Chapter 24: Coping with
The extensive growth of the contemporary Christian music industry had lent tremendous odds that sooner or later some ''dirty laundry'' would be exposed to the press, and then to the scrutiny of the public. This happened in 1982 when a well-known gospel artist was arrested for possession of cocaine in California, and the story went out on national news wires. The serious charges were dropped, however. (The national press did not pick up that story as readily.) The singer insisted that the night in jail had been the result of a series of misunderstandingsa not-so-funny comedy of errors, a case of more or less being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The reports during that summer in at least one Christian magazine told of tiffs between two major Christian performers, evidently onstage and offstage. Brought on by personality clashes, the war of nerves between the two artists was evident on some double-bill concerts where they shared the stage.
In addition, one of the artists, a major crossover singer who continued to perform his secular hits along with gospel music at his Christian-billed concerts, drew heckling from individuals in various audiences where he performed. Though well meaning, perhaps, the shouted criticisms fired from that direction were untimely and came across as sanctimonious and merciless, not to mention rude. The pressure of those hecklers, as well as the tension created by performing on both sides of the entertainment fence, ultimately led to verbal exchanges which would have best been left unsaid. The artist went through what could only be described as severe burnout, and in later interviews was quoted in ways which would lead one to believe that things had changed considerably in his spiritual life.
On several of the occasions mentioned here, it appeared as if maybe the gospel-music industry had lost its way and things were
getting a bit chaotic. But these occurrences of that year may have helped to get those involved in the pop Christian music industry and ministry to reassess their own goals and through introspection determine just why they were in the business of music in the first place.
Such embarrassing events again brought to the forefront the need for living out Christian attitudes and precepts on and off the stage. The musician, by virtue of his trade, was a public figure and was being watched in both scenarios. Though the Christian public was harsh and overzealous at times, such as in the disruptive heckling, they deserved to know if the artist was walking his talk. The role of the musician often bordered on that of a preacher, and if the musician took that position, he should back up his words with an active witness in his own behavior.
As the contemporary Christian music scene matured more, some private admissions of closet sins began to surface. (Public admissions were slow in coming, though.) A few musicians admitted privately to toying with, or even indulging in, marijuana use over the years. Several Christian artists developed reputations behind the scenesfounded or unfoundedof having homosexual leanings. Marital infidelity reared its head in a few situations, as people gave in to their passions.
Mention of such rumors and realities in a history such as this would be viewed by some as unnecessary, tasteless, overly judgmental, and better left unsaid. Likewise, they might provide fuel for critics of contemporary Christian music or Christianity in general, choosing to be blind to the fact that instances such as these are found in all types of Christian music in all types of Christian bodies.
However, yielding to the view that such problems were better left unsaid would further a prevalent attitude of many in the church of the eightiesthat of mutual tolerance to the point of hiding each other's gross negligence of scriptural principles. Rather than confront and exhort privately, any such move was considered as negativism in a period famous for its ''me'' generation: ''You let me sin, and I'll let you sin.''
Thus it would be improper to ignore a few unfortunate problems which existed within contemporary Christian music circlesnot just among musicians and singers, but in all levels of the body, down through the concert promoters, deejays, and office workers. Though those in the Christian music and ministry communities needed to have an empathy for their fellow- workers who were toying with worldly trappings, the tolerance of such behavior continuing without confrontation was a serious blight on the entire work at hand, one which in the early eighties began washing back upon the
industry as a whole. Tolerance instead of exhortation was a sin in and of itself, of which quite a few people ''in the know'' were guilty. Complicity had the potential of undermining the work of the Kingdom.
This all happened in a period when there was no ''covering'' in many cases, no eldership or church body to be responsible to. At times the only advice or confrontation came from peers who also had no eldership or covering. Thus, there were casualties.
As a body, churches had been reticent to support any musicians who did not fit their stereotypes of what a Christian should be. Likewise, Jesus-rock musicians doggedly defended their music and refused to bend. Thus, they often went out alone, without the discipleship and prayer support from a church or group which they so desperately needed. Some of these independent minstrels sped head-on into burnout from literally spinning their wheels due to the demanding, solitary life on the road.
In addition, there was often no church-backed follow-up provided for the conversions at the altar following the musician's concert. Thus many young people and adults who went forward the night of the concert soon slid backward toward their old ways. This put a further burden on the musicians' hearts.
''For the last five months,'' said Russ Taff in an interview published in the August 1984 issue of Christian Review magazine, ''I've given my best to one-nighters, and there would be a real outpouring of the Lord, and the kids would come forward.'' After four years with the gospel group known as the Imperials, Russ struck out as a solo performer, backed up with his own band.
''I would turn to James (Hollihan, a member of the band) and say, 'I would give anything if I could stay one more night.' '' Taff decided to go into a city and stay for several days of concerts and interaction with the people in the audience, thus establishing what he hoped would be an effective follow-up. ''I believe we are going to see tremendous things because of that,'' he added. ''If we get people excited, they will want to hear the message.''
Russ told Christian Review that rather than finding the travels on the road as tiring, he and his wife, Tori, who traveled with him, considered it as a retreat, looking forward to the new faces, and leaving much of the ''business'' at home. The Taffs had thus apparently licked the problem of burnout which several musicians had to deal with in their lives.
Around the end of the seventies, as the FCCM and some other groups began calling out for reassessment of priorities, some of the early, pioneering Jesus musicians who had been diligent for a decade
began to lose the steam which they had pretty well generated on their own. In some cases, they saw other, newer artists get the promotional pushes from record companies they themselves had striven for, but had never quite reached. They had struggled for years to create music with soul-searching and soul-cleansing properties, and they watched as commercial-sounding, hookish songs were promoted and played on the radio instead of theirs. Some of the veterans, once in pivotal roles in Jesus music, were overwhelmed by the sudden, tremendous growth of the industry they had helped to develop, and sometimes felt that the industry and the audiences were passing them by.
Their families were affected too. Touring schedules, spotlighted personalities, and tension between artistic value and lucrative commercialism put a tremendous strain on many, especially in the case of musicians who had been out on their own without fellowship or church covering.
Burnout often hit in the form of broken marriages. The word divorce reared its ugly head more and more often, sometimes in the least expected circles. For other musicians, burnout came in the form of alcohol or drugs. Working in Christian music was sometimes as stressful as working in secular music, and the temptations of alcohol or drugs proved too great for some to handle.
And lest any branch of Christianity get haughty about the problems of the contemporary Christian musicians, they need to be reminded that the same sins and burnout dilemmas hit in all parts of the church, music and otherwise. It was a sign of the times, and the strength of the church seemed to be seriously endangered because of the radically individualistic trends of the seventies and eighties and the correlative lack of accountability.
Artists, driven by a desire to stay in the mainstream rather than be passed by, rounded off what they knew were the ever-important barbs of conviction in much of the music. The result: for a long time there were tiring numbers of songs written to be hits on the Christian charts. They were often innocuous, ''formula'' hits which were here one day, gone another. For a few years, double entendre was in fashion, with complete albums of some artists naming the subject of their songs, Jesus, only once or twice, but giving exhaustive lists of recording information, including names of singers, musicians, songwriters, producers, executive producers, conceptualizers, their friends, their parents, and so on, ad nauseum.
By no means should this imply that there were no convicting, thought-provoking albums on the record labels in these years. And many in the industry would argue that formula or not, if the songs
widened the audience for gospel music, and if the songs had to be hookish to catch their attention (after all, fishers of men should be able to use hooks), then there was no harm in a commercial Christian song.
But more than one artist, being told by a record label that his or her songs were not ''commercial'' enough to put on record, either moved from label to label seeking a more acceptable contractual arrangement, or started their own labels for their product and that of other musicians who had burned out in trying to express themselves in their music freely. On the other hand, some labels were initiated by the record companies to allow the more progressive and less commercial music to have a testing ground. And in some cases the larger labels agreed to distribute albums on smaller labels which strived for such artistic freedom.
Among the established artists who recorded on their own custom labels by the early- to mideighties were: Chuck Girard, who spent a two-year hiatus from recording in study of the Word before he released The Name Above All Names on his own Seven Thunders label; Nicholas, a contemporary black gospel group from Los Angeles who started Message Records and experienced considerable success with their Words Can't Express LP; Glenn Garrett, who formed Zoe Records for his Back Where Love Begins album; Mickey & Becki, who recorded all their albums on their own Maiden Music label; and Candi Staton, former rhythm and blues recording star whose first gospel album, Make Me an Instrument, was the initial release on her own Beracah label.
Candi Staton, Chuck Girard, and other artists, though veterans in the recording business, both secular and Christian, formed part of a new cutting edge in the eighties. Whether on big labels or small, they expressed on their albums and in their lives a new call to holiness. This was their antidote for burnout, and showed a very positive upward move in Christian music in general.
''Especially in the past year,'' said Dallas Holm in late 1983, ''we've really delivered a message on dealing with holiness and separation from the worldcounting the cost, what discipleship's really about. It's been a very strong challenge to the body, to really rethink what we call Christianity and what the demands of the gospel really are. It's a strong challenge to get people to open themselves up to radical change.
''I think the one Scripture that really started it all was 'Be holy, even as I am holy.' How is that accomplished? What does that actually mean? The Scripture before that one says, 'Like the Holy One who called you, be holy in all your behavior.'
''Quite frankly,'' he continued, ''as I look at a lot of contemporary Christianity, I don't see too much that I would define as holiness. On the contrary, I see a very disturbing trend of people seeking to be accepted by the world, applying the world's methods and standards to Christianity, rather than the other way around.''
Holm's words got even tougher. ''I see a lot of letting down of the standards, a lot of permissiveness, and a lot of watering down of the gospel, especially in the field of Christian music. People writing shallow songs, or shallow magazines, or preaching shallow sermons. I think the thing I'm almost challenged about at this point in my life is that as I read the words of Scripture, and as I take them and apply them literally to my own life, I realize that I have to undergo a revolutionary, radical change in my whole way of thinking.
''Like author Anthony Campolo says, we basically have made Jesus a middle-class, white, American Republican. That's how we perceive him. But the fact is that he was an incredibly radical individual who called us into incredibly radical relationships, and that's what I'm challenged with at this point in my life.
''Likewise, I want to challenge the body to rethink and reread and reapply literally the true principles of Jesus and of Christianity. I think one of the main points where this starts is the concept of holiness; that God has not only asked us to be, but actually has commanded us to be a holy, separate, peculiar people. None of those words do we like! We all want to be a popular people, but Jesus, to the contrary, said, 'The world hated me; they'll hate you.' We need to quit endeavoring to try to be accepted by the world and try to sneak Jesus in, because it was never meant to be that way.''
Don Francisco, upon the release of his album Holiness in 1984, said that burnout had hit him for awhile, like so many other artists. ''I'd been on the road ministering a long time, since '75 or '76. I was getting really burned out. I was getting to the point where I was saying things on the stage that I knew I believed, but I knew they weren't a part of my life anymore. I was just getting so busy, I was beginning to lose my daily relationship with the Lord. So over the last seven or eight months I've been getting things straightened out.
''The Lord has said,'' Francisco continued, ''as He destroyed the templeand He had to, because it was keeping people out of the real sanctuarythat He is going to destroy every ministry that does not bring people to His sanctuary. And this is a sanctuary of the heart. It's a heart relationship with the Lord Jesus. And every ministry that directs people's attentions to other things, and is consequently gonna keep them out of that really deep relationship with Him, He will destroy.''
But Francisco's perspective was positive. ''Revival is going to come,'' he added. ''The Lord is going to do it, on an unprecedented scale. I want to be part of it when it happens.''
Instead of speaking her mind, Candi Staton sang it, in a song from her album Make Me an Instrument:
This body of mine is His temple,
His home away from home;
I must keep it spotless for Him,
It must stay ready for His coming,
Swept clean with truth and love;
That's why Sin Doesn't Live Here Anymore.
We can't afford to let sin reign in our mortal
To obey the lusts thereof;
Our bodies are the only temple
That the Holy Spirit can dwell in
Until Jesus comes back.
And He said, 'Behold I come quickly
And my reward is with me,
To give every man according as His work shall be.'
And He's coming back.
And every eye shall see Him
And every tongue must confess
That He's Lord of Lords
And He's King of Kings
And He'll reign forevermore.
Sin Doesn't Live Here Anymore
Sin Doesn't Live Here Anymore
God's temple, oh it must be holy,
I must stay ready to meet him and greet him,
That's why Sin Doesn't Live Here Anymore.
Chapter Twenty-five || Table of Contents