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Looking In The Mirror: Part 2

August 3, 2011

Several months ago, I was speaking with a friend about different issues in southern gospel.  He once sang with a prominent group, that some of you may be familiar with.  As he was talking of his experiences on the ole’ bus, he gave details to many things that would not need to be posted publicly.  I can’t say that I was surprised at all.  I love this dear friend of mine, but he’s not the most righteous of the evangelical bunch.  He just happens to have a decent voice and sang for a few years with a southern gospel group.  He’s had his shortcomings and issues with sin, sure…but most of our conversation was aimed at one of the other members.  “He’s not saved.  He thinks he is, but I believe it to be evident, that he’s not.  He can’t explain his salvation experience, he hasn’t been to church on his own in over 10 years, and when we sang at a church before a sermon, he always hit the bus to smoke and drink a cocktail”.  When my friend quit the group several years ago and was able to be in church regularly, his spiritual growth took off.

Now this kind of thing is not uncommon, both historically and currently.  We’ve heard the rumors.  We’ve heard the stories.  To some, it’s just a job, not a lifestyle.  I’m not even going to argue cigarettes and cocktails in a biblical perspective.  My biggest worry was not being able to stay inside of a church building for a sermon.  This left the impression on me that there are many more like him.  Sometimes people disappear rather strangely, alluding the scene altogether and we are given no details.  Personally, I don’t need any details.  I don’t care about a rumor.  I just wonder where their heart is.

A member of another well known group told me, almost encouragingly in the same time-frame, “God’s cleaning the industry up”.  The one who said it may be thinking in relative, and somewhat legalistic terms, but clearly he was onto the attention of some who were consistently living a lifestyle contrary to the consistent gospel message they had been singing night after night. This took me back to a couple of years ago.

A couple of years before, I heard yet another group member state that the group he was with, “ain’t none of them saved”.

My question to you is two or three-fold.  Yes, we can’t hire tour pastors in this genre to monitor the spiritual lives of artists, “or get them saved”, or be nit-pick everything under the sun.  Yes, there are those who smoke, dip, chew, cuss, throw temper tantrums, and I would be a legalist to say all who did such a thing were not saved.  You can’t be perfect.  But you can be saved.  And you can bear fruit.  And you can live clean.

I know a popular Christian Rap label, “Reach Records”, at one time (maybe they still do), implemented a 2 year evangelical discipleship program before they could regularly tour and release mainline records.  Many came straight from the streets in the stereotypical urban culture doing the stereotypical things…and the gospel changed their lives.  The thought was that by doing this, they could find out if they were doing it for wrong motives, turning from the world and its desires, and being constantly renewed through Christ.  I heard of an incident where one guy in the program tested positive on a drug test, and had the option to start his 2 years over or leave.  He started it over.

I think one of the biggest problems with it is us.  In most cases, we don’t care if they regularly pray or study the Word, or hear the Word…or live it out.  We just want to hear them sing.  I think all too often, we simply assume they do because they’re singing about the blood on stage.  And when somebody does fail and we find out, we run them over and cast them out, neglecting to see them restored at all.  It’s a matter of accountability.  All, if not most artists have people or pastors they can seek counsel and accountability from.  When there is no accountability and some secret sin or failure is allowed in their own life, they cave in and build an inner wall.  There is pressure there for some artists.  To be everything to you that you think they are.  Certainly accountability requires discipline, so we shouldn’t let sin go unchecked…but instead of asking them how it was to sing with The Kingsmen back in 1980 something, ask them about their quiet time this morning.  See if they buck up.  They might smooth-talk you, but you can see it in their eyes if you are discerning enough.  Maybe it would provide a source of conviction.  Maybe the Holy Spirit would invade their lives.

Help the problem.  Don’t enable it.  I believe fans as a whole do a lot more to enable it.

I’m under the impression that at least 1/4 of performing southern gospel artists either don’t truly know Christ, or at least don’t know how to genuinely and spiritually grow and are not thorough in their sanctification, thus properly and biblically “working out their salvation with fear and trembling”.  It could be more, but it’s certainly not much less.  And that represents a problem in this small, conservative industry.

1) How can you challenge them to be accountable?  Maybe it’s their own souls that needs God’s grace and to be convicted by the reality of the gospel.

2) How can you cast the pressure off of them being “perfect” from view?

3) How can you balance both of those?

  1. This isn’t just a problem in Southern Gospel, and you’re right, it’s been going on a long time. I read the biography of the Oak Ridge Boys and the bass singer (Noel Fox) before Richard Sterban smoked and drank on the bus and on the road all the time. Their only requirement is that he could not drink or smoke just before a show, but usually right after the show he made a beeline for the bus. I don’t know if he knew the Lord, but I do remember reading about the drinking and smoking. In CCM the Newsboys original vocalist left to pursue a preaching ministry…at least that was the official word, years later he admits that he left because he had a drinking and a drug problem and a sexual addiction problem and cheated numerous times on his wife. He said that they could not tell the truth because of what it would do to the Newboys ministry…and also that the reason no one called him on it while he was with the group was because there was lots of money involved. (This is not Peter Furler, but John James…just so you know.) On the good news part of the story, he has repented, and is still married and serving the Lord now in a local church…but I do believe that this is an issue. And one last note: Years ago I read a book about CCM, and in it’s early days, when it was called “Jesus music”, there was a festival type concert that tried to bridge the gap between the “Jesus music” types & the Southern Gospel types, and it describes a conversation between two members of a well known SG group at the time (but they did not say who it was), and one said to the other about the JM group, “They sound like they actually belive in this stuff!”.

    • Absolutely. I know it’s not just SG. But since SG is usually viewed and heralded as more conservative or “biblical”, I tried to stay in that vein. Another CCM hero of mine was Kmax from DC Talk. I was speaking with Audio Adrenaline’s lead singer one time, who is married to Toby Mac’s sister (or maybe it’s the other way around) and he shed some light on the Kmax issue and the official disbanding, which was certainly sad to hear.

  2. You got the marriage part right…he’s married to Toby’s sister. I had heard rumours about Kmax, but not anything specific…sad though because even though I really don’t care for rap music, I made the exception with DC Talk…all three are great singers…funny that Michael Tait was once asked to audition for the Gaither Vocal Band. I saw Brian Free & Assurance in concert not that long ago and he talked about this very issue, about how he had toured for years with a Southern Gospel group (he didn’t name it but I would assume that would be Gold City?), and that he was not saved for several years with that group. He gave a strong salvation message at the concert I was at.

    • Yes, you are right. I believe he got saved while he was with Gold City…I think Mike LeFevre as well, who used to sing baritone. Another case would be Mark Trammell while he was with The Cathedrals. You could go and on in either genre. But I’ve never heard a CCM concert like what DC Talk put on. Kmax was a freakish Freddie Mercury/Bono/Sting/Jeff Buckley voice. One of the best singers, Christian music ever had. I think more of his deal in the beginning was “wrestling with his faith and questioning Christianity”, which then led to other things and blew up. He’s pretty much a universalist now.

      • No way! So young Brian wasn’t really saved in that clip where he’s like 18 singing “In My Robe of White??”

  3. FNR – I tend to be more optimistic than you are, so I wouldn’t have guessed the number that high. However, this is one of those posts that simply needed to be written, and I’m grateful you were brave enough to write it.

  4. I do several things:

    1. First, I try not to sweat the small stuff. If I learn that a southern gospel artists smokes, or has the occasional cocktail, I don’t think I need to boycott the group or anything like that. Shucks, didn’t C. S. Lewis smoke a pipe? However, what you are describing is more serious—that kind of driving addiction, which was then also combined with an inability to stay in church. That seems like reasonable grounds for firing a group member to me.

    2. I try to collect as much information as possible before I act on any of it. If I hear rumors about an artist, I try to get to know the artist himself if possible, and get his side. A few people had their own ideas about what happened in one group turnover, and I was voluntarily told what happened by the artist—didn’t even push for the details. And you know what? It made sense to me, and I chose to believe it because I felt like I could trust the artist and I honestly saw no really weighty reason not to. So I think being patient and not giving our favorite artists a hard time because we heard someone say something bad about them is important.

    3. #2 ties into something more specific, which is the divorce problem. I could name big names here, but I won’t. However, once again I don’t obsess over it, because I simply don’t have any information. Divorce is messy, and there can be all kinds of extenuating circumstances. Now I question whether re-marriage is biblical in any case, and unfortunately people seem to take re-marriage for granted these days, even Christians. But I’m certainly willing to acknowledge that there are many, many levels to the whole thing. So if all I know is “X is divorced and re-married,” that could mean all kinds of things. So I don’t trumpet it to the world and refuse to review their stuff just because I know that. Now others may know more and may feel like they can act on it, but that’s their place, not mine.

    But on the other side, I refuse to support artists who are unrepentantly, shamefully living a life that violates God’s word, as you’ve described. I also take issue with artists who will go out of their way to support people with that lifestyle, because they believe conservative Christians are persecuting them (or some such nonsense). I think it’s important for fans to stand firm on some issues and be willing to say, “No. I’m drawing a line here. This is wrong.”

    Now some things we can’t possibly know about, like the people you’ve mentioned who actually weren’t really saved even while they were in Christian ministry. But I think that for those people who truly have gone on to experience salvation, there’s no need to not accept them now. I think it’s far worse for somebody to have committed some truly horrendous sin while in the ministry and tried to hide it than for somebody to be in the ministry while not really being on fire for God. I mean don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely a problem when you’re just going through the motions, but I think there’s a big difference between “I don’t think my heart was in the right place” and “I cheated on my wife.”

  5. Another thing—I really liked what you said about letting artists know that you care about what kind of people they are. I try to let artists I look up to know that I’m watching them. Not in a kind of threatening, “Hey buster, you better be the real deal or else” way, but just a, “Hey I want you to know that you’ve really had an impact on me and I look up to you.” That alone can be very convicting to someone who really isn’t walking the walk.

  6. JSR permalink

    Until the people in the Churches start living right don’t expect the SG performers to live right…

    I believe everything you wrote applies to a general cross section of most churches….except the churches may be a little worse. I don’t believe much has changed since Jesus day when he accused the Pharisees of being white washed graves…looking good to the public but full of sin.

    • You are absolutely right. It is a direct reflection on the church. Not too much has changed. However, many too easily assume SG performers automatically hold themselves to a higher standard, which ain’t always the case. And honestly, if they’re willing to leave their families at home for days at a time, go around the world encouraging people, telling folks about Christ, and signing autographs, they should hold themselves to a higher standard…even if they are merely human.

      I mean, they hold their dress attire to a higher standard by looking like Wall Street without the brief case.

      And I do not think this is applying to the majority of them. I do want to make that clear.

  7. Lead Singer permalink

    All of this sounds like gossip to me. Gossip is probably the most hurtful because like toothpaste, once it is out of the tube you can’t get it back in. Once gossip is out there you can’t take it back. Proverbs 18:8 “The words of a talebearer are as wounds and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.” Proverbs 20:19 “He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips.” This verse reminds me of the Christian cloak for gossip. Pray with me for Brother_________. I just heard that he__________________.

    Some Christians give me the idea that they don’t think the Holy Spirit can do His work of convicting one of sin without them pointing it out first. In John 8:7 the Lord himself tells us, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

    I wish everyone that calls himself a Christian was a devoted, serious Christian, but alas, it isn’t so. Just as you cannot judge what a computer will do just by looking at the hardware, one cannot judge a Christian’s faith in God just by appearances. Only God knows the “software” inside a heart.

    If you can’t check out the information you hear about someone with that person himself, don’t listen to it, don’t repeat it, for it is gossip.

    • JSR permalink

      Lead Singer…your theology clashes with Jesus. Jesus taught that sin comes from the heart and we can know a tree by its fruit. So, yes we can, to a great extent, know what’s in the heart by looking at the appearance (see Mark 7:21 & Matthew 12:35).

  8. DSQ1 permalink

    I know this is a very touchy subject but I will dive into it was well. I was part owner of a Southern Gospel Quartet in the Atlanta area that had retired and the original owner of the group so graciouslly gave us the rights to the name to bring the name out of retirement. One of the stipulations in the contract when we acquired the name legally was that we would always operate the group and our personal lives according to scripture. No gray areas! If a particular member of the group went astray the other 4 members had the authority to remove that person from the group. There were other stipulations as well that I will not go into. 1 year after we reorganized the group, one of our group members left his wife and 2 small children. The remaining four of us went to him, encouraged him to seek counseling and any help he could get for this situation. We did not immediately fire him. However, we were forced several weeks later to ask him to leave the group as he chose not to try to reconcile with his family. God blessed us with a wonderful replacement. We all were accountable to each other.

    On another note I have a brother who has disowned his entire family with the exception of my mother and lives a very non Christian lifestyle and is very open about it ,yet he fills in periodically for a very well known and established Southern Gospel group. I pray daily for him and have even considered contacting the group personally to ask them if they really know who they have on their bus. I feel at this time that it is the responsibility of this group to look into who they hire and thus I have not felt led to do that. I do ask for prayers for him.

  9. Lael permalink

    I don’t know how old these comments are, but they can’t be older than the post, which is dated August 3, 2011. So, let me just correct fridaynightrevival and Dave: Mark Stuart has been divorced from Tobymac’s sister since 2005.

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