Emily Sutherland’s recent post giving us all a good lecture for not eating our peas and expressing doubt about what the people in power say about Guy Penrod’s departure from the Gaither Vocal Band has me thinking for the thousandeth time about the culture of fiercely regulated dissent in southern gospel.
Though I do think the Penrod thing has been mishandled from the start and that stating the facts simply, tactfully, and honestly would have been the better approach, the particulars of Penrod’s case interest me less than the underlying dynamic it points to in the way southern gospel responds to celebrity misbehavior or transgression, real or perceived.
The lengths that people will go in the southern gospel industry to avoid acknowledging unorthodox realities and truths that might challenge the tenets of orthodox doctrine – or to maintain or defend the inerrancy of their own “truth” – has been so deeply embedded in the southern gospel mind and imagination for so long that it can be difficult to parse. But it relies on several key ingredients:
- Hypocrisy: the industry not only allows but purposefully encourages fans to collapse the space between the artists and their personae, and so to confuse being a fan with being a close friend. By itself there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this. But when this confusion (quite naturally and predictably) leads fans to expect a meaningful explanation for the personal origins of performers’ public retreat from the stage, entire sectors of the industry rise up in outrage – outrage!
- Denial: Who, us? Hypocrites?
- Arrogance: Trust me. I know what’s best for you to know.
- Fear: We certainly don’t want to look like arrogant hypocrites! More outrage! More outrage!
Thus “truth” becomes synonymous with silence, “sin” becomes whatever breaks that silence publicly, and the self-proclaimed “truth-tellers” make the sweeping of transgressions under the rug - but not entirely out of sight - a form of piety.
Contrary to what many people think, the point of all this isn’t to suppress unflattering information: A secret in sg is what people talk openly about in stage whispers … and then assure you they’re only mentioning all this in such copious detail so you can be sure you know what to pray for.
No, the point of all this is to retain coercive control of who can speak about it publicly and in what way (which is why no one, including me, will publish the reason Penrod left the GVB except on the terms dictated by the artist and his handlers). One’s status and influence in the industry can thus be measured, not by how close one is to the not-so-secret truth, but by one’s willingness to perpetuate the “truth” and sacrilize self-delusion.Email this Post