if these wings don’t fail me
    I will meet you anywhere

    Ain’t no grave can hold my body down

  • EllieMurasaki

    Well my goodness gracious let me tell you the news
    My head’s been wet with the midnight dew
    I’ve been down on bended knee
    Talkin’ to the man from Galilee
    He spoke to me in a voice so sweet
    I thought I heard the shuffle of the angel’s feet
    He called my name and my heart stood still
    When he said, “John, go do My will!”

  • EllieMurasaki

     Same song, more pointed:

    Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand
    Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man
    But as sure as God made black and white
    What’s done in the dark will be brought to the light

  • Launcifer

    It’s mildly embarassing that my first thought on reading your post was, “Doubt they’ll accept Led Zeppelin on Team Jesus”. Bloody hell, but they cribbed from everywhere, didn’t they?

  • AnonymousSam

    Huh, never noticed that. Yeah, those lyrics have some notable similarities.

    Meet me Jesus, meet me
    Meet me in the middle of the air
    If my wings should fail me, Lord
    Please meet me with another pair

    It’s more embarrassing that the first thought I got from it was that the Undertaker used this song as his entrance theme for awhile.

  • SisterCoyote

    Mumford & Sons have some pretty deep, honest stuff. But I get the feeling what these folks are looking for isn’t honesty.

    But I still believe though there’s cracks you’ll see,
    When I’m on my knees I’ll still believe,
    And when I’ve hit the ground, neither lost nor found,
    If you believe in me I’ll still believe

    (Holland Road.)

    They remind me of U2, with the nature of their songs. Faith in one’s fellow man, faith in a partner broken, and faith in God, wounded – it’s a lot of pain and a lot of light and a lot of hunger.

    Oh hey but this is Number One albums, I realized, and I have no idea whether theirs have hit that point. Probably not. Sorry.

  • Fusina

    Uriah Heep has a song (Easy Livin’) that has definitely got some churchy lyrics. Didn’t notice them til recently. Damn, but apparently church folk are everywhere. Who knew?

    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).

    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.

  • Rivikah

    My guess would be this:  to count as a “Christian artist” one should be on a “Christian Record Label” and sold in “Christian Bookstores”.

  • nichevo

    anyone who rejects a legitimate chance to count johnny cash as on ‘their side’ can’t possibly be doing it more wrong.

  • Daniel

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

    I’m not sure I’d use the word “always” there. This is a man whose conversion was part of his process of going straight, alongside golf – in his words, he replaced drugs and alcohol with God and golf. On the other hand not only is he now born-again, he’s got a very strong Christian theme running through many of his post-conversion albums… (the narrative of, say, The Last Temptation, let alone more obvious examples like Welcome to Hell, is very salvific)

  • Amaryllis

    Holy Mother of God, it’s Soeur Sourire.

    My parents had that one. I haven’t thought of her in… it’s embarrassing how long ago it was.

  • Lliira

    Billie Holiday?

    Money, you’ve got lots of friends
    Crowding round the door
    When you’re gone, spending ends
    They don’t come no more
    Rich relations give
    Crust of bread and such
    You can help yourself
    But don’t take too much
    Mama may have, Papa may have
    But God bless the child that’s got his own
    That’s got his own

    Nah, a black woman who sings the blues can never be Team Christian. Can the blues ever be Team Christian at all? The blues are for filling up the hungry, the poor, the down-and-out, the heartbroken, the people who mess up and know they’re gonna keep messing up. Team Christian makes marches, not lamentations.

  • Baby_Raptor

    People around here have heard the stories of how fundie my grandparents were, so I’ll spare the reiterations. But music was my grandfather’s thing. He did NOT take anyone’s attitude over what he listened to. He actually dragged us out of a church we’d attended for a couple years because one of the leadership types there told him that the Beach Boys were demonic. 

    Yeah. The Beach Boys. 

  • Worthless Beast

    I have a lingering vague memory of watching some televangist talk-show thingy where Alice Cooper was discussed.  Maybe it was The 700 Club?  It was a long time ago… I just remember the hosts openinly questioning Cooper’s sincerity regarding his faith  *because of the freaking stage-persona.*  

    It really is all about labels and toeing a certain line.  I’m a wannabe fantasy writer.  Haven’t gotten anywhere with it yet (besides some completed manuscripts that no one seems to want to take on). While I knew from the beginning that my thoughts on life, the universe and everything were going to worm their way into my work, I decided – even when I was really into Church – that I absolutely was *not* going to be a “Christian” writer.   A publisher listing “deals with Christian work / wants stuff that reflects our values” sometimes will turn me off soliting them (and I’m pretty deserate).  I’ve known from early on that there is a difference between “an artist who happens to be Christian” and a “Christian artist.” One may color their work with their faith sometimes, but really wants to connect in a general human way that’s accessible to everyone.  The other is preaching at best, bound and gagged at worst. 

    On that happy note, I don’t know too many Jewish comedians who stick to “just Jewish comedy,” either, but like to make everyone laugh. 

  • Worthless Beast

    I have a lingering vague memory of watching some televangist talk-show thingy where Alice Cooper was discussed.  Maybe it was The 700 Club?  It was a long time ago… I just remember the hosts openinly questioning Cooper’s sincerity regarding his faith  *because of the freaking stage-persona.*  

    It really is all about labels and toeing a certain line.  I’m a wannabe fantasy writer.  Haven’t gotten anywhere with it yet (besides some completed manuscripts that no one seems to want to take on). While I knew from the beginning that my thoughts on life, the universe and everything were going to worm their way into my work, I decided – even when I was really into Church – that I absolutely was *not* going to be a “Christian” writer.   A publisher listing “deals with Christian work / wants stuff that reflects our values” sometimes will turn me off soliting them (and I’m pretty deserate).  I’ve known from early on that there is a difference between “an artist who happens to be Christian” and a “Christian artist.” One may color their work with their faith sometimes, but really wants to connect in a general human way that’s accessible to everyone.  The other is preaching at best, bound and gagged at worst. 

    On that happy note, I don’t know too many Jewish comedians who stick to “just Jewish comedy,” either, but like to make everyone laugh. 

  • http://harmfulguy.livejournal.com/ harmfulguy

    I thought the rule of thumb was that it wasn’t REAL Christian music if it appealed to anyone who didn’t identify as Christian.

  • SisterCoyote

     There are those who see sorrow as evil. I don’t quite understand them.

  • SisterCoyote

     I think that’s actually the root of the problem. It’s Christian music if it isolates, if it establishes boundaries and walls, if it’s too trite to draw emotion, (what was that post regarding power ballads, getting grounded for listening to Journey?), if it passes every filter of safety.

    If it breaks walls and dashes boundaries, it’s not REALLY Christian, it’s dangerous and wicked. If it makes you feel something, it’s wrong – you should only feel when your pastor wants you to.

  • We Must Dissent

     That’s a reworking of a song by Moby, another artist who doesn’t count as Christian. Still a very good sing. I go with “Redemption”:

    From his hands it came down
    From his side it came down

    From his feet it came down

    And ran to the ground

    Between heaven and hell

    A teardrop fell
    In the deep crimson dew

    The tree of life grew

    Of course finding a Johnny Cash song with overt Christianity isn’t hard.

  • Madhabmatics

    Imagine my hysterical laughter when someone came up to me and said “[Madhabmatics] have u heard Toby Mac’s song about the Illuminati?”

    Now since they SAID it I can’t be sure that they spelled “you” as “u” but whenever someone talks about conspiracy theories I just assume.

  • Jessica_R

    One man come in the name of love
    One man come and go
    One man he to justify 
    One man to overthrow 

    In the name of love
    What more in the name of love
    In the name of love 
    What more in the name of love

  • Madhabmatics

    Also I am surprised that Five Iron Frenzy kept the “Christian Band” label as long as they did with the subject of their songs. I’m p. sure if I called up a Christian Radio and asked for “The Day We Killed” or “Old West” they’d send the posse after me.

    also the later song they did with Pat Robertson’s call to assassinate Hugo Chavez playing with the beatitudes being said all hauntingly in the background ruled

  • stardreamer42

    To everything, turn, turn, turn,
    There is a season, turn, turn, turn,
    And a time to every purpose under Heaven.
    A time to live, a time to die;
    A time to dance, a time to mourn;
    A time to cast away stones,
    A time to gather stones together.

     

  • Guest

    Off-topic but I wondered what you thought of this Bad Catholic post?

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/badcatholic/2013/01/in-defense-of-the-march-for-life.html

    It reminded me of some of your posts about how anti-abortionists were looking for a way to cast themselves as heroes.

     

  • gpike

    Since “Christian” rock was the only thing I was allowed to listen to as a teen bands like Five Iron were a big part of my formative years… Funny how now I like their “liberal” songs a lot more than their “Jesus-y” ones nowadays.

    There were always a lot of bands I listened to (mostly on Tooth and Nail and a few “indie” christian labels) that you could never have guessed they were “christian” from listening to them – in some cases I always suspected that bands just happened to settle on those labels because the bar was low and as long as there wasn’t overt swearing or anything in their lyrics they’d get an automatic audience. XD

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    A publisher listing “deals with Christian work / wants stuff that
    reflects our values” sometimes will turn me off soliting them (and I’m pretty desperate).

    In the long run, that could be a good thing. A significant amount of scammers fly the “Christian publisher” flag, counting on the faithful to put up with a lot of crap in the way of non-standard contracts, total failure to market the books to actual readers, and/or self-publishing services that don’t do anything for you that LuLu or Createspace couldn’t do (except take a cut of your profits) simply because “they’re on my side, they share my faith, isn’t that the important thing?” Some Christians will run the other way when they see an overt fish or cross on any business’s ads/communications for precisely that reason.

    See, for instance, Lighthouse Christian Publishing.

  • MaryKaye

    Alice Cooper was totally awesome on the Muppet Show–best guest star ever, in my opinion.  You gotta like someone who can hang with the Muppets.

  • Worthless Beast

    I was complaining about my latest rejection on a blog/forum thing I go to and someone there pointed out his package-published book. I looked up the package-online-publisher/marketer and it had the “Christian, works pretaining to our values” line and thought… “If I do pull the trigger on self-online publishing, I think I’m going to do it myself if and when I think I’m good enough.”

    In particular, I was thinking of what is possibly my strongest story, and also the best one to “vanity” publish since it’s a bit on the short side for a novel. It has a lot of symbolism for faith in it and the struggle with faith – in a very fantasy way. Fairly innocuous for people who are alright with fantasy creatures and the supernatural… however, the part where a character implies that churches/The Church is an instituion long-extinct probably wouldn’t be “kosher” with anyone like that.  I had a line about “symbols of ancient exectuion devices” in my head that I just had to use.  I don’t think any amount of saying “I believe this and that, I was just playing with worldbuilding because sandboxes are fun” would save face for me.

    As for fish and crosses on businesses… well, there’s a “Christian Air/Heating Service” out there that has *beautiful* trucks – a dove, gold lettering… and they’re a supposedly old and trusted company out here, but… yeah, there’s something about God and Mammon that doesn’t smell right to me.

  • Jenora Feuer

    Hunh, I never heard the original Billie Holliday version of that before.  On the other hand, I recognized the lyrics right off, from the Blood, Sweat and Tears cover of it.

    Going to Youtube search also pulls up Whitney Houston, Oleta Adams, Anita Baker (though that one rubbed me the wrong way on just the first line with some of her liberties with the tune).

  • Jessica_R

    And of course, one of my favorite songs full stop. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6TFW1F6oY0

  • Marc Tompkins

    I love me some Billie, but if you’re citing this as a “Christian” song, I gotta wonder whether we’re listening to the same lyrics?

    Despite the words “God bless”, this is essentially a song about looking out for Number One.  

  • Marc Tompkins

    Love the song… but it’s about MLK, not JC.

    Early morning, April 4 
    Shot rings out in the Memphis sky 
    Free at last, they took your life 
    They could not take your pride

  • Julian Elson

    I do wish “tribal” as used in these posts was given a bit more examination and explanation, and not used as a straightforward pejorative as if it were obvious why being tribal is negative, but anyway, my view for some time has been that the definition of “Christian music” is “music that you wouldn’t listen to for any reason other than its supposed religious merits.” J. S. Bach, for instance, can be enjoyed by people from atheists to Zoroastrians, no matter that much of his work was originally conceived of as Christian. Real Christian music isn’t supposed to be like that: if you can just enjoy it without sharing the religious views of its creators as if it were just music, then it’s not Christian enough.

  • Jessica_R

    And one lyric mentions “one man betrayed with a kiss,” it’s a Christian song about Christian figures that never would be accepted as such by Team Jesus. 

  • Foreigner

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CN11bI1_sZo

    (ELP : Jerusalem)

    What, too Socialist?

  • Damanoid

    Oh good point, “Christianity Today.”  It is frankly amazing that even four Christian artists have had #1 songs, here in the United States where the dominant religion has always been Goat-Worship.

    Maybe, if your occult minority faith continues to gain ground at this rate,  someday every town in America will have a Christian church in it.  It may take hundreds of years, but keep trying.  Miracles can happen, if your belief is strong enough, and if the Holy Goat wills it.

  • Turcano

    And I thought the rule of thumb was that it wasn’t Real Christian Music if it didn’t suck.

  • Fusina

     Speaking of Christian Music, and still not sure how he got some of his stuff past the censors, Steve Taylor had this to say about “christian businesses”

    “So you need a new car?
    Let your fingers take a walk
    Through the business guide for the “born again” flock
    You’ll be keeping all your money
    In the kingdom now
    And you’ll only drink milk from a Christian cow

    Don’t you go casting your bread
    To keep the heathen well-fed
    Line Christian pockets instead
    Avoid temptation

    Guilty by association”

    Read the whole thing here http://lyrics.wikia.com/Steve_Taylor:Guilty_By_Association

    He was one of my favorite of the “christian” musicians crowd, possibly because I _Like_ sarcasm when it is used to illuminate idiocy.

  • Amaryllis

    Now having actually read the comments, I see that no one’s mentioned Bruce Springsteen yet.

    Tonight my bag is packed

    Tomorrow I’ll walk these tracks

    That will lead me across the border

    Tomorrow my love and I

    Will sleep ‘neath auburn skies

    Somewhere across the border

    We’ll leave behind my dear

    The pain and sadness we found here

    And we’ll drink from the Bravo’s muddy water

    Where the sky grows gray and wide

    We’ll meet on the other side

    There across the border

    For you I’ll build a house

    High upon a grassy hill

    Somewhere across the border

    Where pain and memory

    Pain and memory have been stilled

    There across the border

    And sweet blossoms fill the air

    Pastures of gold and green

    Roll down into cool clear waters

    And in your arms ‘neath open skies

    I’ll kiss the sorrow from your eyes

    There across the border

    Tonight we’ll sing the songs

    I’ll dream of you my corazón

    And tomorrow my heart will be strong

    And may the saints’ blessing and grace

    Carry me safely into your arms

    There across the border

    For what are we

    Without hope in our hearts

    That someday we’ll drink from God’s blessed waters

    And eat the fruit from the vine

    I know love and fortune will be mine

    Somewhere across the border

    You can’t get much more Christian in imagery than the lyrics to “Across the Border,” which falls squarely into the tradition of all those double-meaning spirituals. And if most of his stuff isn’t quite that explicit, it’s still full of Christian themes and Christian symbols.

  • Carstonio

    I hadn’t heard about Alice Cooper converting. Perhaps Ozzy Osborne and King Diamond should be nervous.

    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.

    My own attempt at crafting a workable definition of “Christian artist”:  a performer whose repertoire is dominated by Christian themes or songs of praise. Johnny Cash recorded plenty of songs that addressed those themes – I can enjoy his version of “The Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea” without believing in his religion. But he recorded many more secular songs, so he was an artist who was Christian instead of being a Christian artist.

    It’s highly unlikely that Billboard actually has an editorial stance that the CCM labels and Christian bookstores are right about what constitutes “Christian music”. Its charting system has the effect of an endorsement, obviously, but the magazine’s definition may simply be a matter of convenience. At one time, such magazines lumped music marketed to blacks in the “race records” category, but the syncretic genre of rock ‘n’ roll helped lead the magazines to define that category more stylistically – some of Elvis’ early hits placed simultaneously on the pop, country and R&B charts.

    I’m wondering if CCM fans tend to buy more of their music at Christian stores or Christian retailers, which may or may not be in the SoundScan system, than from WalMart or iTunes or Amazon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fooneturing Foone Turing

    The billboard 200 says they hit #1 with Babel.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=30319652 Tim Lehnerer

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tId29Yit28g

    Tonio K. doing a song about the book of Revelation. It’s weird to hear a Hal Lindsey lecture you can slow-dance to.

  • AnonaMiss

    Alice Cooper used to host a late-night radio show on the station I most listened to in college. Our musical tastes were a little divergent but I really enjoyed his show, largely because he and engaged with the audience in a different way from most radio DJs – no sound effect trappings, a little on the earnest side, and fairly personal. It felt like he didn’t think of himself as broadcasting to a large group of people, and more like he was recording an audio letter for a friend to listen to. This was especially notable as it was obviously a syndicated show. I can definitely believe he was a pastor’s son from his air on-air.

    I rediscovered a station with the same handle when I moved out to Baltimore, which I suspect is the same station syndicated, but in the intervening time they’ve fired all their DJs 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. So basically the radio execs are assholes.

  • Launcifer

    Mentioning Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath has at least one explicitly pro-Jesus song in their back catalogue (After Forever on their 3rd album), largely because they got pissed off with being called Satanists.  There’s also a lot of very Christian imagery running throughout their back catalogue, though this might be down to the band members’ deliberate attempts to play “horror movie music” and the main lyricist’s predilection for Dennis Wheatley novels.

  • Chgo Liz

    Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
    My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
    Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
    So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?

    Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV ?
    Dialing For Dollars is trying to find me.
    I wait for delivery each day until three,
    So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV ?

    Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?
    I’m counting on you, Lord, please don’t let me down.
    Prove that you love me and buy the next round,
    Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?

    Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
    My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends,
    Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
    So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ? 
    ____

    Describes the “Team Jesus” mentality to a T.  And if anyone is in (rock & roll) heaven, it’s got to be Janis.

  • Carstonio

     Reminds me how the Exorcist and Omen genres lean heavily on Catholicism. Seems that telling stories about the devil almost requires one to use other types of Christian imagery, such as in Sympathy for the Devil.

  • John (not McCain)

    Sometimes being a Christian artist on a Christian Record Label  sold in a Christian Bookstore isn’t enough.  I remember seeing one old bag picking up a copy of Rez Band’s Live Bootleg record and slamming it down in disgust.  Apparently having a boot on a record cover violates Hezikiah 9:32 or something.

  • Carstonio

    To be fair, the boot looks vaguely punkish. Maybe the customer assumed that the band members were nihilists or butch lesbians. Or else the customer saw “bootleg” and didn’t get the joke.

  • P J Evans

    As for fish and crosses on businesses…

    I used to live in an area where someone had a handyman business with a van.The sides of the van were painted to look like a lot of tools hanging on a wall – except one of them, on the back, was a fish. It was actually pretty neat, being not so obvious.

  • Hilary

    No brainer why the Indego Girls aren’t RTC

    “You know, me and Jesus, we’re of the same heart
    The only thing that keeps us distant is that I keep fucking up

    She said come on down to Chicano city park and
    wash the blues away
    When the beautiful ladies walk right by you I never know what to say.”

    But  . . . he missed James Taylor?

    “Look down upon me Jesus, you gotta help me make a stand
    You just gotta see me through another day
    My body’s aching and my time is at an end
    I don’t know if I’ll make it any other way

    Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain . . . ”

    What about Garth Brooks?  He’s got some good music.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X