April 24, 2014 by J. Truett Glen
I still remember the debacle. Contemporary Christian Music was on the rise and Amy Grant was riding a wave of popularity. Her marriage to Christian musician Gary Chapman was a match made in Christian pop-culture heaven. Then came the heartbreaking news in 1999: Amy Grant was divorcing Gary Chapman! It’s not like it hadn’t happened before in the high profile world of Christian music. Sandi Patty divorced her first husband in 1992. I distinctly remember that episode as well because my mother adored Sandi’s music for a good portion of my childhood. Then came others: Nikki Leonti, Kevin Max, Mark Stewart, and many other less famous individuals involved in the business of spreading the Gospel through music. I was raised in a Bible believing family where divorce was clearly defined as something that God hated (Malachi 2:16). Sure, we had divorced individuals in our churches, but they were marked as those who had violated one of the most sacred commitments that a Christian could participate in. They were now limited in what they could do. In those days, if you were a minister in a conservative evangelical community and your marriage ended in divorce, you might as well find yourself another career. There were exceptions, such as Charles Stanley, but for the most part pastors within conservative evangelical circles were sidelined when their first marriage ended in divorce. So to see high profile Christians in the Christian music scene, who were intentionally or unintentionally touted as ministers, fall into the sinful circumstances of divorce was highly disheartening.
After all these years, I still find it disheartening. The news last week that singer songwriters Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken were ending their marriage after 13 years was just as heartbreaking. Yes, divorce is almost always a sad thing in general, but it is even more disheartening when those who know the sacrifice of Christ, and presumably have the indwelling Spirit, decide that they can no longer bear witness to those truths through their marriage. Am I too narrow minded? Does Jesus really want us to be happy more than he wants us to bear up with the hardships of a cumbersome marriage? Does Christ really desire that we be able to pursue our dreams to the fullest extent possible, even when it means letting go of the superior commitment to image him through our relationship with our spouse? The loving, “red letter” speaking Jesus is pretty clear about his standards for marriage. Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:3-11, Mark 10:2-13, and Luke 16:18 all give us a clear picture that divorce is not a moral option in his book. Matthew’s version might allow for divorce in the case of adultery, but many Bible scholars hold to the interpretation that Jesus’ words in Matthew speak to the betrothal period only. Either way, the master of kindness did not think it kind to violate the intentions of marriage. I’m not suggesting that people suffer through physical abuse. If your spouse is beating you, leave and report it to the police! Pray for your spouse and seek long term reconciliation, but don’t subject yourself or your kids to physical abuse.
So, what’s this got to do with the Gospel Music Association and the artists that participate in that organization? Like professional athletes, they are role models. They make their money on the popularization of their message. Not all preachers are artists, but all artists are preachers. They are submitting messages to the watching eye and the listening ear. They are crafting stories with color and rhythm. Some of the most profound sermons that I have heard were songs and poems. Lyrics from Switchfoot’s “Dare you to Move” comes to mind:
“Maybe redemption has stories to tell
Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell
Where can you run to escape from yourself?
Where you gonna go?
Where you gonna go?
Salvation is here”
Some songs are far more like traditional sermons, and the singer/song-writers much more clearly pastors. Many see themselves as prophets with critiques for both the Church and society. Why do I specifically point out the divorce rate among those who label themselves “Christian musicians?” It is because they make money off of the gospel and then drag the teachings of Christ through the mud with their relational decisions. What else do we as Christians have, except for the testimony of our every action that corresponds with our every belief? Are we hypocrites? Yes, and no! We violate the standards of morality that we hold to, but we protest against our flesh after, nay, even during the act! Are we not called to protest against the sin of our brother as well? Are we not called to bring accountability to our brother’s door? But we bring wrapped in grace! Better yet, might it be grace wrapped in accountability that we bring? But according to the GMA non-response to Ray Boltz’s divorce and self-identification as a homosexual, they are unwilling to take a stance that provides accountability. If communities that exist to further the “gospel” don’t speak out against the actions and underlining belief systems that undermine the gospel message, then who will?
The difficulty for Christian artists to maintain a healthy marriage and family is not something I dreamed up in my head. I’ve seen it first hand. My family and I have had the pleasure of hosting a few Christian musicians in our home that were in the middle of the hardship of divorce and separation. Their stories are, again, heart wrenching. It was a privilege to have them open up their lives to us, but I also felt the weighty responsibility to not simply avoid conflict when they opened up about their lives. Again, grace was there as a part of the give and take, but the lack of consistent accountable community in their lives was apparent. I received further confirmation of the state of marriage in the GMA community when I spoke with Dan Haseltine in Chicago one afternoon. I told him that I was encouraged that despite the pressures of the industry and lifestyle he and his wife were still holding strong. I remember being surprised at his transparent response that the Christian music industry and marriage didn’t mix well. Why is that? If you know the life of a traveling musician who makes a living on public acclaim of their craft, then the answer shouldn’t be too hard to gather. For two and a half years I traveled the country as a network cable technician and field manager. I worked long hours and was away for far many more days during those years than I was home. I had to get reacquainted with my wife every weekend, and I could see the effect that it was having on my relationship with younger daughters as well. I struggled against looking at porn during those days, and I began to understand how spouses who always traveled were more prone to affairs. Praise God that I did not physically cheat on my wife during those years, but I knew men that did…and they weren’t pop stars. Add some alcohol and some young men and ladies that do not hold to the same “convictions” to the mix, and you get a recipe for “moral failings.”
I find it ironic that I am finishing this up on the night before I head out to the Q Conference in Nashville to discuss the “common good.” If there is such a thing as “the common good,” surely it issues out of the grace and truth of God. And if it issues from God, it must include his clear intentions for sacrificial marriages that shine the light of forgiveness, grace, mercy, kindness, and devotion to all who are watching. Could we not, as brothers and sisters in Christ, all gather around the common good of faithful Christian marriages, and hold ourselves in loving accountability? There are strong lights among our family in the GMA. I am thankful for men and women like Steven and Mary Beth Chapman and the strong testimony of their faithful marriage. I am thankful for Toby Mac and his years nurturing his marriage to Amanda. I am thankful to Michael Card, and his devotion to his wife Susan for over 30 years now. These are individuals who see their marriage as a vehicle for the gospel. The song they sing is in their service to their spouses, and in the nurturing of their children. I can’t leave out the beauty of redemption that I see in the current marriages of Kevin Max, Mark Stewart, and others like them. They display the grace of God in their willingness to confess their past sins and mistakes, while actualizing the wisdom earned in their current healthy marriages. Their priorities have been placed on stronger ground these days, and it shows.
We are all to blame for the vulnerability of our brothers and sisters in the Christian music industry. Many of us have those talented and driven people around us even now, and they are in need of our love and accountability. We are in need of them as well. That is the beauty of the interrelated body of believers. When we all own our responsibility for our brother, we can all feel empowered to step into one another’s lives. Let us lift up Christocentric marriages as a common good among our brothers, and drive the darkness of divorce from our midst.
Addendum: I was greatly encouraged by the testimony given by Carrie Underwood and Mike Fisher at the Q conference today. They shared the struggles they have in trying to balance time together with the two highly demanding vocations that they are in. They also made the point of sharing that their priorities are their faith and their marriage. I thought it healthy to hear that Carrie sees herself as a Christian who is a musician, rather than a Christian musician. I was also encouraged to hear that Mike views his hockey team and the league as his mission field. Let’s lift these examples up and make a healthy Christocentric view of marriage a strong character of body of Christ in America again.