Some artists pride themselves on cloaking their lyrics in ambiguity, nuance and opacity. Their songs could mean this … or they could mean that.
Lady Gaga is not one of those artists.
Whatever else the title track from her second studio album may be, “Born This Way” is anything but ambiguous. Channeling undiluted Madonna circa 1989, it’s a dancy blast of unashamed, unabashed and unapologetic self-acceptance. And while a number of Gaga’s peers have also recently released anthemic odes to self-esteem (Katy Perry with ” Firework,” Ke$ha with ” We R Who We R” and P!nk with ” F**kin’ Perfect“), Gaga—of course—outdoes them all. She accomplishes that by delivering two intertwined messages: 1) No matter your race or sexual orientation or social status, you’re OK just the way you are, and 2) You’re OK because Lady Gaga believes those elements of your identity were exactly what God had in mind when He created you.
“Whether you’re broke or evergreen,” she sings, “You’re black, white, beige, chola descent/You’re Lebanense, you’re Orient/Whether your life’s disabilities/Left you outcast, bullied or teased/Rejoice and love yourself today/’Cause, baby, you were born this way.”
Gaga then moves on to affirm many different sexual orientations. “No matter gay, straight or bi/Lesbian, transgendered life/I’m on the right track, baby, I was born to survive.” She repeats the line, “Don’t be a drag, just be a queen.”
Finally, she ushers God into the mix: “I’m beautiful in my way/’Cause God makes no mistakes/I’m on the right track, baby/I was born this way.”
Over and over again, the Scriptures affirm God’s love for His creation. And in a superficial way, Lady Gaga echoes the idea that God offers unconditional acceptance. She’s right when she says, “God makes no mistakes.” But she’s not right in the way she might think.
God’s love doesn’t mean that we, as His creation, are off the hook for our sexual choices. Despite what Gaga—and our culture—would have us believe, the God we read about in the Bible does not blithely look down on every possible form of sexual expression and say, “It’s all good.”
Instead, Jesus offers forgiveness and an invitation to relate to Him in a way that transforms the way we see others—and the ways we relate to them, especially when it comes to sex. In His encounter with the woman caught in adultery in John 8, He defends someone who was about to be stoned for her sins, compels her attackers to drop their stones and offers forgiveness: “Woman, where are they [your accusors]? Has no one condemned you? … Then neither do I condemn you.” But grace and forgiveness do not come at the expense of truth—in this case the truth that the woman’s sexual choices did in fact constitute sin. “Go now and leave your life of sin,” Jesus tells her.
In contrast, Gaga’s counterfeit grace offers an illusion of acceptance with no acknowledgement that some of the things she unconditionally blesses might, in fact, lead to relational and personal devastation. For Gaga, it seems the only sin is to claim that sin exists. That mindset is more than apparent listening to her choreographer, Laurieanne Gibson, talk about Gaga’s influence and the power of her new album: “When Gaga played me the record, it took me quite some time to feel the direction and the inspiration, and when she played it for me two weeks later, I was like, ‘I think I got it.’ I said, ‘We have to birth a new race, a race that cannot hate.'”
For Lady Gaga and her growing throng of “little monsters,” hate is code for anyone who might believe God has ordained limits when it comes to our sexual expressions. To claim that He might not approve of whatever we feel like doing sexually, we’re told, is hateful.
Writing in his blog, learningmylines.blogspot.com, Christian youth culture expert Walt Mueller expanded on the significance of these themes:
“I think that the release of this song marks a watershed moment in our understanding of who we are and where we’re going as a culture,” Mueller said. “That’s why it needs to be listened to, watched, tracked, and talked about. It cannot be ignored. ‘Born This Way’ offers a mix of truth (God as Creator, inherent value and worth, etc.), and a host of very dangerous ideas that are evidence of our slide into a postmodern world void of the truth factor. Yes, God has made us just the way He wanted to, instilling in us tremendous value and worth. The Scriptures are clear on that. But we are sinful and polluted beings who need to exercise Biblical discernment in our assessments of ourselves, our natures, what we believe, and how we live. Without a deep and sobering understanding of our own sin, we can never fully understand or appreciate the grace we received at the cross. The song puts forth and promotes a way of thinking about, looking at, and living life that’s been increasingly embraced in our culture.”
He went on: “Lady Gaga is making some powerful statements about the nature of God, the nature of humanity, the nature of sin, and how to live life. The whole world is watching, listening, and believing.”
Lest that sound like hyperbole, Elton John’s response to the single is also worth noting. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he said, “I’ve heard her new album. It’s amazing. The first single, ‘Born This Way,’ is the anthem that’s going to obliterate ‘I Will Survive.’ I can’t think of how huge it’s going to be.”
Given Gaga’s strong first-week debut at No. 1, Elton John’s assessment seems right on the money—and it underscores the importance of engaging with sobriety and discernment, as Mueller put it, when it comes to the values and worldview that Lady Gaga so flamboyantly embodies.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.