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The Difference

A wise man once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results.” Because I agree with that quote, I find it necessary to find a different way to address the challenge that hip-hop culture brings to the Church universal, the body of Christ on earth. An entire generation has come and gone and I believe that the Christian community has failed because one critical element is missing in all that has been done (mostly just words) about (mostly against) Hip-Hop. That element is balance. In order to understand this, you must first understand the disconnect between the avid fan of rap and the ardent preacher behind the pulpit.

When a rap fan buys a cd from one of their favorite artists they already know the deal. There are rarely any huge surprises. In fact, that’s normally what makes you a fan of anything or anyone- you know what to expect and you already like the formula. The fan isn’t looking for a huge change. They’ve already heard the lead single and probably seen the video. But the single being hot or not doesn’t make a difference if you’re already a fan of the artist. It helps if the single is a smash, but the fan is really buying because of the vibe of the whole album- not just what they hear on the radio. There is something about the artist that speaks to them- style or substance or both- and that’s why they buy it.

To explain further, the intelligent rap fan knows that the lead single is mostly for general consumption. The artist is trying to get as much buzz as possible and so they broaden their appeal to a wider audience. And so, that single probably has no real spot on the album as a whole- it probably doesn’t fit in well. It probably follows the formula of sex, drugs, and violence since that’s what seems to sell. The fan knows this and buys it anyway because they know to expect more in the less commercial aspect of the album. It is here, in this part of the album that the rapper speaks to his or her base of supporters.

For some artists, they speak of sexual abuse. Other artists reveal sins from an earlier part of their life. Still another rapper gives the fan a peek into their marital problems or views on race; maybe some politics. Often these songs are not considered “radio friendly” and don’t get a lot of airplay. But these songs make or break the album artistically, emotionally, and intellectually. Everybody knows the singles, but only real fans know the so-called “b-sides” and identify with them- even if only vicariously… look it up. That’s an important word.

Switch gears. The pastor of a local congregation is given the responsibility to “feed His sheep”. That pastor represents God’s point of contact for communicating to the people gathered whenever the doors are open. That pastor has to make sure that the sheep are not only fed, but protected as well. And that pastor, if truly a good shepherd, puts life and limb on the line for the Lord’s people- even if only symbolically. So when that pastor hears “f-this, f-that”, “sex this, sex that”, “gun to your head here, gun to your head there”- that pastor’s about to blow a fuse.

Who can blame the pastors for their concern? If they said nothing at all, they would really be in the wrong for sure. Everyone knows that you can’t live off of a stream of negative images. Everyone knows that you’re supposed to have some semblance of decency and self-control when you talk in public. Everyone knows that respecting women and police officers is supposed to be a good thing. So imagine the horror of a pastor when it’s reported that the youth of the church are listening to songs on the radio that in many cases throw all these things out the window… and the parents like the music too! Add the videos and it’s a wrap. The pastors are fed up but what did you expect?

If you’re reading closely, you already spotted the disconnect. The problem is that the pastors and youth leaders primarily concern themselves with the radio cuts but the true fan is most often about the songs that didn’t make it to radio. It is likely that the pastor has never heard rap songs outside of whatever is popularly played. But if they do hear a song it’s probably brought to their attention for the singular purpose of confirming how evil the rapper really is. So they’ll rarely- if ever- understand why their kids are still listening.

Now I don’t write this to justify a fan who disobeys parents and defiantly listens to rap even when commanded not to. And I don’t write this to tell pastors that they’re wrong to criticize rap music that, in their judgment, promote anti-Christian (and sometimes anti-human) values. But I am saying that Christians in church leadership and the Christian church in general need to grasp that a critique of rap music that is completely negative 99.9% of the time has proven to be an ineffective approach to discussing the music. Of course, this assumes that we in the church are open for dialogue- at least with our own youth. Are we? Are you? Or are you only interested in changing your child’s taste in music? We need to think about these questions seriously.

Going back to our story with Paul, I think it’s fair to say that if He were defaming the statues at the Acropolis or the Parthenon and openly attacking or mocking all at the market place who were idol worshipers, he probably would not have been invited to speak before the council at Mars Hill. And in fact, we find that even when he did speak there and clearly presented his perfectly Christian views on idol worship, he was still invited to return again to speak. And this was done before an audience that we can logically assume was filled with mostly pagan idol worshipers.

All I am saying is that we have much to learn and more to put into practice. Paul’s style never interrupted the substance of the Lord’s message. His hatred for sin did not drive away the sinners. Slamming down the lie of idolatry did not slam doors of opportunity in his face thus preventing the spread of the gospel needlessly. And yet in it all, he never compromised the truth. He wasn’t afraid of offending others with the truth. And as Christians, shouldn’t be either.

But I have observed in my own life and within the walls of the church as well, that we have failed in both our obligation to the truth and in our obligation to be Ambassadors for Christ. We have failed for lack of balance and that is largely because we don’t listen. This is not about listening to some cd- but to the cry that the cd is only an echo of. We are not listening to the pain that the rappers have given voice to and we haven’t cared enough to “look carefully” at the idols that so many- especially our youth- have made objects of worship. Woe unto us if we don’t start now. The dialogue must begin. I offer this book, Jesus and Jigga: Where Hip-Hop Meets Scripture, as the discussion piece.

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