Derek Webb is the Kurt Cobain of the Christian music (and broader) marketplace.  Webb, like the late, iconic lead-man of Nirvana, is an art-conscious provocateur.  (Though, it must be noted, Webb has a better since of style–white T’s, anyone?–and a more talented and graceful romantic interest.)

Cobain critiqued the marketplace with his music.  “Radio-friendly Unit Shifter” is intentionally musically inaccessible.  MTV executive’s thought Cobain had written “Rape Me” about the channel’s use of Nirvana to grow its own profit margin.  He began performing the song on the 1992 MTV Music Awards, despite a prohibition from MTV, before transitioning to “Lithium.”   On tour, Cobain often loathed performing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to appease hangers-on described in the song “In Bloom.”  What’s often unrecognized about “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is its deep-cutting satire about Gen-Xers and their apathy, independence, and violence.

Webb has been a challenging listen over the years, as well, though with the amps and rhetoric turned down.  He has challenged the marketplace in which he got his start, often noting that the term “Christian music” can be no more than a marketing moniker.  In “Zeroes and Ones,” he reflects on the business of art, and he questions if he’s “brave enough to cut myself,” that is, be a genuine creator of art.

He’s pushed back on the prosperity gospel (“Wedding Dress,” She Must and Shall Go Free), evangelical subculture (“Ballad in Plain Red, I See Things Upside Down), the politicization of evangelicals (“A King and a Kingdom,” Mockingbird; “A Savior on Capitol Hill,” The Ringing Bell), and war-hawking (“My Enemies are Men Like Me,” Mockingbird).

Recently, he’s contributed to the worship music movement.  His Feedback is an instrumental worship album inspired by the Lord’s Prayer.  (By the way, we should have seen this coming.  NB: 6 minutes of instrumentation on “We Come to You,” I See Things Upside Down).    

Cobain and Webb have more in common than art-consciousness and provocation.  Each has defended the gay community.  In 1993, Cobain granted an interview to The Advocate, a magazine devoted to homosexual and transgender issues.  He claimed to be “gay in spirit” and said he “probably could be bisexual.” 

Webb, with softer rhetoric, challenged Christians to re-conceive their attitudes toward homosexuals in “What Matters More,” Stockholm Syndrome.  Webb accuses the addressee of hating people for their sexuality, misrepresenting the views of others, and obsessing over issues related to sexuality.

Webb’s views resurfaced in recent weeks, in an interview with Huffington Post online.  When asked how Christians could “build bridges” to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, Webb responded

Initially, Christians can stop pretending that they’re so different. I think there would be an immediate change in the conversation if we all realized how similar we are and the common language we share. Another thing that would really change the conversation between the church and the broader gay community — and it so desperately needs changing — is the church’s response. The church has spent so many years dealing publicly in the morality of the issue, in a way that misrepresents the response that I believe Jesus would have, that Christians have forgotten, or maybe never really [knew] in the first place, that whether your moral response to the gay issue is that it is perfectly permissible in the eyes of the Bible, or that it is totally reprehensible, your interpersonal response should be absolutely no different to gay people.

 The response, by the way, is love. Period. It’s love and open arms, regardless of your position on the morality.

 

These and other comments from the interview have received several critiques from what Webb calls “niche theology blogs.”  One of the most notable critiques came from Frank Turk (post 1, post 2).  The criticism elicited a satirical response from Webb.

I think I understand why certain segments of evangelicals have reacted to Webb’s work with such passion.  We are willing to be receptive to Webb’s message of love, but we expect to hear a caveat.  We want to hear Webb say that homosexuality is wrong, and once we receive that all important caveat, we can, neatly and tidily, categorize Webb’s comments as “hate the sin; love the sinner.”

Our ears are so itching to hear the caveat, that we fail to hear the good that Webb says.  Certainly, we would agree Christians should be known for their love, even by the gay community.  Right?

Well, we aren’t known this way by much of the gay community.  They see us pouring millions of dollars into legislative referendums against gay marriage. 

Jennifer Knapp, a musician who once was quite popular in the Christian music marketplace, makes her homosexuality known publically, and Christians wonder if her music should be pulled from Christian radio stations.  Yet, other Christian musicians can go unscathed from their public, sexual scandals.

I found something in my own life recently that reeks of this same hypocrisy.  On the popular show, Grey’s Anatomy, I found myself cringing, when lesbians expressed affection toward each other.  During the rest of the show, when heterosexual misgivings occur, I don’t cringe; I just shrug at it.

Why have I and the rest of the evangelical community treated our homosexual neighbors with such disdain?  We’ve cornered ourselves into a false dilemma.  It’s as if we must neglect love in order to uphold truth, or, on the other hand, that we must topple truth to extend love.  These dichotomies are false.

There’s another lesson in this whole controversy.  We are too eager to demarcate morally the music we consume.  If we could just ensure that our playlists are sanctified, then we can listen with pleasure.  But, consuming art doesn’t work that way. 

We need to listen to all things critically and expect that some things we hear will offend.  And where there’s offense, let’s consider the root of offense.  Consider the current controversy over Derek Webb and the digital inquisition some are undertaking in the blogosphere.  Are they offended that Webb doesn’t include their preferred caveat, or are they offended that he’s accused their actions as unloving toward homosexuals?

“Love,” writes the Apostle Paul, “hopes all things.”  As we hear what others sing and read what they write, let’s listen and read charitably.  Perhaps, we will actually hear what they say.

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