The Fan Who Knew Too Much: An interview

As promised, my interview with Anthony Heilbut, the don of black gospel music studies, is now up at Religion Dispatches. A taste:

Your account of the black church charts a dramatic swing in attitudes and practices toward non-heterosexuals over the past 30 years. What do you think are some of the origins of this shift? 

I connect the extreme homophobia in the black church of the last twenty-five to thirty years to the intrusion of particular right-wing elements within our culture. I don’t want to say these are exclusively white because unfortunately there is a long tradition of reactionary tendencies within the black church.

But there are a whole bunch of famous white evangelists, among them Kenneth Hagin and John Hagee, who are promulgating this “prosperity gospel.” “Name it and claim it,” which of course is extremely quietist politically, because essentially you don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to organize. You certainly don’t have to think in large sociological categories. It’s all based pretty much on “what you tithe will be reflected in the Lord’s generosity.”

And always the two major themes of Pentecostals, and more particularly black Pentecostal churches (and the larger they are, the worse it gets) emphasize two themes: prosperity gospel and opposition to gay rights.

The full thing is here. For some external validation, the folks over at Religion in American History (a gathering place for academics of religion and American culture) plugged the interview as well.

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  1. SG_Obzerver wrote:

    Just an observation…I am first a Christian. That is the banner under which all of my other “titles” fall - for example a Christian husband, a Christian father, a Christian singer etc. It seems that in the homosexual community that the lead banner is “Homosexual” in other words a Homosexual Christian, A homosexual singer etc. The title of homosexual seems to always exalt itself above all else. It is all-encompassing putting itself above everything else which is consistant with what it takes to live that life.
    To quote the serpent in the Garden - Hath God said? Yes…He has. God has already addressed the issue that so many now question. It’s settled. Second guess God all day long and it does not change anything. I am just tired of the topic of homosexuality worming it’s way into every conversation and attempting to graft itself into the fabric of mainstream society. People are no more “born that way” than people are born murderers, liars rapists or child molestors. And even if an individual was “born that way” they would still have the moral responsibility to turn from the sinful nature and not act upon it just as said murderers, liars, rapists or child molestors do. Of course first we have to agree that homosexuality is a sin and there lies the rub. Moral relativism has stripped away absolutes and with it muddied the water of the very simple notion of right and wrong. God is not confused about this issue so I guess i’ll just go with God.

  2. yankeegospelgirl wrote:

    I’m opposed to the prosperity gospel. I’m also opposed to gay rights. I’m leery of some Pentecostal positions, but I guess they did get it right on that one.

  3. irishlad wrote:

    i bet if Jesus were back to day he would be able to unite the rightest of the right with the leftest of the left but if you were looking for him of a night a pound to a penny he’d be hanging out with Obama a couple of hookers and a few drunken gays ignoring Hagee and his prospering ways…just sayin’

  4. mike wrote:

    So well put. We have changed the language of sin and repentance to “taking away some one’s rights” or “homophobia” ( as in the interview Doug posted with Anthony Halibut) The tough question all fans of southern gospel ( of which I have been one for over 30 years) have to ask ourselves is: if men and women who are caught in the grip of homosexual sin (it seems especially men) can listen, participate and be ‘fans’ of this genre’ of music and yet feel no convinction for their sin how we’ve lost our way? Even those of us who don’t struggle with homosexual desires do we like the entertainment value of southern gospel more than the “gospel”? Why are so many (percentage wise– and the percentage will always be debated among the camps) homosexuals attracted to this music? Does listening to southern gospel music allow them to soothe their conscience that ‘they still love the Lord’ by doing something spiritual? There are always good songs and very good lyrics mixed in to quiet any “still small voice”. If you have read church history as I have as a theological student, the arts have been a stumbling block more often than not despite what so many want to pine about the church sanctifying them.
    This issue has stuck with me since I started reading this blog years ago. I have been a big fan, sung in groups, played piano, wrote our material so its a question I have to put to myself first of all. But does the good way the music make us feel, the performances, the tracks or the “kicking bands’ smack much more of the SENSUAL than any of us ever want to admit? And has this enabled those struggling with a particuarly deceptive and pernicous sin to quiet the Holy Spirit’s convincting voice by the sensuality of the music that claims to be “gospel”?
    Doug, if you’re interested, this is an issue I would be glad to explore in the same scholary way you have other parameters of southern gospel.

    What you leave out, is yes, perhaps Jesus would be ‘associating’ with hookers but is there any doubt he would be calling them on their sin and telling them to repent and go and sin no more? That they only hope they had was in him? But to come to him they could not keep living as they were? To hear you tell it, he would be “hanging out” with them condoning thier behavior. This is periously close to blasphemey…just saying.

  5. BackwoodsPhilosopher wrote:

    #4 - Mike…..regarding your question below…..

    “But does the good way the music make us feel, the performances, the tracks or the “kicking bands’ smack much more of the SENSUAL than any of us ever want to admit?”

    My husband is originally from West Texas (Big Spring to be exact). He was not familiar with SG music until we married. For over 20 years, he served in the pastorate of Southern Baptist churches and then he served as vice-president of a Southern Baptist university for 15 years. He was accustomed to more formal church music.

    When we first married and I began to take him to SG concerts, he was absolutely amazed at the sound of the Southern (with an emphasis on Southern) Gospel music.

    One night we were at a Southern Gospel concert, and he looked at me and said, “That’s old-fashioned bar-room music that one would hear in West Texas.” He honestly thought that it sounded like the music folks heard in West Texas. Remember, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys were from Texas.

    When I really started to “hear” what he was hearing, he was right. A lot of the “sounds” that you will hear musically in the SG world is reminiscent of honky-tonk music. I’ve even heard some old Gospel music that was arranged like German polka music.

    When he was vice-president of a Southern Baptist university in Texas, they would bring in contemporary Christian bands and performers. One night at a concert, he attended the performance and noticed how many of the students were affectionately hugging each other while listening to the sensual beat and “sound” of this “Christian” music. He walked out amazed at the sensuality of the rhythm and how the music affected the students.

    My mother was a Church of God pianist for years and has a very distinctive Dixieland sound. People love to hear her play the piano to this day and some have even commented that it sounded a little like honky-tonk music. So, there ya go…… if we go to a family gathering, family members always ask her to play the “Boogie-Woogie”. LOL

    One night, I was reading some history on Southern Gospel music on the internet and came across this interesting website. The writer of this site, Steve Van Nattan, is obviously a very conservative Fundamentalist, but he lived in Africa as a young person because his parents were missionaries. He saw up close and personal how the African tribes danced and behaved.

    From that experience, Steve Van Nattan makes some interesting observations about Southern Gospel (of which he is not a fan). Of course, this site will offend many SG music lovers, but his perspective on the rhythm of the music is interesting.

    Blessed Quietness

  6. yankeegospelgirl wrote:

    Hanging out with Obama? LOL. That empty suit doesn’t believe anything about anything.

  7. Mayor-of-Mayberry wrote:

    #1 - SG_Obzerver - “I am just tired of the topic of homosexuality worming it’s way into every conversation and attempting to graft itself into the fabric of mainstream society.”
    I appreciate your observation. I doubt you are alone in your feelings.

    Of all the things Jerry Falwell expected to happen when he and Anita Bryant raised the homosexual issue, I doubt “worming” and “grafting” was on the list.

    My take - he was not familiar with the history of revolution and counter-revolution. He never considered that among the gay community there would be capable people who could and would push back. That is a common mistake that “authority” makes. Authority generally makes the mistake of thinking it cannot only propose, but also decide.

    In America, the Constitution, or what is left of it, is our authoritative document, not the Holy Writ of any particular religious groups.

    “Freedom for all” seems to be its theme. Strategically, I think Mr. Falwell missed that fact. It has proved to be very problematic for what he hoped to accomplish.

    Actually, I think he thought he could manage to help instigate a Theocracy, and his interpretation of the Holy Writ would become the lens through which the “Freedom for all” was interpreted.

    My guess. The “worming” and “grafting” will continue.

  8. BackwoodsPhilosopher wrote:

    #4 - Mike……

    For years, Gospel music folks have borrowed from the secular music industry and the secular artists have borrowed from the Gospel industry.

    Gospel artists enjoy singing to a Country-music style that you would hear in a Country concert or on the Grand ‘Ole Opry. I have heard the following “sound” or “style” in both Country concerts and SG concerts.

    Jesus, Hold My Hand - Gaithers and TaRanda Greene

    Notice how everyone interacts with each other. Some could say there is an essence of sensuality about it (hence the attraction of the secular community).

    I have taken church groups to the Gaither Homecoming concerts and listened as married women literally lusted over Michael English, his looks, and his sensual style and sound. For a while, Tom Jones didn’t have anything on Michael English. LOL LOL

    On another note……One of the finest performances of “How Great Thou Art” was by Country artist Carrie Underwood. The following video is beautiful and will bring tears to your eyes. This young lady is so talented - I just wish she sang more music like this.

    Carrie Underwood - “How Great Thou Art” (plus interview)

    There has always been an intermingling between Gospel and Country because so many Country music artists were actually raised in the Pentecostal or Baptist church. Where do we actually think their sounds come from? A lot of it is church inspired.

    At the same time, a lot of Gospel singers lived “in the world” before they became Christians. Some would sing Country/Rock music and a few probably performed in bars or hung out in the bar scene. Many performers will bring their worldly/secular musical influences into the Christian music industry, but use Christian lyrics.

    If we don’t think that Gospel industry and the Secular industry affects each other, just watch this.

    When a Rocker Sings Gospel……….

  9. mike wrote:

    Backwoods Philospher–
    Thanks for you interaction with my post. I will have more to say later.

    But as I said, I have followed this blog for some years and never posted until lately and I’m not sure where this would fit but I’m going off topic for this time.

    I am 48 years old and came to get “turned on” (there’s that sensual element again) to southern gospel in the mid to late 70’s and early 80’s. The Hinsons, the Happy Goodmans (who hailed from just up the road from where I grew up in Kentucky), the Kingsmen (Hamill, Little Ernie, Wayne Manard), the Cathedrals etc. were the big groups. I quit listening as my life took other directions for more than a decade until I happened upon the Crabb Family and was hooked again.

    My point is about nostalgia and comparisions from the late 70’s to now. I’ve read lots of posts on the topic here and I have been very sensitive in avoiding the “good old days were better” trap of nostalgia. As an old basketball teammate of mine in high school said’ The older I get; the better I was” I have made grea pains to be openminded and appreciate the fact that the current stuff now is just as good to today’s fans (or even better?) than my late 70’s glory days.

    Putting a mixture of 21st century and 1976-82 on my ipod has given me perspective. (Shouldn’t the newer, slicker, better produced, higher quality sound be better?)

    Then someone (Bobby Davidson an 80 year old according to his YouTube profile) has posted some incredible video from a 1979 Hinson concert in Sherveport, LA. I am telling you folks, there is absolutely NOTHING like that today! The energy, dynamism, spotanienty, the ‘pentecostal drive’ of the Hinson band, and above all, Kenny’s vocal dexterity and style. It is just better by any enjoyment standard. All the things I read lately on here about tracks compared to live band…well those video clips say it all.

    Those really were the glory days–nostalgia disease notwithstanding and thanks to modern technology, I can prove it.

  10. Ode wrote:

    4 ,”"”"Doug, if you’re interested, this is an issue I would be glad to explore in the same scholary way “”"”"”

    he is interested, in scholarly way,incidentally.He wrote a whole book were he talks about it extensively.Srongly recommended :

    And this , too:

    Doubt he dreamt up something else since, these 2 were pretty exhausing study

  11. BackwoodsPhilosopher wrote:

    #9 - Mike, we also purchased Doug’s new book, “Then Sings My Soul”. Like Ode said, it is extensively researched and it is very informative, especially the part about the early beginnings after the Civil War. Very interesting.

    Mike, you mentioned one of my all-time favorite groups, The Hinsons. There has been no other group like them, before or since. They truly had a different “sound” and a sincerity that is currently missing in most music today.

    It’s the one reason that I listen to a lot of Bluegrass music. I appreciate the authenticity and purity of the music. With Bluegrass, it’s about the music, the instruments and the delivery of a song.

    Bluegrass artists can perform without invoking sensuality, silliness, despair and/or depression. I know that combination sounds strange, but seriously, that’s the way it feels sometimes.

    The Hinsons would just sing and testify about the Lord. Their songwriting skills reiterated the sincerity of their heart. That’s what I wanted to hear - good singing, good songs and a testimony about the goodness of God.

    Many times, when I was sitting next to a married female with hormone surges during a Gaither Concert, my enjoyment of the music was replaced with her comment of “Isn’t he hot?” (of course, she was referring to Southern Gospel’s sex symbol, Michael English)

    At other times, my attempts at enjoying the music has been replaced with SG groups asking the congregation to join them at the midnight buffet on a cruise, right before they begin pan-handling in the pulpit for fuel money.

  12. irishlad wrote:

    8 Loved the Steve Tyler clip, BP.

  13. irishlad wrote:

    4 Mike what do you think Jesus was doing at the Wedding of Cana? the closing message?. Nah, he was hanging out with is mum and best pals.Was he condoning the proceedings? of course he was,why otherwise turn the water into wine(do you think they all stuck to one or two glasses).
    Tell you this; bet he was the most popular guy at the wedding,anyone with the uncanny ability to turn water in to wine has to be…with the exception of a couple of killjoys like St Paul and yourself. ;)

  14. mike wrote:

    13- Irishlad:

    You err because you know not the power of God or the Scriptures. (Matt. 22:29)

    Do you really believe the purpose in Scipture of Jesus’ first miracle was to show how he loved to party? In this story in John 2:12, it says the purpose in his miracle was “to manifest his glory”. And this party boy you claim was just there to hang out with his mother and best friends, told his ‘mum’ initially “Woman, what does this have to do with me?(the fact that they had no wine) My hour is not yet come.”

    Having read many of your other posts, my guess is you just like trying to yank people’s chains. All it takes to be called a “killjoy” these days (particuarly on this blog) is ask if perhaps, there should be some true ‘gospel’ in our southern gospel music.My remark about your being close to blashphemy wasn’t just a phrase thrown out there, friend. This killjoy’s sincere advice to you: take heed from the other “killjoy” you mentioned , the apostle Paul, that the same doesn’t happen to you that happened to Hymanaeus and Alexander in 1 Timothy 1:20

  15. mike wrote:

    9_ Backwoods Philospher

    Be interested in chatting with your husband sometime seeing as he was a vice president of a seminary. This 48 year old seminary student/ hopeful author could probably gain some useful advice!

    I had noticed as you the “sex appeal’ of Michael English. I like powerful male vocalists so I appreciated his voice (also Jason Crabb, Guy Penrod etc) but years ago when I reviewed one of Michael’s solo albums for a web site, I simply mentioned the material wasn’t as strong as his previous work. You would not believe the passionate (I and do mean passion!) objections from female fans of Michael’s. And they were ALL female (at least the ones that objected). The problem was they obviously connected the wasy Michael’s singing made them feel with The Holy Spirit and Michael being “annointed” That’s what caused me concern and its the same concern I mentioned in my first post. Because some one is a talented vocalist does not equate to being annointed. Its the most mis used and over used word in the christian music idiom.

    I went to the website you mentioned where the guy connected African dance and “stride” piano structures to the evils on southern gospel music. He is not bereft of any truth in some of his points but he throws out the baby, bathroom, house and land with the bath water. Songs like (and all of us could mention dozens more) “He Will Carry Me” by Greater Vision is pure ministry and glorifying. Its made heaven as real to me (along with “The Lamb Has Brought Us Home by Larnelle Harris) as any sermon or song. It (and songs like it) can in no way be confused with “wordly” influences. Unfortuanetly, there’s a lot of fluff and show and what I call “theoloy lite” songs by many GOOD groups mixed in. (And it pains me to say it, true also of my favorite and yours, the Hinsons).

    Enjoyed your post

  16. Ben wrote:

    i think the real question facing southern gospel is this:
    did kirk talley eat at chik-fil-a this week?

  17. CVH wrote:

    #16 Ben, that’s awesome!

    The whole area of sexuality is so vast and complex it seems beyond the scope of this type of setting. We can all refer to what the Bible says or doesn’t say but beyond that it’s all subjective - our experiences, opinions, biases, fears, etc. What if we never discover if homosexuality is an inborn trait or a learned behavior? Well-intentioned people of either extreme will keep shouting past each other and those closer to the middle will ‘engage in meaningful dialogue’ and most likely accomplish very little.

    Then take the whole conversation and place it in the context of southern gospel music and culture and look out. Whether it’s out of respect for people in the Christian (and in particular, southern gospel) music business who are LGBT, fear of the backlash a witch hunt approach would create or a simple unwillingness to risk having your own sin exposed if you start pointing a spotlight into other people’s lives, I don’t see the issue going away or being resolved anytime soon. As long as the controversy is active in the culture and the church SG music is going to get dragged into it. The whole SG thing used to be more isolated and mostly uninvolved in ‘worldly’ matters. Everyone knew what they believed (or what they were expected to believe) and discussion was deemed unnecessary, even suspect. But as groups, labels, publishers and fans adapt to emerging technologies and use social media the conversations and debates come to us whether we want them or not.

    That seems to me to be the biggest challenge facing the genre; how do you continue to grow an industry like SG music in today’s economic, social and political climate?

    BP, Q-man, you’re good at this stuff. Ode, irish…thoughts? Hector? Wade I know you’ve got something. YGG, anything? (Even a cheap shot at Obama?)

  18. BackwoodsPhilosopher wrote:

    #15 - Mike, thanks. The “Blessed Quietness” site can be a little overwhelming - you kinda just have to sift through the Fundamentalist rant to hear his valid points about the African beat in a lot of Gospel music. Of course, Van Natten’s style would probably offend most folks, but I like to read all kinds of material on music and history - and sometimes it’s a major sifting process.

    If he heard my mother’s piano-playing, he’d probably add her style to his rant! LOL

    #12 - Irishlad - can you imagine Steven Tyler doing a Gospel CD? That would be wild - he and Juliette Hamilton sounded great together.

    #16 - Ben, that’s funny. Okay, since Chick-Fil-A was brought up, I have to post this one! LOL

    Chick-Fil-A Anthem

    Chick-Fil-A (Tim Hawkins channels The Beatles)

  19. RF wrote:

    Saw a post today from a friend that mentioned the long list of the failings of man. Included was wars, the slavery issue, and many other things, and yet we target sexuality and the entire bogus industry that preys on people that is the prosperity idiots that make poor people believe that leads people to believe that faith can bring money to them. Shame on them.

  20. irishlad wrote:

    14 Actually Mike,and this depends on the type of Theological seminary you went to,but i like to think of the “Marriage of Cana as an example of Pastoral theology.
    Jesus is invited to a wedding and uses his Divine power to save the celebration from disaster thus showing his approval of marriage and earthly celebration…in stark contrast with Paul’s grim views in 1 Corinthians 7.
    Oh and Mike, as much as you’d like to i doubt very much you would have enough Paulian ego to exercise the necessary discipline to “consign me to Satan”,but you’re making a good attempt…friend.

  21. irishlad wrote:

    17 CVH ,i can’t really give you a comprehensive answer to that question right now because
    1. I’m still finishing off the Grey Goose you kindly sent over and…
    2.I’ve been studying the Torah with Ode all night(in my dreams) :)
    This i will say; the Dixie Echoes have just got a young guy,21/22 yrs old called Jordan James and Old Paths have similarly aged young fella Daniel Ashmore singing Bass(i go on i know)who are miles better than the recently departed icons were when they first started out.To me that says something.As far as growth goes,nothing is going to grow in this economical climate..even the GDP is running around 0.00000000001% yearly increase.What i’m saying is the underlying trend in Sg is good i believe.

  22. Videoguy wrote:

    Tom Jones sings “Didn’t It Rain?”

  23. Ode wrote:

    16, Some gays actually came to Chick F-A in support of freedom of speech,which would’ve been an all-American good idea, if Mr.Cathy didn’t donate cash to anti-gay rights causes.

    Hope Kirk didn’t care; boycotts/support days of that sort are generally not productive. To attempt economic pressure, the antigay bunch would have to boycott openly gay-supportive : Google, General Mills, Target, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Home Depot, most cell phones and- to pay due respect to SG’s family gathering place- Dollywood.

    Even recreational reading of Wall Street Journal reveals how the economy-politics tandem works. “its 2012, being antigay doesn’t pay” as Nabisco’s CEO just said, keeping DOMA in place costs businesses extra money. That spells death sentence to antigay efforts - politicians dance with those who brought ‘em,so the laws will eventually side with those businesses.

    SG groups can still sell homophobia to elderly fans for a while …. But the bottom line, those that’ll remain thriving will be ones selling good- or bad, but well selling- music.
    Not religion or political opinions.

  24. Ode wrote:

    CVH, after allnight torah study my mind is sluggish, but if I may humbly suggest, tough economic times call for more escapism, not less, people need more music(movies,shows, etc) So while the overstock of SG bands will leave the bus, get practical /get real jobs, surviving ones should be ok.

    While Wadey, Qm, Hector and your fav muse are MIA, may we kindly request your opinion on the subject. Maybe in the thread on CMM that Av just made, to incorporate that into your response,too?

  25. Ode wrote:

    to clarify for the victims of best in the world Baptist seminary education:

    All night Torah studies with a partner –are a longtime Jewish tradition, my mom missed only one in 40 years (she was in labor).It’s usually done on Shavuot-yearly anniversary of the day we started breaking commandments officially,or the day when God gave Moses The Law.

    Just like in xnity Scripture is called Water, in Judaism Torah is called Milk*. It’s customary to eat diary, so the study started well, then Ilad, encouraged by me to eat celebratory pizza, cheesecake and a few cheese blintzes fell asleep on the 2nd chapter of Bereshit(Genesis), and, per his honest report, continued the study in his dreams.

    *Based on King Solomon’s“honey and milk are under your tongue”, SoS 4:11. Foreseeing the usual question
    “you bunch of oversexualized sacreligious heeb bastards really comparing the Holy Scripture with an older, multiple-married serial husband and harem owner french kissing a new girl? Couldnt you find a better analogy in 6000 years, are you nuts?!”” Yes.

    22,great song, thanks!

  26. 4given wrote:

    Irishlad I have heard that Legacy Five has hired one of your favorite young bass singers.

  27. Wade wrote:

    Looks like Mike LeFevre has hire one too!!!

  28. Russell G wrote:

    I had to way in on your discussion. Much has been said about which style of music is really Christian. Is it Southern Gospel, Country Gospel, Contemporary Christian, Christian Rock, Christian Heavy Metal, Black Gospel, or Classical Christian. Me thinks it has more to do with the heart of the performer than it does with the style. God can take a heart surrendered to Him and use it to His Glory no matter what style. Probably gonna stir the pot with this one and that is did the devil ever create anything? Did he create a style of music? I dont think so.

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