Single by Pete Rock, Lecrae, and Rapsody – Be Inspired

The latest shot from the naysayer crowd (I would call them “haters” but that’s played, and plus, I’m an adult) at Reach Records founder and holy hip-hop superstar Lecrae, came from Meeke Addison of Urban Family Communications. In her recent article, “Is It Time for the Church to Reevaluate Lecrae?” her argument is highlighted in the first paragraph:

If Lecrae were looking at himself objectively, even he would caution church leaders considering “bringing him in.” In his attempt to reach and engage today’s hip hop culture, the popular rapper has made some decisions that are destructive to the souls of men. Lecrae may be able to work with secular artists and not be influenced by their music content – but our youth are not.

Meeke Addison continues on, relating a story of when she was first impressed by Lecrae and his wife at a concert in 2005, and contrasts his prior, sold-out-and-on-fire-for-the-Lord stance with his current stance, which she deems as a slippery slope of compromise with wickedness. Addison infers several conclusions from Lecrae’s recent collaborations, among them are the following:

Lecrae believes that “being a Christian is unfruitful when attempting to reach the lost; you’ll be far more effective as a positive person.”

His collaborations with rappers like Pete Rock, David Banner and Paul Wall are implicit endorsements of all of their music and lifestyles ( “he’s telling our youth Kendrick Lamar is good for their soul”).

These collaborations, combined with public comments she interprets as downplaying his faith, mean that Lecrae is no longer unashamed of the gospel – the crux of his “11Six” identity. 

Given the way that the church supported Lecrae during his upward trajectory, this reversal is not simply embarrassing to the church, but is tantamount to outright betrayal.

It sends the message that musical success cannot be found within the Christian market because Christian music is known to be mediocre.

Of these five assertions, the only one that even holds a little bit of water in my book is the last one, but they all stem from a fundamental assumption that I refer to as the “Sentient Song Fallacy,” which I learned about from the seminal work on Christian music ministry At the Crossroads, by legendary guitarist Charlie Peacock. Essentially, the fallacy is to believe that a song can be Christian. It’s not that Christians can’t make music that reflects our belief – obviously we can and often do. But a song itself cannot be “Christian” in the way that a person can, because a song is an inanimate object. It is incapable of coming to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s incapable of any sentient behavior at all, it’s just a song.

I believe this fallacy persists because of two important, symbiotic reasons.

First, it persists because of market forces. There are plenty of record labels who were started by Christians but have long since been bought out by multinational media conglomerates. These music companies have sustained a profitable business by selling music by Christians, to Christians.

But the market forces wouldn’t exist without evangelical gatekeepers, parents, church and community leaders, sometimes even political figures, who make it their business to decide which artists they will support and why. Sometimes, it’s just as simple as parents wanting to have music that they can play for their children that will not have profanity. But whatever the reasoning, evangelical gatekeepers depend on the machinery of the Christian music industry to help identify which songs and artists are worthy of their support. Which is understandable, especially if you’re talking about hip-hop.

There are obviously many contemporary hip-hop artists on urban radio stations and cable TV shows that no self-respecting parent would ever want influencing their child. And there are so many artists and groups, it can be difficult to keep track. It’s much easier to say, “well, if they’re on this record label, they’re probably safe.” Or, “if they record with this person, they’re probably safe.” Or, “if they performed at this event, sponsored by this radio station, they’re probably safe.” After all, there’s a reason why all those The Fish stations use the slogan “safe for the whole family.”

But this approach is flawed, for a bunch of reasons. Yolanda Adams, Marvin Winans and Fred Hammond are three of the biggest names in gospel music, with careers spanning over 20 years of music performance. Also, all three have gone through very public divorces. That may not disqualify them from ministry altogether, but I’m not sure I’d ask any of them to present their teachings on marriage.

My point is that artists are people, and people are more complicated than just what we can ascertain by putting them in boxes labeled “Christian” or “non-Christian.” Furthermore, there are songs by artists who profess to be Christians that might still contain elements of errant, heretical doctrine. On the flipside, there are songs by “secular” artists that may communicate certain Biblical truths very clearly, even though those artists may not publicly profess to be Christians.

So sometimes deciding who should be “in” and who should be “out” can be somewhat arbitrary, and it drives me crazy. This artist spent years on a Christian label and had a substance abuse problems. But this artist never recorded on a Christian label, yet released an album with a really compelling depiction of the processes of salvation and sanctification. Who should be in, and who should be out?

If your answer is, “it’s complicated,” then that’s my point. The Sentient Song Fallacy is bad because it enables lazy analysis and rewards shallow theology. If you’re a parent, you wouldn’t let some middle manager dictate what your kids eat for breakfast, right? So why let them decide what music they listen to?

As for Addison’s inferences, let me address them one by one:

Why is being a Christian mutually exclusive from being “positive”? Last time I checked, the fruit of the Spirit included love, joy, peace, patience … those all sound positive to me.

If we’re disqualifying Christian artists on the basis of their collaborations with people who do sinful things, I hope you stopped listening to The Winans after they collaborated with R. Kelly.

If you actually listen to the verse Lecrae does on the Pete Rock and Rapsody track, it seems pretty clear that he’s not ashamed to rep Christ in the general market.

Are we to assume that the Great Commission doesn’t apply to rappers? Or is it only acceptable for unsaved people to hear the gospel in a church?

First, I don’t think Lecrae thinks this. But even if he did, it would only be true to the extent that church people continue to insist their artists operate in a smaller, parallel music market marked “Christians only.” When Christ-followers who are talented, focused musicians tend to put their music in the general market, they often do just fine. Christian music isn’t the problem, it’s the marketing of Christian music.

To Meeke Addison, or anyone else who has a problem with Lecrae – please don’t think I’m just saying this because I’m a fan. On a basic level, I appreciate that you want to keep someone like Lecrae accountable. I just wish you didn’t operate with these assumptions, because we can’t have a real discussion about the music unless we address them.

Without that, we’ll just talk in circles, and that drives me crazy.

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