Monday, June 19, 2017

Should Christian Music Swear?

I received this question a little while ago from a friend, and I have to admit, I was taken off guard. I don’t follow the Christian music industry at all closely, so I didn’t know this was a thing. But from what I found out, it seems every year or two a Christian band will come out with a song that includes profanity. There will be a heated debate for a little while, which is then forgotten until another group does the same thing and the cycle starts again.

The song I was asked to discuss is “A Prayer” by the band King’s Kaleidoscope, which includes two uses of the “f” word. To begin with, it proves my point about not paying attention to industry news. It came out about a year ago, but I am only just hearing about it now. There is no harm in going over it this late, though. Not only was I asked, but what I have to say will be basically applicable the next time this happens and I can just re-up this post.

One other thing worth mentioning by way of introduction is how this whole thing shows the truth in the maxim that “all publicity is good publicity.” I doubt I ever would have heard of King’s Kaleidoscope at all if not for the controversy they caused, yet alone have listened to any of their music. I don’t mean that to be taken as mockery. Some bands are simply out of the mainstream. They made waves, which is the only reason why I know them now. And I am not the only one. I don’t know if that was their goal, and I actually doubt it. If it was, though, then that would be an entirely different issue.

As for the song itself, I have to admit after listening that there is a sort of forlorn beauty to it. You can feel the heart’s burden, and its need to reach out to God. Which is the other thing, the song is Christian. It is not just a song by a group of people who call themselves Christians but are a secular act. Rather, it is explicitly Christian worship. Which, of course, makes the explicit language that much more jarring.


Now, some have argued that the obscenities were necessary because of one of the buzzwords of sort of “Emergent Church” theology: authenticity. Admittedly, the church has a problem being real. And it is especially obvious when it comes to high-profile Christians and industries. They present a squeaky-clean image that we all know does not represent the truth. The world knows it too, which contributes to their view of Christians as hypocrites.

The profanity in “A Prayer” cuts against that perception, and it certainly isn’t fake. The lead singer of King’s Kaleidoscope, Chad Gardiner, has talked about his struggles with anxiety. The lyrics for this song come right out of his prayer journal from one of those times. It represents the honest baring of his soul. That sort of vulnerability is refreshing.

Still, we can acknowledge the openness without celebrating the form it took. Swearing at God is less than ideal, to begin with. But prayer is an intimate relationship, and the Lord knows us better than we know ourselves, so there is very little purpose in attempting to hide anything from Him. If we pour out all our pain, even imperfectly expressed, He can take it. The bigger problem than Gardiner’s prayer is the song that came out of it, for the reason that it was deliberate.

King’s Kaleidoscope decided together that this prayer journal entry should be one of their songs. They wrote the lyrics and included this word twice. Then they set it to music, and practiced it dozens if not hundreds of times. After that, they went into a studio recording session and performed it who knows how many more times to be able to put together a version that was exactly right. Finally, they released it to the world, where it has been heard by hundreds of thousands of people. They thus became a purposeful model of Christian profanity. And remember, this is not just “Christians who use profanity.” It is “profanity in Christian worship.”

What we have here is yet more proof that too much of a good thing is no good. Authenticity was treated as the ultimate virtue, and as a result, it turned into a vice. King’s Kaleidoscope’s thinking was, “This is the way the world speaks, so we should speak this way to be recognizable to the world.” But they went too far, and wound up conforming to the world, instead.

Christian Speech

Authentic Christianity is not in resembling the world. It is in being noticeably different from it. That is true even in the way we speak. The relevant passage here is Ephesians 5:3, 4, verse 4 mostly, which says, “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” We are called to speak a certain way, and to avoid even flippantly discussing the filthy way people without God act and talk. No lack of depth in vocabulary or abundance of depth in feeling is an excuse for emulating them. What we say should be suited to godliness. That is true in our private, even our interior lives. It is certainly true of our public worship.

So here’s the point. We shouldn’t be fake. I can get behind efforts to eliminate Plastic Doll Christianity. But that does not mean reflecting the world. It means trying to reflect Christ. He wouldn’t speak this way, so we shouldn’t, either. We are still to be set aside to Him before anything else. King’s Kaleidoscope tried to be real, and we can give them some credit for that. I just hope they learned it doesn’t mean having to be vulgar. When the world is listening, and when the young people in the church (the primary demographic of this type of music) are listening, then every opportunity should be taken to be better. 

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