Christian Hip-Hop: One Last Issue

We have come to the close of this series on Christian hip-hop. Surely there is much more to say, but for now we shall allow these last three pieces, in addition to this one, to suffice.

The final issue I want to bring up will sound rather general, but I hope you will forgive me. Those who follow the industry probably will roughly know what I am talking about, though the specifics could still be a few different situations. I choose on this occasion to be general, even though the previous entry actually named names, because I fear that any conversation of this subject is prone to slander, and I wish to tread lightly. The discussion of Sho Baraka’s decision to leave Reach Records was a much more public matter; today the issues are public, but perhaps less clearly judged. So with that caveat out of the way, I shall now walk forward, carefully.

Whenever someone is in a position of ministry, as many in the Christian hip-hop world are considered to be, they are viewed under a microscope, especially when morality comes into play. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing–after all, accountability is a good thing, especially for leaders–but it definitely becomes a complicated issue when someone commits a sin that is considered ‘big.’ We have seen this happen to pastors and CEOs, and the phenomenon is certainly not unheard of in the music world.

When a leader is found to be in a compromising lifestyle or commits an act of serious enough weight, they are often asked to step down from their position. Sometimes this is peaceful, as in a resignation, and other times it is more forceful, either by firing or, in the case of some church government styles, excommunication.

I won’t speak to the practice of excommunication or asking a leader to step down after they commit a grave sin; something like that is far too complex for this post, and not my primary purpose. Rather than completely side-step that question, though, I will say this: the Body of Christ should be deeply concerned with maintaining the Body, and sometimes that means coming alongside other members and walking, or sitting, with them.

What I will spend time talking about in this post is the reinstating of those fallen members; what happens when a leader of some kind falls, is asked (or forced) to step down from their role (or even does so willingly), and after getting their life right, wants to be in a similar position as they were before?

There are generally two answers to this question. The first is one grounded in practicality: it is difficult to know if change is sincere or long-reaching, and the person should not be admitted back into their former position, at least not quickly. Presuming there is no legal action to prevent it, this is still the position of many, and it is reasonable. After all, actions have consequences, and that includes a breach of trust.

The other position is one firmly rooted in grace: if the individual has repented and stopped the sin, and sometimes even if they still struggle, but are clearly making progress, then they should be allowed to fulfill their previous leadership role. This may be difficult for the congregation, but the proponent of this view would argue that the congregation could use a good lesson in dealing grace, rather than primarily receiving it. As receivers of grace, we should certainly be willing to give it out as need be.

The issue becomes more complicated when the individual is a national figure. Rappers in the Christian Hip-Hop world are often viewed similarly to pastors, or at least some of them are. After all, their lyrics sound like exegesis; these are teachers, and sometimes people who are active in discipleship. So when a national artist is found to be living in a ‘grave’ sin, and they step down from their platform, how should they be reinstated, if they should turn from their sin and desire to be reinstated? Sometimes an artist has the option to return to the same record label they left, while other times the label has moved on or the artist does not want to return, depending on how the sin was handled by those involved in the individual’s life.

Reconciliation is something that should be important to the Christian; after all, the entire Christian life is because of being reconciled through Christ’s sacrifice. The way that reconciliation happens, though, is less stringent than the fact that it must happen. It is also not passive; people are not reconciled without action, and rarely without much hurt. The Christian hip-hop world has seen these issues dealt with in nearly every way imaginable: sometimes there is acceptance and grace from the harmed individuals, other times the artist is accepted by the hip-hop community at large, but not integrated into the label he or she formerly was signed to, and finally there are, of course, the times when someone does not repent or is not reinstated.

While reconciliation is clearly important, the practical breach of trust is understandable. It seems best to me that we always strive to move past that, and love without giving up, in spite of many or deep sins. We are to forgive our brothers and sisters seventy times seven, after all, and if you are counting the times, I suspect you have missed the point. But perhaps forgiveness and a continuation of the relationship do not always go hand in hand. I suspect they usually do, but perhaps distance prevents forgiveness and an active continuing relationship to coexist; I find it best to offer grace on situations I cannot fully understand.

What these last few posts, and this one especially, has hopefully indicated to you is this: Christian hip-hop is not only a viable music source, but it is a living and breathing culture. There are reactions and trends and memes and speakers. Some people have a say on what the future of the culture will be, and others have no say at all. The culture seems to me, primarily an outsider, as one that has overlaps both with contemporary, evangelical culture and with mainstream hip-hop culture, though it is now clearly its own entity.

image via Flickr.

Published by

J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).

  • Allen

    sad to see this go :(

  • Anonymous

    Glad you liked the series! I may hit on the topic from time to time, but at some point I’ve got to write about things other than hip-hop, in spite of my love for the genre/culture. :P

  • Allen

    Hey James, That’s fair enough :) Will keep an eye on your feed to look out for future coverage. Many thanks.

  • Vincent Lee Alston

    Enjoyed your post very much.  My feelings are that at the end of the day, it’s all GRACE anyway.  When Jesus died on the cross and said “It is finished”  that’s just what He meant – all of it!  While I do believe that all of us and especially leaders should be held accountable the question becomings; who does the counting.  

    I have far to many shortcomings and failings to sign up for that job.  I believe ultimately it is between God and the person.  He is well able to work it out.  

    Thanks again for the post:

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment, Vincent.

    The question of who does the counting is an interesting one, I think. Ultimately, you’re right when you say that it boils down to our standing before God. But I think God has instituted the Church and our communities for a reason: some of that is for accountability. It is, I think, my place to hold my brothers and sisters accountable for their sins, even as I extend grace. That is complex and sometimes messy, but I think we grow through being confronted by our sins.

    We aren’t meant to live this alone.

    But thank God for His mercy. Jesus have mercy on us, sinners.

  • Vincent Lee Alston

    I don’t know that I could debate your assertions that we should hold each other accountable – it just seems that the details can be a bit messy.  

    Even after David sinned horribly God did not move him from his position.  

    Great Post!

  • Anonymous

    The details do get messy. I won’t argue with that at all.

    Interesting point about David. I’ll need to keep that in mind. I wonder what we should think about someone like Saul.

  • Vincent Lee Alston

    Saul really muddies the waters, doesn’t he?  Remember David said he would not touch God’s anointed one?

  • Hashbrown

    Great topic. You spoke the spirit of the Gospel here: “the Body of Christ should be deeply concerned with maintaining the Body, and sometimes that means coming alongside other members and walking, or sitting, with them.” Sometimes I picture God crying and shaking his head when (1) we decide that some sins are worse than others and (2) we hold non-teachers super accountable for their sins made public but wouldn’t think of holding ourselves accountable for our pride, greed, deception, lust, lack of compassion, refusal to help the orphans/widows/immigrants/needy, etc.