Masculinity, the Church, Post-Modernism, and Southern Gospel

Masculinity, the Church, Post-Modernism, and Southern Gospel February 20, 2012

John Piper has apparently upset some feminists. Recently, he made some rather direct comments on the masculine nature of Christianity. To quote directly:

God revealed Himself in the Bible pervasively as king not queen; father not mother… The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son not daughter; the Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man, the name of the male…God appoints all the priests in the Old Testament to be men; the Son of God came into the world to be a man; He chose 12 men to be His apostles; the apostles appointed that the overseers of the Church be men; and when it came to marriage they taught that the husband should be the head. Now, from all of that I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel.

Well. You can just imagine the howls of indignation from Rachel Held Evans and her ilk. Of course Piper is spot-on, but naturally many will disagree.
Meanwhile, a certain blogger who shall not be named has offered his own take on the controversy as it relates to southern gospel. As an English professor and a post-modernist, his reaction is really rather typical. But it’s tricky. It’s slimy in a subtle way. So today I’d like to unpack it a bit for the benefit of my readers.
You see, when a liberal encounters something that clashes with his preferred political tastes—whether it’s in literature, in the culture, in the Church, or what have you–he can react in one of two ways. First, he can have an immediate negative knee-jerk response, i.e. “Such-and-such is terrible because it’s [fill-in-the-blank–sexist, racist, etc.] We must write books and articles shouting from the rooftops how terrible such-and-such/so-and-so is.”

Or, he can say, “Well… such-and-such seems bad on its face. But under the surface, there are all kinds of fascinating tensions and sub-texts that make it far more complicated and nuanced than the average layman might think. Really, we can’t be too simplistic, and having made a study of these underlying tensions, I’ve concluded that such-and-such should be received positively, whether it was meant to be or not.”
For example, consider this in the area of literary criticism. A passage of Shakespeare annoys the first group of liberals because they think it’s sexist. Up goes the cry, “Shakespeare is sexist!” But along come the post-modernists to say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. I think you’re unaware of the sub-texts. Really, when you get under the surface of this passage, you discover that Shakespeare isn’t a sexist after all.” Because the Muse is liberal, you see, and because Shakespeare is great, Shakespeare must be a liberal at the end of it all. Otherwise he couldn’t create such great art. His artistic impulses are carrying him leftward whether he wills them to or not. So they do a post-modern “reading” of Shakespeare in order to “find” what they think has to be there.
This is what passes for respected intellectualism in the disaster that is our modern educational system—a disaster that would be laughable if it weren’t so profoundly and harmfully influential. And it’s what our blogger who shan’t be named is doing with southern gospel. In fact, it’s exactly what he’s doing with southern gospel. He begins by taking Piper’s quote as a sort of evangelical template for accepted gender roles. But then he says that even though fundamentalists would like to believe things are that simple, because such a foundation of “absolutes” gives them “security,” things are not as they seem. He then discusses ways in which he sees southern gospel “upending” the standards of this traditional template, e.g., the popularity of groups with a female lead singer, the fan love for tenor singers (“the man who sings like a woman”), and emotional songwriting (like Marshall Hall’s “When I Cry”).
Now of course that’s a lot of… I’m going to restrain myself here… baloney sausage. But you have to get inside the post-modernist’s head to see how this works. Yes, it’s twisted. Yes, it’s ridiculous. But you see, they’ve got to find the… here comes the word… “subversive” forces at work in whatever they’re analyzing. (That word by the way is explicitly used in the blurb for said blogger’s upcoming book, which should be a textbook example of this kind of analysis in its full glory.) The southern gospel culture isn’t so sexist and hypocritical after all. It’s so much more interesting than that. It has to be.
Let me close with a candid word from my own experience: One of the reasons why I was initially attracted to southern gospel was because it seemed like a much “manlier” genre than, say, CCM or praise and worship. Or, to be more specific, what CCM and P & W have become in the last decade or so. I was so sick of the effeminate singing, the effeminate songs, the cheap emotionalism. I was sick of dudes with bad hair and torn-up jeans singing love songs to Jesus. But when I watched this video clip, I felt like I was standing in front of an open door. There was a whole world of music out there that I had never explored. And it looked promising. Much more promising. From there, the rest is history. (And please, for those of you who just can’t wait to spill your insinuations about how southern gospel is really infested with homos… save it. I’m not denying that there may indeed be some, nor am I denying that this is a problem if true. But pointless gossip is worse than pointless. I for one am content to enjoy the many perfectly normal men who are singing good, manly music.)
So, that’s about the closest you’re going to get to a review of our blogger’s upcoming book from me. I have no intention of wasting pennies or seconds on it, because I can already recognize it for the insignificant bit of post-modern clap-trap that it is. If you were planning to spend your own time and money in that way, it’s none of my concern. (And I know that Daniel Mount is bravely volunteering to do so for the purposes of reviewing it.) However, I do encourage you to spend that time and money elsewhere. I believe it will be better spent that way.

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  • Reblogged this on exceptionnoted.

  • Lydia

    I think anyone who just looks at Southern Gospel with an unbiased mind will definitely see it as manly. From a feminist perspective, the very ubiquity of all-male groups with all-male bands, traveling on the road together, would be galling if more feminists even thought about the existence of Southern Gospel. Thank goodness most of them don’t. Legally, the fact that most of these groups are very small business with a very specific artistic focus makes it (again, thank goodness) difficult for the advocates of affirmative action to jump on them and sue them for not having 50/50 men and women musicians, or any such nonsense. What that means in practice is that you find in this genre one of the few remaining places where male bonding and normal male chemistry have a role and even are specifically sought. Good southern gospel fans find it charming, I think, and enjoyable–the banter, the male voices, the peer affection, the role model playing from older to younger male singers.
    The female singers and musicians tend (from the little I’ve seen, correct me if I’m wrong) to have their places more in family groups and extended family groups. The day when Signature Sound thinks they need to hire, e.g., a woman pianist to travel with them on the road just to prove they aren’t sexist would be a sad day, hopefully a day that will never come.
    So, yes, Southern Gospel should definitely be garlic to the feminist vampires. 🙂 Any attempt to say otherwise is sophistry.

  • K. Payne

    If you will remember, back in the 90’s, The Imperials had Armond’s sister singing with them. That ( for some people ) was the unthinkable. She did fill a spot and she did give them a different sound. I think she did a good job but the group, from its beginnings, has always been a male quartet. The Weatherfords started out as a mixed group (my mother was the first piano player). They went back and forth on group members until the 60’s when Lily dropped out (for awhile) to raise kids. Earl always said that Lily, off stage, was his wife. On stage, she was just another group member. I think that on the whole, sg is a male dominated place. Not a problem. There is a place for everybody in music.

  • Baloney Sausage indeed! hahahaha! That John Piper…what a troublemaker.

  • I really do have great respect for Piper. That doesn’t mean I always agree with him, but I pay attention to what he says, on any topic. Here I’m definitely on the same page with him.

  • Thank you pastor!

  • I never knew that about the Imperials. Interesting! Thanks for sharing your perspective–little historical tidbits like that always add to a conversation. 🙂
    Hey, I don’t know if I’ve ever asked, but the fact that your last name is Payne and that you have a connection to the Weatherfords… is there a connection to Glen Payne, or is it pure coincidence?

  • It really is, and I think it’s the sort of thing that should appeal to both normal male fans and normal female fans. It should appeal to normal female fans, because normal female fans are attracted to men and masculinity (and we are also assuming that a female who likes southern gospel would be attracted to specifically WHOLESOME masculinity as opposed to lounge-lizard/hulk masculinity). And it should appeal to normal guys, because normal guys should be all the more turned off by the effeminate and grateful for a masculine alternative.

  • quartet-man

    She sounded really good with them on the harmonies. This was during the time Jonathan Hildreth (Pierce) was with them.

  • K. Payne

    My dad and Glen both grew up in east Tx. We have been trying to find a connection for a long time. Haven’t found it yet but have made some progress along those lines. Related or not, still a nice guy and a great singer.

  • Gosh, I totally agree with your every word, and that is so rare. Thank you for articulating so perfectly. Everyone seems to be fine with women having girlfriends and are encouraged to bond, but people seem to turn a blind eye to the needs of men. And if I could add just one sentiment: nothing cranks my tractor like an all male quartet. Growing up I wondered why we needed any other form of music since we had the very finest; the Barber Shop Quartets –

  • I’m waiting for Terry Franklin to give you an “Amen!” there. His father sang lead for the Suntones. 🙂