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The Real Religious Scandal of Lil Nas X’s ‘Montero’ Isn’t the Video Itself

Over the weekend, you probably heard some of the uproar around the new music video from Lil Nas X. The “Old Town Road” mastermind’s new song is called “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” and features Lil Nas engaging in some campy devil action, turning Virgil’s hell into a lascivious wonderland. He’s launching a pair of black and scarlet shoes along with the video that feature a bronze pentagram, an upside down cross and, apparently, a drop of human blood in the dye so, yeah, he’s going all in on the vibe.

The immediate Satanic Panic outrage was so predictable it was almost boring. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem determined that the shoes are an enemy in the culture war, declaring that “We are in a fight for the soul of our nation. We need to fight hard. And we need to fight smart. We have to win.”

The video was similarly called out by the likes of gun rights activist Kaitlin Bennet and Republican pundit Candace Owens, all of whom geared up for a weekend full of Twitter sparring with Lil Nas. You can go look up the actual exchanges if you want, but you can almost certainly imagine them if you’ve ever seen one of these spats before. You can tell nobody’s heart is really in it. Everyone’s just reading a script, providing their followers with the perfunctory fury expected of them. Lil Nas X created an outrageous video and people are outraged about it. He knows exactly what he’s doing.

Lil Nas was raised in the Church (his father is a gospel singer) and has talked a lot about the internal shame and fear he felt about growing up as a young gay man in that environment, telling Gayle King that he spent much of his teen years “praying, praying, praying that it was a phase.” He dedicated the song to his 14-year-old self. “This is very scary for me, people will be angry, they will say I’m pushing an agenda,” the letter said. He was right.

That internal pressure may or may not be a factor in the imagery and symbolism of the “Montero” video but it at least makes it clear that he knows what buttons he’s pushing. He could hardly have set a more obvious trap for culture warriors to fall into, but some — like the pugnacious conspiracy mongerer Pastor Greg Locke — just couldn’t help themselves. The shoes in question are Nikes, but Nike was not involved the actual creation of the Lil Nas’ diabolically decked out drop and immediately distanced themselves (the company that actually made the shoes also made those Jesus-y shoes from 2019).

But fortunately, plenty of other Christians were more introspective about the whole affair. Kevin Wilson, a pastor who goes by the name @CrossCultureChristian on TikTok where he’s built a large following for his cheery theological musings and chai tea recipes, said Christians should spend less time attacking Lil Nas and more time asking why the Church failed him so spectacularly.

“If you’re going to demonize somebody for any reason, you better make sure that you are first living according to the truths that you profess,” Wilson said. “I believe the primary calling of all Christians is to reduce the gap between others and the way of Jesus. And you don’t do this by shoving truth pills down people’s throats.”

New York City pastor Dr. Jacqui Lewis agreed, saying “The true religious scandal isn’t how @LilNasX made that video. It’s that preaching ever made him feel less than beautiful, sacred and beloved.”

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