The Problem with Christian Music (and the Christian Music Industry)

I also mentioned the idea of "judgment" — I define it as judging for yourself whether something is good or not. When I tell you you are sinning if you listen to Deerhunter, it’s not really judgmental by my book (aka, Webster’s Dictionary). It’s more like being snobbish, or elitist, or short-sighted. Somehow, a good word like judgment has been distorted into a bad word that implies legalism and blame. As my wife always says, God is never about lingering blame and shame.

Christians are not very good at this sort of thing, however. We often feel judged, and we react by judging others. We are absolutely sure that our role on this planet is to point out the failings of others. And when we are not doing that, we are classifying things so we can judge them later. I think "judge" should only be a verb. I judge for myself whether this or that is good. But I never want judge to be a noun, because it becomes a word that sucks the life out of me and makes me want to crawl under a rock.

This brings me to the topic for today. I think Christian music might have died about 10 years ago, but we keep kicking the corpse to make it seem alive. "Look, there was movement! Wasn’t that an elbow that just twitched?" Yet, in reality, if "judge" is a verb, there can’t be a Christian music genre or an industry of Christian music at all. There would just be things we judge as a verb, and not judge as a category.

We keep trying to reinvigorate the genre. I was at Best Buy the other day and noticed they still have a Christian music section. (If anyone is looking for vintage Avalon CDs, check there first.) I thought about the fact that this section doesn’t include any bands where Christians are in the band — say, Thrice or The Fray. I noticed that Lovedrug was not listed next to Larry Norman, a shame. It should be a full-time job categorizing this stuff, judging each and every artist:

Pearl Jam, nope. Plumb, yep. Paramore, we think so.

They should have a blue shirt who does nothing but research whether something is Christian or not. I know bands like Evanescence would keep him or her busy, but that’s the price to pay for good categorization. There could be a vast army of blue shirts studying movies and books, too. And maybe gadgets, and refrigerators. I think they still sell those, right? Is GE a Christian company? When they finally get to dividing up the stereo cables and power strips we can all breathe easy.

Isn’t it all sort of mind-numbingly dumb? And I think many Christian music listeners (meaning, Christians who listen to music) have figured this out, even as the industry tries to find itself. Marketing folks love categorization because it means targeting your ads, pigeon-holing your constituency. But what do you do if everyone is a pigeon? Well, you try to re-animate a corpse, which is exactly what is happening now.

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Don’t get me wrong — I am not advocating extreme openness about music categorization. That would just be weird. I think parental warning labels are a good thing. (Although, I have to say, a few teens I know only buy CDs if they have the stickers, and they avoid the ones that don’t have it.)

What I am advocating is that we start judging things by the proper definition. Let’s put Christian music to rest, burn the genre, have a bonfire, cook up some brats and have a good laugh about it. I think Michael W. (who is now a worship leader) would be right there with his poker stick, laughing along.

-John Brandon

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