Recently two major musicians made announcements and career changes that I find very interesting, and they may serve as an important wake-up call for us believers.
Earlier this year, the metalcore group Underoath announced a comeback album and accompanying tour. The group had taken a highly publicized hiatus in 2013, but they recently returned to the spotlight in April with a new album and new single. Christians embraced the group (particularly vocalist Aaron Gillespie) for many years for their faith-filled lyrics matched with highly acclaimed music. That combination was — and still is — rare in “Christian” hard rock.
This new album, however, comes with an “explicit” label and includes language and themes many fans weren’t expecting. In recent magazine interviews and several Twitter dialogues, the band confirmed they no longer consider themselves a “Christian band.”
There’s another interesting case with musician Jonathan Thulin. In a new interview with Billboard magazine, Jonathan (who now goes by the name Andreas Moss) opens up about his recent struggles, which included addiction and unfaithfulness in his marriage. Along with his name change, his latest music also seems to be a stark career turn away from his spiritual roots.
Before we go any further, I want to make one thing very clear: My point here is not to point fingers or criticize any of these artists. In fact, my goal is quite different. I think we — as Christian fans, followers and friends — may need to adjust our expectations and reactions to our beloved rock stars.
Our collective American culture worships celebrity. We love gossip and rumors and hearsay, and we also not-so-secretly wait for movie stars to stumble. If an actor or musician goes through a messy divorce or publicly struggles with addiction, his or her name and photo are quickly plastered everywhere for everyone to see.
Unfortunately, I think Christians need to own up to our part of this problem. When prominent Christians are honest and vulnerable enough to share their struggles, we don’t always respond very well. Read this heartbreaking quote from Underoath frontman Spencer Chamberlin:
The most alone and isolated I’ve ever been in my life is when I considered myself a Christian, personally. Because I had real issues going on in my life and no one could talk to me about it. There was no help. There was nothing. It was just hide it, don’t talk … because if you do you’re not Christian and the band can’t go on anymore.
Similarly, Andreas had this to say about early struggles with his sexuality:
By age 14, I hated myself…. You’re in scenarios where people tell you, “This is just a disease you have. You can be healed from this.” And it’s confusing because then you sit and you pray and nothing changes.
In both of these men’s lives, it sounds like the church let them down. There were many variables in play for both of these career shifts, but it’s hard to argue that judgmental (albeit likely good-intentioned) Christians at least played a role during their dark times.
Many believers mean well, but when friends and family members struggle with sin, our responses are rarely helpful or loving examples of grace. Instead, we’re often negative or hurtful — a reputation we’ve unfortunately earned over time.
Grace and Truth
Our generation faces many difficult issues, but I think this is among the most important ones we need to address — how we treat people like Spencer and Andreas. When Christians in your life struggle and fail, how do you react? Are you there for them, walking alongside them, or do you isolate and point fingers from afar? Do you welcome them in and talk through their troubles kindly (like Jesus did) or do you publicly ridicule and accuse them (as the Pharisees did)?
A famous description of Jesus found in John 1 describes Him as “full of grace and truth.” As humans, we have a tendency to drift toward one of these more than the other. Some naturally have extra grace, and they let sin slide and tend to focus more on relationship and forgiveness. Others lean toward truth, and they passionately stand up for justice and thirst for all wrongs to be corrected.
Only Jesus handled this balance perfectly. Sometimes when Jesus saw injustice, He led with truth and overturned tables (queue “Takin’ Care of Business”). Other times when His followers got it wrong or didn’t understand His teaching, instead of anger, Jesus felt genuine love for them.
If your friends (or favorite rock stars) are struggling or in a dark season, it’s hard to know how to respond. Should you point out their faults and try to correct their missteps, or do you keep the peace and do what it takes to maintain the relationship? Do you lead with truth or with grace?
I admit that I rarely handle this well. I lean toward grace, and it’s hard for me to be bold enough to address sin head on. For me, this is the easy way out, and I need to challenge myself to stand for truth more often.
However, as my pastor pointed out recently, it is interesting that John mentioned grace and truth in that order. When dealing with sin, it’s often most effective to lead with grace before handing out truth. Remind your hurting friends that you care and love them no matter what, and then work on addressing areas where they need to grow. (Plus, there’s also that whole “First take the log out of your own eye” verse we would be wise to remember.)
I obviously don’t know these artists personally, but it does break my heart to see how Christians’ hurtful words or actions helped to change the trajectory of these artists’ careers. The church needs talented artists, and we need to be there for everyone who finds himself or herself in dark times looking for a hand.
Christians, let’s be known for that. Yes, there are seasons when we need to correct and instruct and rebuke, but we also need to be known for sharing the amazing grace that saved a wretch like you and me. Instead of turning people away, let’s embrace the “lost” and the “blind” and choose to lead with love.
How sweet a sound that would be.