Dear Reformed African American Network,
I saw your open letter of rebuke to Lifeway. To introduce myself, you can consider me the proto-critic of Lifeway. Do you remember #the15? That was me. Do you remember Alex Malarkey’s open letter to Lifeway that was the biggest news story in the world for two days in 2015? That was also me. Do you remember when Thom Rainer’s personal emails were released, revealing that he chose to sell Heaven Tourism stories he knew were false? That was also me.
I don’t care two shillings that you felt it necessary to rebuke Lifeway. Lifeway needs rebuked.
What I care about is commandeering the word “Reformed” to promote a particular sub-Christian view of sanctification that you somehow have made into a race issue. I’ll explain.
We carried the story of rapper, Sho Baraka, promoting recreational marijuana use, a viewpoint that is as unbiblical as it is asinine. While alcohol can Biblically be enjoyed so long as over-consumption doesn’t make one lose control over their faculties, marijuana – unless the “recreational” chemicals are removed – affects one’s mental capacity almost immediately. Over-consumption of marijuana, in other words, is any consumption of marijuana. But what do I know? I’m just a fundamentalist white man who happens to be an addictions counselor. I just don’t get the culture.
Many other publications have written about Baraka’s smutty mouth, his affinity for four-letter filth words, his use of vile racial epithets (but he can do that), and he has been breaking standards of sanctified Christian decency for years. A former associate of Baraka’s sent me the pertinent time-stamps from a recent podcast entitled Let’s Give a D)#$ with the rapper, and suffice it to say, much of it was not only unbiblical in manner, speech and worldview, but it was anti-Biblical. The question for me isn’t why Lifeway removed Baraka’s work, but why they only recently removed Baraka’s work.
In your open letter to Lifeway, you feign bewilderment that anyone would find Baraka’s potty-mouth offensive, and then you allege that it’s probably just the white folks at Lifeway who find the language offensive, and they don’t get “culture” (that’s my paraphrase, but your antipathy toward other races shines through with vividness).
You asked Lifeway, “Whose values are you referring to when you say the album offended people?” Let me answer that, because Thom Rainer never will. The values they are referring to are “Christian values.” Or perhaps, if you will, “Biblical values.” While you imply it’s the values of stuffy white folks who aren’t sensitive enough to the dregs of your profane sub-culture, I’ll remind you of the actual Christian values you’ve been overlooking while producing albums in the gutter of lascivious profligacy.
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. – Ephesians 4:29
This Text could be a warning label on Sho Baraka’s album, it applies so well to his ‘art.’
…and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. – Ephesians 5:4
In fact, if one considers himself religious but can’t bridle his tongue, his religion is worthless (James 1:29). The thing here isn’t that Baraka has occasionally used a particularly strong word in a moment of righteous indignation. The thing is that Baraka is actually typified and defined by his crassness of speech. Being soaked in the unsanctified culture of sin is the novelty of his appeal. While you suggest to Lifeway that once you cut through the coarseness of speech (that is explicitly condemned by Holy Scripture) you argue that there’s a Biblical message there somewhere. Frankly, if I gave my wife a jewelry box covered in goat excrement, I think we could all understand why she might rightly reject it.
You accuse Lifeway – in a rare moment of professed concern for their customers – of “silencing cries for justice and reconciliation.” Let me explain this bit of common sense that may or may not be the motivation of Lifeway (which is almost always profit, and not decency). My children may very well have something intelligent to say, but if they’re throwing a temper tantrum, I’m not going to listen until they begin to articulate their feelings in a responsible way. I certainly wouldn’t listen to their viewpoint if they expressed it with vulgarity, because I would be too busy washing their mouths out with soap. Sho Baraka and other rappers may very well have intelligent, worthwhile things to say, but until they can learn to do it like responsible Christians, there’s no reason anyone should listen to them.
Furthermore, it seems to me from your open letter that you are bullying Lifeway. If they want to be reconciled to you and people of your relative melanin count, you seem to suggest they need to be accepting of your vulgarity and bad behavior. Let me explain this to you, good brothers; if the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone isn’t grounds enough for reconciliation, then we don’t need to reconcile. Very clearly, you are putting the blame for whatever divide or separation may occur upon basic standards of Christian decency. It’s not that Lifeway’s racist. It’s that Lifeway recognizes some of its customers are Christians.
You accuse Lifeway of “censorship.” One would think that someone who can “spit sick rhymes” would have a better grasp of the English language. Censorship is the prohibiting of intellectual material. No one has prohibited you from selling your indecent lyrics or providing them to the sub-christian culture of your choice. Lifeway made a business decision because the word “Christian Resources” is in their full business title. You are not entitled to have your stuff sold at Lifeway. Entitlement is a bad thing, and you seem to have the complex.
Finally, you accuse Lifeway of Pharisee-ism. Pharisees, of course, were never criticized by Jesus for holding to high standards of morality, but for swallowing camels and straining at gnats (Matthew 23:24). You need to know, “Reformed” African American Network, that Lifeway sells every kind of doctrinally unacceptable material known to man.
Lifeway sells TD Jakes, an anti-Trinitarian, modalist, Word-Faith, prosperity gospel heretic.
Lifeway sells Jesus Calling, which purports to be actual direct, divine revelation.
Lifeway sells Ann Voskamp, whose theoerotic women’s devotional talks about her “making love to God.”
Lifeway sells works from Dual-Covenant theologian, John Hagee.
Lifeway sells astrological omen-interpretation books from Jonathan Cahn.
I could go on. Where are the RANN open letters to Lifeway about the doctrinal poison that they’ve been injecting into the bloodstream of American evangelicalism? For “Reformed” Christians, you seem more interested in lobbying for profanity (so long as it is done by a member of a particular ethnicity) than for actual doctrinal soundness.
What exactly is “Reformed” about you? The word has a context and meaning that is deeper than a particular soteriological system. It is deeper than mere Calvinism. To be Reformed is, in a sense, to be Puritanical. It is to value sanctification and holiness. It is to glorify God by our conformity to Christ, and our separation from culture, rather than our imitation of it.
“The whole lives of Christians ought to be a kind of aspiration after piety, seeing they are called unto holiness (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:5). The office of the law is to excite them to the study of purity and holiness, by reminding them of their duty. For when the conscience feels anxious as to how it may have the favor of God, as to the answer it could give, and the confidence it would feel, if brought to his judgment-seat, in such a case the requirements of the law are not to be brought forward, but Christ, who surpasses all the perfection of the law, is alone to be held forth for righteousness.” (John Calvin, Institutes III, 19, 2)