Despite biases in the modern church, Christians still engage themselves in artistic pursuits. Often, these modes of expression have turned into an industry. We have a Christian movie industry separate from Hollywood – cranking out films like Fireproof, Courageous, and Facing the Giants. There are also Christian clothing lines; NOTW, Hello Somebody, and Truth Soul Armor. The largest and most noticeable of all Christian industries was born in the Jesus People movement of the 60s and 70s – Christian music.
I don't want to disparage those that are making a living by portraying their religious beliefs in entertainment and fashion industries. Instead – I'd rather more Christians were actively engaged in creating and/or promoting the work of other Christians.
Furthermore, if we're going to do it – my hope is that we'll do it well.
Instead, the typical everyday believer seems to be set against artistic integrity. There seems to be an adversarial relationship between the Christian artist and the greater Christian community. So much so that a family friend posted the following on Facebook: “The church doesn't want creativity (at least not much and what it allows has to be tightly controlled) and the secular world doesn't want Christian artists who are determined to try to honor and glorify God in their works. So where does that leave a Christian artist? There seems to be no place for one.” *
This isn't an uncommon sentiment. Artistry is often misunderstood. Artistic Christians feel like they have no home – no one that accepts them. The church views their art as profane or too much like its secular counterpart. The mainstream community won't accept their art because of its sacred or spiritual themes. Daniel Martin Diaz has lamented on the irony that his artwork has been repeatedly censured by mainstream art publications and excluded from exhibitions for being too religious, but when he produced some artwork for something intended for distribution in Christian markets, he was again censured for being too graphic, sacrilegious, or occultic. Modern sacred art is ignored by both the religious and non-religious; it is left to exist in a vacuum. Unaccepted. Unwelcome. Ignored. Misplaced.
How did we develop this animosity? Why do Christian artists feel so isolated?
I think there are two contributing factors that prevent the church from accepting and encouraging the artists among them. The first I'll detail today. The second will be posted tomorrow.
Problem number one.
We treat the artists that find success as superstars and place them on a pedestal. We expect them to be flawless individuals and hold them to impossible standards. Their humanity is disregarded and when they exhibit the same frailties that the rest of us experience, we criticize them as failures or heretics.
No one is a greater example of this fall from grace than Amy Grant. After releasing her first album in 1977, Amy quickly became the darling of the Christian music industry. Her songs were universally adored, her music was promoted by church leaders and music stores with equal excitement. With her marriage to another big named Christian artist, she was viewed as the pinnacle of what a Christian should be. Criticism started in the mid 80s when she first released an album on a mainstream label. Harsher disapproval came in the early 90s when she released her breakthrough record, Heart in Motion. Critics said she was too worldly. Or that her songs were over sexualized and inappropriate for Christian audiences. By the time she went through her divorce in 1999 and remarriage to Vince Gill less than a year later, many church goers – including some of Amy Grant's biggest fans – were confused and disenchanted. This illusion of the perfect Christian was shattered in the midst of a crisis that faces too many Christian families.
Rather than treating her like any other Christian in the midst of a divorce, she was criticized as a heathen that betrayed the entirety of Christendom. From such a high pedestal, there's nowhere to go but down. The disparagement was so brutal that punk band Lust Control released a song called, ‘Leave Amy Alone.’ The song lyrically declared, “I'm her brother, she's my sister.” To avoid any ambiguity, the chorus screamed, “Leave Amy Grant alone!”
There seems to be a disconnect between the artist we want to see and the actual person that is that artist. We hold them to such lofty standards where there is no other option than to disappoint us. When these Christian celebrities reflect our weaknesses as a human being, it creates a cognitive dissonance that we don't know how to handle so we project on them our own insecurities.
God forbid that a Christian artist openly and sincerely talks about these failures. Kevin Max Smith (of dcTalk fame) summed up this concept better than I ever will in an interview he did with Cross Rhythms. He explained how rare it is that artists are honest about their weaknesses, resulting in a bubble that everyone wants to burst. He said, “that (bubble) represents the Christian music marketplace because people are looking for that shining example. And when they have an example that's actually saying, ‘Hey, I screw up. I've been divorced. I've probably taken the name of the Lord in vain a few times. I tend to drink once in a while when I'm on the road.’ It's like you expose those things and immediately you're outcast.”
* This statement is from Deb, one of my mother-in-law's best friends. And yes, she gave me permission to quote her.