Unringing the bell

[Note: since this entry was posted, Mickey Gamble has addressed the issue over at Gospeleer]

As some of you may have noticed, it looks like that provocative Gospeleer post on sexuality and scripture we were discussing last week has been taken down.

When I first saw the post was missing, my reactions were, in order of their intensity:

  • Disbelief: no way has Mickey Gamble, with whom I’ve had enough interaction to find a pretty self-possessed guy, had second thoughts on what he said in the post;
  • Suspicion: someone or something has gotten to him;
  • Cynicism: this figures … southern gospel types can’t figure out how to have the microphones on when a group takes the stage, but the hegemony of fear and insecurity running throughout the industry works with swift efficiency to punish public contradictions of the party line … and finally;
  • Sadness and disappointment: Sigh.

This turn of events is not that surprising, but it’s too bad all the same. I think I’ve got a long and good enough record of encouraging the widest possible range of view points on issues and ideas to say with some authority that even if I hadn’t largely agreed with the content of the post, it would still be valuable to the degree that it brought to the surface tensions, blindspots, and contradictions in key parts of conservative Christian culture that dominates in sg.

But of course You Just Don’t Do That in southern gospel.

One reason the gospel music industry enforces such a narrow orthodoxy in matters of belief and business is that the more people who are allowed inside the gate, the more pressure gets put on the ideas and convictions people say they hold dear. Southern gospel performers and other insider types like to talk a lot about how hard it is to be a very visible Christian in an unsaved world. And that _might_ have been partly true 40 or 50 years ago when gospel music really was a dominant strain of mainstream American entertainment that interacted with all sorts of people from different backgrounds, beliefs, and ideas. But it’s been clear for sometime now that most gospel groups are overwhelmingly singing to the choir.

I’m don’t necessarily think that makes hypocrites out of the performers who insist that a career in gospel music is a modern day lion’s den, but it seems pretty clear that the strategic insularity of gospel music’s carefully policed borders guarantees a mostly safe, ideologically pure environment in which gospel-music professionals rarely have much meaningful, external pressure applied to their religious commitments or the doctrines they espouse. Singing about how hard it is to be a Christian in this ole world of sin in large part creates the reality it imagines. To sing the song – and listen to it as a fan – is itself a symbolic attainment of that persecuted, beset-by-sin status described by the music.

Posts like the one at Gospeleer essentially call bullshit on this arrangement by exposing the way key parts of the fundamentalist evangelical worldview are a construct of strategically contradictory, illogical, counterfactual, or disingenuous rhetoric (i.e. my freedom of religion requires the state to take away other people’s rights and liberties etc).

As I have suggested before, there is a significant, if unseen and largely unheard, segment of existing and future potential consumers of gospel music out there (vaster than any of us realize, I think), and they would eagerly support products and people associated with businesses that make an effort to get beyond this narrow way of thinking and living – to reach out to (in the words of one of Mickey Gamble’s artists at Crossroads) the broken ones … among them, the individuals and groups who have, for so long, been told their participation, their lives, their spiritual experiences matter less than others’ (yes, yes, I know, you’re just hating the sin and loving the sinner, but this is rather like whipping a child while claiming this hurts you worse than it does the kid … both claims are only true if you place disproportionate value on the experience of the people with most power and freedom in the situation).

I’m not just talking about gay people (or their straight allies, who are, as the fate of that Gospeleer post suggests, often singled out for attack in southern gospel culture), but this issue does bring into focus the fault lines that run throughout evangelicalism today, including the world of southern gospel.

Gospel music hasn’t had much trouble taking our money for as long we can all can remember. But the transaction has always been a begrudging, distasteful exchange for everyone involved, and the whole experience is more often than not engineered from the seller’s perspective to make the “sinful” consumer understand that a great favor has been done to him in the taking of his money.

Yet no one has fully, intentionally tested the hypothesis that southern gospel can survive and thrive if the people who make and sell it don’t try to put limits on what the music can mean, or to whom it can matter. Put a tshirt at NQC, this concept might read: let go and let God  … and see what happens. Which is to say, doing the right thing in this case may be the beginning of a change that also makes record labels and artists more money. That shouldn’t be the only thing that matters, but it doesn’t hurt, either.

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  1. quartet-man wrote:

    I don’t have time to read this entire post, but will comment on a few things I saw on a quick skim.

    Yes, there are some issues in SG that they simply refuse to allow others to have their say. (Length of hair, clothing etc.) However, sometimes they simply believe that their way is THE way and don’t want to argue about it. However, in matters like homosexuality, they believe as I do that it is contrary to the scriptures, so anything supporting that is against God. Now, I will listen to the other side and comment, and yes as I have said before you have been good in allowing views totally against yours to be posted here. I suppose too, the bottom line as far as fanbase might come into play. Businesses (and employees such as Gamble) don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them. In fact, many businesses have not only morality clauses, but clauses on what you can say or do in the public if they reflect negatively on the business itself. Right or wrong, that is the way it is.

  2. gc wrote:

    I have noticed in your writings that you are starting to use more profanity and it surprises me that a man with your education and intelligence would continue to go in that direction.

    I really feel that you do that to shock your more conservative readers and to let everyone know you are trying to be different or on the edge.

    I know alot of curse words and have used them on occasion but I have met you and don’t see you being the type person who would intimadate or influence anyone by using them.

    Homosexuality? Profanity? any other buttons you need to push?

  3. Aaron Swain wrote:

    Noticed the same thing gc has. My view on it: it’s your blog, your content.

    Either way, I think that even without the recent profanity and other things, all your readers knew that you are on the edge of the SG blogosphere, simply because you tell it like it is, no holds barred.

    And that alone is what keeps me coming back to read.

  4. Wade wrote:

    GC…sometimes you just gotta call it what it is!!

  5. Yeah... wrote:

    I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised at the language being used here of late. That is certainly not my endorsement of it being used, as I despise it. To me, profanity is a tool of those not eloquent enough to express themselves without its use. And, I think we’d all agree that Prof. Harrison is eloquent, even if and when we disagree (even vehemently) with his positions. To me, it just reduces the effectiveness of what he’s writing, but hey - it is his blog after all.

    But, I write because there actually are some points raised here that are valid. This genre of Christian music has in fact suffered from too many limits that have been placed on it. Change is generally either outright forbidden, artistry can be penalized, and doing things the way they’ve been done for the last 40 years is the only “Godly” way to do them. And, in this, the music has stagnated all too often. There have been some seminal groups and artists who have come along and blown fresh air into venues, but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule. This needs to change, and it may take a new generation to effect such change, but who knows if they’ll even be listening to it by then?

    However, the overall thrust of Mr. Gamble’s essay, and its removal, which is center stage in this thread, is another story altogether. The importance of this topic greatly transcends changes in hair styles, music, performance styles, etc. They will gradually and inevitably come into vogue, as that’s the way it is. But, when it comes to Scripture, that was given once, and for all time. As such, it is timeless, and its truths are to be considered similarly. God has never rescinded them, despite mankind trying to massage them, misquote them, and rationalize behavior contrary to them. Those truths can never change, and for that reason, Mr. Gambles’ conclusions were not only ill-advised for an executive in this industry, but downright dangerous in their compromise.

  6. Lurkey wrote:

    Speaking in absolutes again, I see. There are 20-odd major flavors of Protestantism alone, and thousands of subset denominations, because not everyone can agree on one interpretation of the Bible. Gamble’s original addressed the explicit point that the Bible has been misused throughout history to justify all types of injustices. “God has never rescinded“ the hundreds of Levitical laws that no one thinks twice about anymore, like the need to kill those who go to the store on the Sabbath or address the abonination (abomination!) of eating shellfish? “Those truths can never change” means you stand by Biblically-based arguments for slavery? To follow the words of Matthew 32* is “downright dangerous in their compromise?” Fundamentalist zealots who shout down discussion with such absolutes are preposterous. I feel sorry for Mr. Gamble for having to endure the ranting of a vocal minority.

    *“And Jesus said ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

  7. Lurkey wrote:

    Eep…that’s Matthew 22 (verses 37 - 40 if you’re looking for it), of course. Sorry for the typo.

  8. Yeah... wrote:

    One last comment to you, Lurkey. It does seem somewhat ludicrous to go around and around with someone who doesn’t believe in the Bible. But, that’s not my problem.

    The Old Testament gives us the introduction of God’s Law, given to Moses. It was the first system of religion given to mankind. It’s still for our learning today, as it shows how very holy God is, and is a measuring stick against which to compare God’s Law with our unholiness. Mankind could not measure up. Only the High Priest was able to enter the holiest of all, and then, only bearing the blood of an innocent sacrifice for the sins of the people. We live in the day of grace today… Christians are not under that Law. The Godliest of Israelites of that day would be dazzled by the grace that comes to us freely today. They would also be amazed at our ability to come into God’s very presence, anytime and in any place. Jews who still adhere to the Law and reject Jesus as the Christ still
    follow the dietary restrictions of the Law. Should they follow other parts of it in today’s society, they’d be arrested for murder. As Christians, our Testament is the New Testament. There are no dietary restrictions given to us, and the Law has been replaced by the grace of God, shown to us dramatically in the Person and work of Christ. You mention slavery; the NT honestly reflects what was a practice of the day. You’d be hard pressed to prove that it glorified God then or later, simply because the rule of the society of the first century allowed for it. Never does God condone it, but He does give teaching in the NT for those who were slaves.

    And honestly, Lurkey, except for the divisions and confusion they’ve brought, I couldn’t care less if there were 2000 Protestant subdivisions! The one thing they all have in common is that they’re man-made divisions. Some began based on doctrinal differences, and too many were frankly begun over personality clashes and the like. So yes, in all of the confusion, I do tend to believe in, and practice, absolutes. I don’t do that as a denigration of anyone else’s beliefs, but rather because while people always change, God does not. He is still the same yesterday, today, and forever. And, in all of the interpretations, translations, and paraphrases available of both Testaments, while the language changes, the principles never do. And that, my friend, allows for one to be a lot more absolute than abstract. Be well.

  9. Wade wrote:

    Unring the bell… funny…DING DING DING!!!

  10. Wade wrote:

    I here the DING DING DING of a truck backing up!!!

    To bad some ppl do not have the sack to stand by their own written words and he took it down!!

    If he had been on drugs or something would be one thing.

    Once ya hit the POST BUTTON have the guts to stand beside it!!!

    Somebody with a BIG CHECK BOOK musta stepped on him!!!!

  11. Irishlad wrote:

    Yeah…ever think of taking up the preachin’ ?

  12. cynical one wrote:

    While I’m not going to defend either side of this debate here, I will say I believe there is ROOM for debate. Yes, I agree God’s word is absolute, but I also believe some things MAY have been written (and laws given) for the time they were given in.

    Let’s not forget that the world was much different 2,000 - 6,000 years ago, when this bit of history took place, and those laws were written. Societies were different. A larger percentage of the population was barbaric. Sanitation of food was not as it is in our society today. Personal hygiene was not as it is in most of America today.

    Most folks were not as learned (although we see today that education does not equal wisdom). Gender roles were vastly different in those societies (not necessarly better or worse, just different). Nothing much in our American society today looks like the society of the wondering Israelites of Moses’ day, except perhaps the rampant immorality and penchant toward any and every sin God has listed.

    So, this being said, I think it’s possible we can use some prayerful discernment in some matters regarding which decrees are still applicable to our lives today, and which are not.

    A prime example is the current debate mentioned just this morning on the national news: “Should women be ordained, or in leadership positions in the church over men?”

    Many denominations have had female preachers for a century or more. Others have more recently come to that place, while others believe dogmatically against it. Putting the scripture in historical context, vs God’s absoluteness, the debate continues.

    Several years ago, our congregation was out-growing it’s building. We needed to build a new sanctuary and more educational space, but many in leadership were against going into debt. They came to the conclusion that God was telling them to wait until the funds were raised.

    (I had one deacon try to tell me the Bible says, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” I pointed out, to his surprise, that was Shakespeare, not scripture. Perhaps good advice, but not scripture.)

    Five years later, we still had not raised enough money to pay cash, but the need to build had grown. Some thought we should still stand by the previous decision. Someone raised the point that perhaps what was heard from God was not really “no,” but “not yet.” And although God doesn’t change, sometimes He just wants us to wait.

    God IS absolute. His Word IS absolute. But seasons change.

    Again, I’m not saying homosexuality is ok in God’s eyes, but I am saying there are some things God spoke against that MAY have only been for a season. Look at circumcision.

  13. JW wrote:

    #6 Lurkey, “Fundamentalist zealots who shout down discussion with such absolutes are preposterous.”

    Is that an absolute?

    Ooooh, “zealots”!!!! Wow, they sound so eeeevil.

    Might I suggest you are a “fundamental zealot” of the other side?

    Odd how you attempt to refute with, uh, such absolutes in your argments!

    On to the main reason for my post, I feel you are overstating that nobody can agree on Biblical interpertations.

    Agreed, many disagree on certain positions, but it’s a gross exxageration to state mainline Protestants disagree on everything.

    As you may or may not be aware, mainline Protestants DO in fact agree on the core beliefs of the faith. That is, that Jesus was the True Son of God, God in the flesh of a virgin birth. That he was crucified and resurrected on the 3rd day and provided redemption of our sins. And, that The Bible is the true Word of God.

    Yes, we disagree on many things, but most are not fundamental to being a Christian, just on how we live it out.

    “Fundamentalist zealots who shout down discussion with such absolutes are preposterous.”

    I agree wholeheartedly, Christians should not attempt to shut off debate.

    Neither do I believe non Christians should attempt to cut off debate with silly labels as “Fundamentalist zealots” to demonize and attempt to make the other side look like yokels.

    In conclusion, it’s silly to attempt to put down others on the subject of absolutes. We ALL, even the biggest atheist, agnostic, whatever, deal in what we think are absolutes.

    Do you think evolutionists believe evolution is an absolute? Of course. Just like you think your skeptical is absolutely correct, or I believe God is absolutely God.

  14. Yeah... wrote:

    Cynical One and JW - both excellent posts. It is frustrating trying to have a mini-debate with someone who professes to decry absolutes, and, as you point out, is more absolute from his/her side than we have been on ours.

    Cynical One, I agree with you on many of the examples that you quoted, where some of the Scriptural laws were put into effect due to the society in which its writers lived. To me, that gives much credibility to the Bible. The inspired writers didn’t have to compromise their day(s) and conditions. However, will you disagree with me that there is danger in trying to over-determine which were only meant for “that” culture, while others are fair game to amend today for ours? It seems to me to be a potentially slippery slope. You mentioned some of the cardinal truths that all true Christians believe, and we agree on the partial list that you named. And then, there are ordinal truths - truths of church order. There are still other truths that can and will change with the times; not as being true, but more in implementation. So, where does one stop? I’d love to know your thoughts, as you’re obviously well-taught and express your thoughts well. JW - please feel free to chime in as well, if you’d like.

  15. Lurkey wrote:

    I am far from a non-Christian and am offended as being labeled as such simply because I’m calling a spade a spade. I don’t think I’ve proclaimed anything other than my only point, which is that there are no absolutes. There cannot be as long as man is the one doing the interpreting. As such, it is our Christian duty to live the love proscribed by God through his Son. “And, in all of the interpretations, translations, and paraphrases available of both Testaments, while the language changes, the principles never do.” For having a differing opinion on what those principles are (or even how our understanding of what the literal texts mean within the historical context), I keep getting told that I’m a heathen who doesn’t believe in the Bible. I’ll pray that God opens your heart to reason and your soul to maturity.


  16. Yeah... wrote:

    Lurkey, your own words in previous posts are all that we’ve needed to read. I hope you enjoy your life devoid of absolutes, and wish you all the best. Sure would love to know what else you wrote that needed to be edited, but I’ll survive. Please don’t pray that my heart will be opened to human reason, though, okay? I’d much prefer that you pray that my heart will be continually enlightened to what God’s Word teaches. Should you do that, I thank you a lot.

  17. Lisa wrote:

    I said this before, and I will say it again, even though last time it felt like I was being shouted down.

    We are told to love the sinner and hae the sin. Somehow, on the topic of homosexuality, we have come to hate the sin, OUT the sinner, and Love comes in somewhere around dead last…

    Homosexuality isn’t, as far as I can tell, IN style or OUT of it. It IS something I’m not going to judge folks on, because that’s God’s job.

    I pray for you, not that your heart get “opened” necessarily, but softened. And that you realize that to God, sin’s sin, and we’re all in the same (sinful) boat. Grace pronounces us righteous, even though we occasionally continue to sin, as we believe.
    (reference that back to “Grace Awakening” By Charles Swindoll. An excellent book I’d recommend everyone to read.)

  18. quartet-man wrote:

    Lisa, I think part of the issue is that those generally who stand FOR homosexuality are those who don’t want out of it. They argue for it and badmouth anyone who would speak against it in any way. It is greater love to not want them to burn in hell and to point out what the Bible says than to turn a blind eye and have their eternities on our consciences. Now, I am sure not everyone who speaks against it do so out of love. Some I am sure look down on them. I haven’t seen that here, but God knows the heart. It seems that anymore anything less than acceptance and affirmation of it as being okay is seen as being hateful and homophobic. I am well aware that I fall short of God’s will in my life and always have. I am not there yet. However, we aren’t so much talking about people here who realize they have done wrong and want to be better as much as those who fully intend on continuing to do it and want us to say it is a okay. That is a big difference. I think too that sometimes the written word is difficult to tell what emotions and motivations are there. We have a tendency to read attitude and yelling into things because we can’t see or hear the people. Sure, sometimes it is pretty easy to tell, but not always. :)

  19. Brett wrote:

    Lisa you can’t just pick and choose and use God’s Grace without true repentance. If the homosexual would realize that when he has sex with another man and pictures Jesus watching you becaue He does no, you would realize that you don’t want to add another sin throught which Jesus died for. It amazes me how all people have opinions on things but the homosexual will not answer to God’s word of you shall not lay down with man kind as woman kind. It’s all about how you feel. No accountability, I can sin cause God will forgive me. I can get away with it God will forgive me what a cheap use of God’s Amazing Grace.

  20. Wade wrote:

    Lisa… Don’t let them get ya down. People with out the facts have to shout!!! Add me on facebook please if you do it!!

    Hope everybody had a fun weekend!!

  21. cynical one wrote:

    JW, I think you’ve overstated an area or two that mainline Protestants may agree on. There are many mainliners who now teach that Jesus is only one of the ways to heaven, that the Bible is NOT inerrant, and that many of the stories in the OT are just fables and allegories (ie Noah and the Great Flood, even though many scientists have shown evidence there was a global flood).

    Some will argue against the virgin birth and/or the resurrection. I’m not sure how they can call themselves Christian, if they deny the basics of who Jesus was. It doesn’t make sense to me.

    Yeah.., thanks for the affirmation. You’re right — we can go too far in our over-analyzing and justifications. Too often, we will use my argument to justify our sin-of-choice, rather than PRAYERFULLY considering what God is saying to us today through a particular passage, or the entire Word as a whole.

  22. cynical one wrote:

    Oops! That last line was redundant, wasn’t it. Repetitive. Saying the same thing over and over.

    I’ve been told I should work for the Department of Redundancy Department. :-)

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