October 7th, 2011
Christianity and contemporary music has had a long love/hate relationship. Music is often charged with being a corrupter of today’s youth and a challenger of Christian moral values. The fear of corruption is still evident today by the campaign Tipper Gore led to put warning labels on recordings that contain offensive material. On November 1, 1985, before the hearing ended, the RIAA agreed to put “Parental Advisory” labels on selected releases at their own discretion. These labels are now mandatory on these types of albums (PMRC, 2011). Not all music is vulgar, however, Christians have warily accepted secular music when artists have incorporated Christian themes and imagery. A song written by Pete Seeger paraphrasing Ecclesiastes 3 “Turn, Turn, Turn” (1965), is a perfect example of this union. In this paper, I will explore the relationship between Christianity and the modern music industry.
“It is not my view that the Gospel should cause all the arts to be struck down and disappear; on the contrary, I should like to see all the arts and especially music, used in the service of Him who gave and created them” (Martin Luther). Emergence of Rock and Roll
In his book history of popular music and the emergence of rock and roll, Philip Ennis begins with a metaphor depicting children playing a game of rock, paper, and scissors. Ennis argues that in the realm of modern music “the relations among art, commerce and politics are something like that game; each has some strong power over one another, but, at the same time, is vulnerable to a third” (Ennis, 1992, p. 1).
Nonetheless while power in the game is absolute and unidirectional; paper covers rock, rock breaks scissors, and scissors cuts paper; however, power in the music world, varies in both magnitude and direction. While asserting that “in American society, art validates money, money regulates politics, and politics defines art,” Ennis suggests that there are exceptions to the rules and ways in which contradictory relationships can also be argued. The history of music that Ennis proposes is the tale of a “stormy relationship between art, commerce, and politics” (Ennis, 1992, p. 1). It “provoked trouble right from the start in all three of these areas, and still does” (Ennis, 1992, p. 1). Art, commerce, and politics; these three are necessary for the understanding the development and history of music. To add a Christian element to the mix of art, commerce, and politics means to add to it equally problematic tensions that epitomize modern Christianity. This creates a whirlwind of conflict, a stormy relationship, indeed. Contemporary Christian Music
Contemporary Christian music is a genre that merges two distinct musical streams; the safe, acceptable church music on one hand and rock and roll on the other. Each component continues to exist independently of contemporary Christian music, and yet their paths continue to cross as they evolve. Rock and roll continues to influence the styles found in contemporary Christian music, which continuously alters the landscape of church music as well. Contemporary Christian music began in the late sixties and seventies with a folk-pop sound like James Taylor. The genre today is applied to most styles of contemporary popular music. Christian heavy metal, Christian rap, Christian new age, and Christian alternative rock can be found lining the shelves at your local music store under the label contemporary Christian. The name Contemporary Christian itself does not imply a certain style of music, but labels the message that it contains. Music that contains lyrics about Jesus Christ or other Christian references are labeled Christian contemporary while music that does not is simply called secular. Does contemporary Christian music violate tradition?
Contemporary Christian music has not cultivated without opposition....