Michael Tait: ‘Living Integration’

Michael Tait: ‘Living Integration’

Michael Tait

Michael Tait is lead singer of The Newsboys. He and the Grammy-nominated band performed an electric set at the Jersey Shore Will Graham Celebration in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, last month. Best known as a member of the pioneering Christian rock/rap group dc Talk, Tait’s career in the Christian music industry has been defined by stretching the boundaries of art, faith, and culture. Urban Faith News & Religion editor Christine A. Scheller caught up with Tait as he prepared to take the stage. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Urban Faith: Congratulations on the success of Born Again, your first CD with The Newsboys.

Michael Tait: Thanks. After 44 weeks, we dropped off and then were number one again, so it’s mind-blowing.

Urban Faith: You’ve played with cross-cultural bands pretty much your whole career, right?

Michael Tait: Oh yeah. I call it “living integration.” I want people to see that the beauty of the human race is found in the diversity of the human race. We are God’s bouquet. We could have all white flowers or red, but man, wouldn’t it be pretty to see a bouquet of different flowers, different styles? That to me is the beauty of it.

Urban Faith: You did a lot to promote racial reconciliation when you were with dc Talk. Are you guys still involved with race and justice issues?

Michael Tait: Obviously, dc Talk is disbanded for the moment, or as we say, ‘double-parked in the city’ … but my heart’s always been for racial reconciliation because I grew up in the inner city of D.C. and my dad’s heart was for it.

Urban Faith: My editor wrote a book called Reconciliation Blues about his experience as a black person in the evangelical world. What are your thoughts on that experience?

Michael Tait: It’s funny you should mention that because the other day the band was like, “Tait, you’re like the only black guy in Christian rock.” It’s true. We have Kirk Franklin, who’s my friend, but that’s gospel. In CCM, as broad as it is, I’m the only little spot in that whole conglomeration.

Urban Faith: Did you grow up listening to rock music?

Michael Tait: I grew up listening to Oingo Boingo, U2, and Duran Duran, but also Kool & the Gang, Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson. My friends gave me a hard time, but I was like 12 or 13 and I was like, “Forget you guys, man.” In other words, I’m not going to be pigeonholed. I like basketball and soul food, but I also like tennis and sushi — and rock ‘n’ roll.

ROCKIN' DIVERSITY: Tait onstage with the Newsboys at the Will Graham Jersey Shore Celebration.

Urban Faith: In an interview with the Gospel Music Channel, you talked about your sister who died of AIDS after a history of drug abuse and your brother who is in prison for drug offenses. In her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander talks about the war against drugs as a backlash against the civil rights movement. Do you think structural racism has impacted your own family in this regard?

Michael Tait: Speaking directly, in a real tangible way, no. We weren’t put down or put in jail because of our color, nor did we become victims of HIV because of our color. But I think down the line, in the very nature of racism, most African Americans have been affected by it. Is it an excuse? No, it’s a fact. Should we stop and throw in the towel. No way. I’m not doing that. I want to climb higher. Not everybody has that drive.

The sad part is, because of the system and racism, a lot of families are broken up. That was the whole nature of racism in the beginning, to tear apart families. It’s still going on. That’s the part that’s so bad, because then little Johnny and Stevie and Bernard are alone at home. Mom is working two jobs and dad can’t be found because the world says he’s not worth anything. He’s looked down upon. He feels inferior to others. It’s a stinky mess, so sometimes it’s hard to grasp what to do, but all you can do is take one day at a time and do one act at a time.

Urban Faith: Some Christians have been identified with the “birther movement” that cast dispersions on President Obama’s birth. Would it happen if he wasn’t black?

Michael Tait: I think the bigger issue here is that many of us are not happy with what’s happening in our country under his leadership. That’s going to make us say, “Hey, by the way, you’re not even da da da.”

Urban Faith: Are you speaking of yourself or in general?

Michael Tait: Yes, myself. I’m not satisfied with Obama’s current direction for our country. …  The scariest part about it is I’m a Republican, and I’m not sure I see anyone coming up that I can even vote for next time. Who knows, [Obama] might get four more years.

Urban Faith: Another personal question for you. I read somewhere that you have a supermodel in your life.

Michael Tait: Yes, her name is Mari. We met in New York and started dating about a year ago. I’m going to pop the question one of these days.

Urban Faith: In your interview with the Gospel Music Network, you said, “I get lost in church. I can be jaded, go on cruise control. I know the Christian clichés and phrases to say to capture the audience.” That’s a spiritual dilemma. How do you keep going?

Michael Tait: I think it’s mind over matter. … The more real I get every night and the more I get into the Word in my personal life, the more it stays fresh. Otherwise it becomes karaoke. …  Also, I look at the crowds and the people. Every state’s different and every situation is different. It’s like God inspires me and fills me in that moment for that work and I feel it every night. So I can say the same thing and God uses it because his Word never comes back void.

New Laws, Shifting Demographics

New Laws, Shifting Demographics

NEW YORK PRIDE: Marchers in the weekend NYC Gay Pride Parade celebrated New York's legalization of same-sex marriage.

Calls and emails to numerous New York clergy went unanswered over the weekend as Urban Faith sought reaction to the passage of a bill that makes same-sex marriage legal in the state. Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law after it was passed by the Republican-led state senate Friday.

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage  (NOM) told the Wall Street Journal the move was a “disaster for the Republican party,” and said NOM will spend $2 million to defeat legislators who voted for it.

Former New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree was widely criticized last week for speaking out in opposition to the bill in a video for NOM. Tyree said it is “doing God an injustice by not making his heart known” on the issue, and was especially taken to task for suggesting that if a gay marriage bill passes in New York, it will be “the beginning of our country sliding toward … anarchy.

In some truly disheartening relationship news, a new Pew Research Center study indicates that while only 9 percent of Americans said more interracial relationships are bad for society, 16 percent of white evangelicals did and 13 percent of white mainline Protestants, Christianity Today reported.

“The views of white Christians stand in stark contrast to two other groups: black Protestants and those with no religion. Only 3 percent of either group said interracial marriage was bad for society. Eight-in-ten respondents said the trend ‘doesn’t make much difference.’  Those who are not religious were more optimistic, with 38 percent saying it was good for society,” the article said.

Meanwhile, Terry Shropshire began a Rollingout.com review of Ralph Richard Banks’ new book Is Marriage for White People? How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone with this stinging rebuke:

“Malcolm X once warned African Americans that no one can exploit and hate on black people with the dexterity, efficiency and ruthlessness as other blacks. Case in point: a black Stanford law professor is gainfully profiteering off the collective marriage misery of middle-class African American women with a blog-level, contemptible book.”

The book advises black women to find love by marrying white men.

“While some intelligent points were sprinkled into the book at irregular intervals, overall, it answers none of the questions and relies on haphazard, shabby research and unsubstantiated theories wrapped in hollow, sophisticated rhetoric to make you give it a good look,” Shropshire concluded.

In other news, black leaders met last week in Washington to call for an end to the 40 year war on drugs, the Seattle Medium reported.

“This is a crime against humanity. [The] War on drugs is a war on Black and Brown and must be challenged by the highest levels of our government in the war for justice,” keynote speaker Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. told more than 200  people gathered at the Institute of the Black World event, the statistic and solution filled article said.

Among the statistics cited were these: “African-Americans are 62 percent of drug offenders sent to state prisons, yet they represent only 12 percent of the U. S. population” and “black men are sent to state prisons on drug charges at 13 times the rate of white men.”

Among the solutions offered are these: “Ask Congress to create new and fully-funded drug treatment facilities rather than more prisons,” and “Encourage and support religious leaders to assist incarcerated persons and providing community and moral leadership.”

In related news, dark-skinned black women receive considerably harsher sentences than light-skinned black women in the North Carolina prison system, a new study conducted by researchers at Villanova University found.

“Black women who were perceived to have a light skin tone were sentenced to considerably more lenient sentences, roughly 12 percent less time in prison than those with a dark skin tone,” The Grio reported.

“The current study adds to a growing body of colorism research that underscores the complexity of racism in our society,” one of its authors told the outlet.

One can only hope that shifting demographic realities will erase this prejudice.

A preview of the final 2010 census report indicates that minorities make up a majority of babies in the U.S. for the first time, but it also reveals that more African-American households are now headed by women — mostly single mothers — than by married couples, the Associated Press reported.

“Demographers say the numbers provide the clearest confirmation yet of a changing social order, one in which racial and ethnic minorities will become the U.S. majority by midcentury,” the article said.

Perhaps when that happens undocumented immigrants like Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas will have an easier path to citizenship. In a first-person essay in the New York Times, Vargas told his story of being sent from the Philippines to live with his grandparents in the United States when he was 12 years old. He described how his grandfather, educators, and employers at The Washington Post and The Huffington Post helped him keep his secret. Media critic Jack Shafer questioned the ethics of Vargas’ actions first on Twitter, then in his column at Slate.

All these stories involve complex spiritual and moral challenges that the church must continue to wrestle with. What is the appropriate Christian response to the legalization of gay marriage, to the 40-year “war on drugs,” to colorism, to African American marriage prospects and disheartening statistics, and to the plight of undocumented immigrants?