Christian parents have grappled with how to help their kids navigate popular culture for generations. By the time I was growing up in the 1980s, the emergence of a parallel music world that came to be called CCM, or, contemporary Christian music, made that job a bit easier.
As a young fan of heavy metal, for instance, I discovered faith-based alternatives to the metal bands of the day that offered a similar sound and a more redemptive message. If you were a fan of Ratt, for instance, there was White Cross. AC/DC? How about some X-Sinner. Bon Jovi? White Heart offered something similar. And, of course, you had bigger artists like Amy Grant, DC Talk and Stryper enjoying honest-to-goodness crossover success.
By the early 1990s, Christian music had begun to move away from being well-crafted soundalikes to forging an independent, more aesthetically independent identity. I still remember hearing Jars of Clay’s “Flood” on the local modern rock channel and feeling exhilarated that Christian acts weren’t merely imitating the sounds of the day, but crafting something new, different and sonically excellent. As the last millennium wound down and new one began, more and more artists of faith—some of whom weren’t particularly interested in the CCM label—continued to gain traction in various genres, from Switchfoot and Skillet, to (more recently) Lecrae and Lauren Daigle.
One hallmark of the genre, though, was that CCM artists and the songs they created faithfully cohered to a biblically orthodox worldview. Sure, there were examples to the contrary here and there. But generally speaking, if we were talking about CCM, we could make some assumptions about what to expect theologically.
But just as once-trusted mainstream entertainment outlets have increasingly embraced social activism and politically progressive messaging—Disney, of course, comes to mind—so we’re now seeing a parallel phenomenon under the broad umbrella of CCM.
This week, former worship leader Matthew Blake briefly hit the top of iTunes’ singles chart and album charts in his drag alter ego, Flamy Grant. The single features Derek Webb (formerly of the band Caedmon’s Call), who has in recent years become an outspoken ally of the LGBT movement. (Webb’s most recent solo work includes the song “Boys Will Be Girls.” In the song’s video, Flamy Grant gives Webb a drag makeover.)
Flamy Grant isn’t the first LGBT singer to top the Christian charts. (That happened in September 2021 with Semler’s album The Preacher’s Kid.) But, just as we’ve seen in the mainstream, the number of artists embracing both faith and a pro-LGBT worldview is growing, including Jon Foreman of Switchfoot, Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay and Tiffany Arbuckle of Plumb, among others.
The conversation—or, at times, something closer to a social media shouting match—revolves around LGBT-sympathetic artists who want to proclaim affirmation on one side and those defending a traditional understanding of biblical sexuality on the other.
Webb has said, “If you claim to be someone’s ally, but aren’t getting hit by the stones thrown at them, you’re not standing close enough.” Blake, on Flamy Grant’s Instagram page, is more profanely blunt: “A community of people who wholeheartedly and full-throatedly reject the notion that Christian faith has to look like the fearful, petty, weak evangelicalism that demonizes so many people and dominates too much of life in the US. … F— that. You belong here, if here’s where you want to be. I love you.”
I quote these two voices to give you a sense of what they’re arguing, where they’re coming from and how they’re convinced that embracing Jesus and embracing an LGBT identity and behavior are compatible.
We’re certainly familiar with LGBT affirmation in mainstream entertainment. But, increasingly, this example shows us how a similar conversation is emerging somewhere we might once have considered a safe harbor in the cultural storm: the world of contemporary Christian music.
That harbor, it turns out, is churning and roiling with the waves and currents of this controversy. As with so many other forms of entertainment these days, CCM is a realm that requires wisdom and discernment with regard to the messages and worldviews being communicated. Parents can’t simply assume that a CCM artist will conform to their own understanding of Scripture.
In his song “Boys Will Be Girls,” Webb sings, “I heard Jesus loved and spent his life with those who/Were abandoned by proud and fearful men/So if a church won’t celebrate and love you/They’re believing lies that can’t save you or them/Cause you’re so beautiful by any name.”
Those lyrics might, superficially, sound compassionate. But when we look closely at what Jesus called people to do when He invited them to follow Him, we see truly radical compassion paired with an equally radical call to repentance from our self-absorption.
In Matthew 9:36, we read this description of Jesus: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus came “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He did, in fact, love those who “were abandoned by proud and fearful men,” as Webb sings.
But Jesus did not abandon them to their sin in the name of affirmation and love, nor did He celebrate it. Instead, He called those who would follow Him to relinquish their worldly ways (“Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish,” Luke 13:5), to renounce their sin (“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more,” John 8:11) and to live a life of sacrificial service, taking up our cross just as He did for us: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
Jesus invites us to receive His forgiveness, His grace, His love, His acceptance and affirmation. Fully. Completely. Utterly. But we must never forget that the awesome gift He offers was paid for with His blood. He died to cleanse and free us from a life enslaved to our self-focused appetites, our determination to find pleasure and satisfaction and meaning on our own terms.
I believe—deeply—that Jesus has compassion on those who’ve struggled with a heavy burden of shame, isolation, fear and weariness. But the antidote to those struggles isn’t celebrating and affirming whatever we might think is right. Instead, the Gospel is an invitation to walk with Him, to let Jesus transform every aspect of our lives: what we eat, what we buy, what we value, how we treat others. And, yes, how we think, feel and behave sexually.
That Gospel is so much bigger—and so much more abundant—than the false, seemingly compassionate gospel of sexual inclusivity.
I close with Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Jesus’ own invitation to relationship with Him: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message).