Within the last four to six months I have heard Christians say two disturbing things on behalf of God with no biblical authority from God. I have heard them say that “God doesn’t want them,” and “God doesn’t want that.” Who is “them” and what is “that” you are wondering? Well “them” is the hip-hopper, and “that” is the culture that they have popularized (rap, fashion, slang, etc.). Is it true? Can a believer say that God doesn’t want hip-hoppers in his family unless they are completely “un-hip-hopped?” Is it also true that God doesn’t want any of the cultural forms, talents, and artistic expressions that come out of the hip-hop context? It grieves me to my heart every time I hear Christians from the church culture (especially Black church culture) distort and contort scripture out of context to justify their alienation of anything with the label of hip-hop on it. We will look at God’s willingness to extend salvation to the most godless group of people, and then we will look at His tendency to use frail men and women and the “tools of their trade.”
(Part 1) God Doesn’t Want Them: Remember Jonah?
Imagine hearing God say, “I don’t want you!” As God’s representatives we must remember whenever the church community rejects someone in the name of God, he or she is claiming to reflect how God feels about that person. The church was left on earth to be God’s representative, and the world ought to know how God feels about something or someone by looking at the churches reactions and interactions with those things and people. This brings me to the story of Jonah, which provides an excellent case study of a prophet (representative) of God who was reluctant to deliver the word of God and who failed to reflect the character and mindset of God. Judging by Jonah you would have thought that God did not want Nineveh, but it turns out that only Jonah did not want the sparing of Nineveh. Judging from Jonah you would have thought that there was no chance for Nineveh, but it turns out that God wanted to provide Nineveh with a chance to escape judgment.
It is obvious from the beginning that Jonah does not want to warn Nineveh about God’s displeasure and his plans to judge them because he refuses to go (1:3). While we know he doesn’t want to go, we don’t find out why until the end of the story (4:2). After much speculation, Jonah’s “beef” with going on the mission to Nineveh is revealed at last. Jonah is disgusted at the idea that the vile, ruthless and pagan Nineveh could receive anything from God other than judgment. He doesn’t think they are supposed to participate in the benefits Israel enjoyed in knowing such a God. Listen to Jonah’s gripe once God spares the wicked but repentant city,
“Oh Lord, this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by trying to escape to Tarshish!–because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment (NET Bible).”
Jonah knows that his character and God’s character are opposites. Jonah wanted quick judgment, but God was slow to anger. Jonah wanted justice, but God was gracious and compassionate as well. Jonah could care less about Nineveh, but God had compassion on the wicked city. Sometimes God’s people do not accurately reflect God’s heart toward people and situations. The rest of Jonah’s story adds clarity as God exposes Jonah’s deep issue. Jonah cares about a plant, which he didn’t make, but does not want God to care about people that He did make. I’m sure that Jonah felt like he had a good reason to feel the way he did about Nineveh. Even God verified their wickedness (1:2). Yet he does not condone Jonah’s attitude toward the Ninevites. God is not defending Nineveh, or excusing them of the atrocities that they were notorious for. He is simply saying that regardless of how sinful people are, He may still offer them a chance to be saved from judgment. In order to escape judgment wicked people must repent. Repent from what? Their lack of religious conformity? No!—repent from their sinfulness.
How Does Jonah Apply to Hip-Hop?
The account of Jonah beautifully illustrates the distaste that many of God’s people have about the doo-rag wearing, pants saggin’, corn rows wearing, tattoo havin’, earring wearin’, community of hip-hop generationers. They do not like anything about this community—not their styles, slang, or art forms. In fact, they disdain and look down on everything this community does except for when this community imitates their generations cultural forms. They love to see a 17 year old look like a 70 year old. They want youth groups to esteem choir music and disdain rap. If a youngster does a “holy dance” in church, he gets an “amen,” but if he asks to break-dance in church he will be sternly rebuked for bringing the “world” into the church. Sadly, the anti-hip-hopper gets excited about the wrong results. They require outward change marked by external conformity to all of their generational and cultural preferences. However, David reminds us in Ps. 51:6 that God prefers internal transformation marked by truth in the innermost being. Imagine hip-hop outside, but Jesus inside. Imagine hip-hop forms, but godly functions. This is what we are after, and this is what Jesus, who rebuked the externally squeaky clean Pharisees, is after.
Just like Nineveh, hip-hop’s sinfulness could easily make parents and pastors desire its extermination. In fact, this is the campaign of some today. But how can the church, who is not sent to the righteous but sent to call sinners to repentance, be deceived into treating hip-hop with the same disdain that Jonah had for Nineveh? I’ll tell you how. They magnify hip-hop’s sin to a point where it seems to eclipse God’s grace. The only moral beings that are beyond saving and transforming are demons so in an attempt to get more people to dislike and disassociate with hip-hop, some are falsely demonizing it. They don’t want you think that hip-hop is just sinful, they want you to believe that hip-hop is demonic. There is no remedy for the demonic other than casting it out, so if they can make mothers, fathers, pastors, and leaders think that hip-hop is from the devil, then they prevent Christians from trying to model a Christian form of hip-hop. Now Christian hip-hoppers are facing persecution from their own family (the church), even when they are living consistently with the Christian faith.
The Worst Part
Now it’s bad enough for the church to treat secular hip-hoppers like they are too bad for God to want to save. It’s worse when Christians who were saved within the hip-hop culture are outcasted and rejected as though God, having saved them, doesn’t want to use them if they still exhibit detectable traces of hip-hop. Christians should be able to find acceptance from their church family on the basis of their common faith and their common Lord, but that is not enough for some people. We have to share a common dress, music, and jargon, etc. Literally, hip-hop in general has been framed by people who know that it is easy to believe an unverified, unresearched claim that hip-hop culture is a demonic, hell-birthed invention. This false notion makes the church not want to deal with hip-hoppers at all—saved or unsaved. Well this does not reflect the heart of God, and we know there is often a difference between how people view you and how God views you. People may feel like Jonah felt, but God feels like God feels. To all Christians who are indigenous to the hip-hop culture, turn up the volume on your faith. If you suffer, don’t let it be because you deserve it. Let us disarm the critic with our exemplary Christ-likeness. May our inner character outweigh the fact that we may wear a doo-rag or baggie pants.
“Set an example for the believers in speech, conduct, faith, love, and purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).