“Is Kirk Franklin trying to serve two masters?” Part One

As a disclaimer, if you are to watch all of the media in this post (which could be a really good and really necessary idea), you WILL be here a while, so I suggest you get comfortable and organise snacks etc, use the bathroom, check your text messages before settling down to this… 🙂

And even as the author of these posts who hopes for as many readers as possible reading as frequently as possible, I WILL tell you to take a break in between reading Part 1 and Part 2!

~

The starting point for this post is not the recent Ex Ministries video that has been doing the rounds – although we WILL get to that…

Instead, we are going to begin with this video:

That’s one side of Kirk Franklin that no true Christian who also loves gospel music would be able to complain about. Let’s check out another one, shall we?

Both of these tracks are examples of what I call “fully-confessional gospel” – this is music that declares the gospel as gospel in word – as well as through the style of the music, the instruments, the choral arrangement and direction – this is pointing the listener in one direction – towards God. Yes, you may come from a tradition that does not allow for this kind of thing in church, and that is fair enough. Myself, I’d not have gone there but the ‘shout’ that follows the end of the second song is an integral part of African-American Christianity and this is why it makes no sense whatsoever to direct, play or arrange this sort of ‘shout’ in any other context. Here in Britain, unless you are an American living in the UK we just need to leave that alone, as when we try to drop a ‘shout’ it lacks the necessary cultural and spiritual authenticity.

I may not be up for the ‘shout’  but when you have stared your worst nightmares in the face and God has had to deliver you – for me personally, I know that while there is an incredible amount of comfort I can get from Bach or Bruckner, there are still times when no classical music will substitute for a gospel song like this when I am hurting on a level that defies language and I just need to be reminded deep down that God will never give anyone what they can bear. And yes…Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Andy Park and the rest of the CCM guys also have absolutely nothing to offer me at those moments.

So, these songs are a part of Kirk Franklin’s catalogue. And here, I think it is pretty clear who is being glorified.

~

So now, it seems that there is a video that has been doing the rounds. If you’ve seen it, great. If not, then here it is:

OK, so you may not want or need to watch the whole video for ‘I Smile’ in which much is made of the colour of Kirk Franklin’s lips. But having taken a good look and used the pause function rather a lot, something is wrong with the colour of Kirk Franklin’s lips. And what is really interesting is that another legendary, world-famous gospel artiste – Donnie McClurkin, who is also black – his lips are a completely different colour to KF’s lips in this video.

I can already see that some urban-music-loving Christians don’t see anything wrong with this – and that is their prerogative. I think that the argument used by Tetaun Moffett is somewhat aggrandised, but I also think that there is more to the colour of KF’s lips in the video than meets the eye. I spent more time in secular music than many Christians have done, so I think that a Bible-believing Christian discounts that whole argument at their own risk. The lines are very, very blurred, and it is no secret that homosexuality is both extant and rampant at every level within the gospel music industry. But if you need to check this for yourself, here is the whole thing:

OK. So in the interests of fairness, we should see if KF’s lips in the above video are that same colour in any of his other photographs. Click here for a link.

We can argue on this, but here at the theomusicology blog, our position is that the lip tone colours do not match.

So what exactly is going on here? Moffett and co at Ex Ministries are pretty sure that they have the answer – and you will know what they think if you’ve watched the video.

Here is what my friend (who for privacy purposes I’ll call ‘A’) had to say upon first viewing:

I’ve never been much of a Kirk Franklin fan (too much hype) but I’m a bit unsure about this movie and it’s aims. Makes quite a lot of sweeping statements especially concerning homosexuality. Why is it bad to sample secular music? Why is Franklin on a pink background, people showing their teeth and piercings overwhelming indications of homosexuality?

This was my response:

Yes, those are a few of the problems that come with this territory. And there is a sense in which some of your questions might be best addressed in a discussion forum as opposed to here on fb. But despite the fact that this is a somewhat partisan and badly-expressed polemic, I would certainly defend the essential thesis of this video in any forum with genuine confidence.

Sampling secular music is a disaster zone for sacred music if one is serious about spiritual integrity – something which secular musicians appear to understand better than Christian musicians (ironic or what?!). But there are lots of Christians who love secular music and have not thought about whether or not the values of what they listen to fit the criteria of Philippians 4:8. I have some serious technical issues with that part of their argument, but I would definitely say that if people cannot tell that something claiming to be gospel music is fact gospel because it could just as easily be r’n’b (or any other secular genre), then it has failed to be gospel music. And yes, that would also need explaining/defending. I wrote a big essay on this subject some years back as part of my second Masters degree – it was the essay that started me on the road to theology.

The piercings argument is as weak as it gets – I’m with you there.. A pink background is at best suggestive. Not in any way conclusive. But as someone who has battled against homosexuality in professional music and who knows firsthand how much there is of it in gospel music, the lipstick vibe is more complicated. Hollywood does not ‘tell’ – it ‘shows.’ Anyone is free to dismiss the vibe wholesale, but this kind of gospel music is more dangerous than secular music which does not pretend to be anything other than what it is. Kirk Franklin is far from being the only artist who whose output would give pastors and theologians a heart attack…

This was followed up by another good friend of mine (‘B’), whose thoughts were as follows:

I must say I found this a rather strange video. Most confusing was that many of the quotes and clips used to denigrate Kirk Franklin, are Biblically quite positive… in fact, when the video started, for about the first minute, I actually thought it was pro-Franklin! I was surprised that the video’s author did not mention 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 especially as he quotes from Corinthians a lot elsewhere in the video, and that Kirk Franklin seems to be using certain musical genres to reach those who frequently listen to those genres. A genre is not in itself bad, but can be used to good or bad purposes – I’m sure the author of this video would agree that the Bible is definitely not bad, but Satan quoted Scripture when tempting Jesus! Moreover, while Christians are called to be distinct from “the world”, we are also called to live in the world, and when we speak of Jesus to others, to do so “with gentleness and respect”(1 Peter 3:15) – throughout this video, I question how loving the author’s rebuke is, never mind its validity on certain points, and wonder whether he has considered that one of the greatest acts in the Christian viewpoint is God leaving heaven to come into the world and live among us! I thought the clip later on in the video of Kirk Franklin speaking about sexuality in general was a well-balanced presentation of the pro-marriage Christian position. The Bible clearly is all for life-long, monogamous, publically witnessed marriage between a man and a woman who reflects the relationship between Christ and the Church and ultimately the Triune community. That’s very specific, and quite a mouthful, and our culture clearly does not agree with this position, but the ways in which it disagrees are exceedingly numerous, as I think Kirk Franklin tried to indicate in his answer – if his answer hadn’t been edited down to the absolute minimum, that is. As for the mention of Sony as a distributor of Franklin’s music, I find it inconsistent that the video’s author rebukes Franklin for his association with Sony, and delivers this rebuke via YouTube, which surely would be open to the same critique which is levelled at Sony!?!? The frequent backdrops with flames, and scary music also aren’t calculated to be particularly balanced. The strangest thing about this video for me though was the virtual absence of Franklin’s music – there’s the odd clip for a few seconds here and there, but I wonder why there isn’t more of the music being critiqued in the video that critiques it. I guess there’s only one thing about this video that really strikes me as positive: I do respect the author, after his stinging rebuke, for putting his name to the whole thing!

Now, my friend B has given us all a lot to think about, and I sincerely hope that this response has triggered some serious thinking from the many, many people who watched this video and saw no problems with it whatsoever. For my own part, I have consistently maintained that this video is very, very far from a perfect expose of the problem, and B has nailed some very serious points. I could not begin to cover all of my responses to B at that time, but this is how I responded:

Thanks ‘B’, it really is a strange video. But it goes somewhere that folk don’t normally get to, and once one begins to think about representations of things (a classic framework from humanities academia), some of what appears to be very straightforward emerges as being somewhat less so.

I agree that in the most general of terms, a genre is not in and of itself bad, but will every single genre stand up to this idea? Certain dance music forms which specifically work in the context of club culture seriously blur the lines of morality in terms of what they facilitate spiritually. I know that it is possible to be in a club such as Ministry of Sound and drink nothing but water and just dance (long story). So I can make an experiential argument that dance music and club culture does not necessarily go hand in hand with drug culture.

Is that a principle that reflects the wider reality? I know some very ethically-minded (in many ways) dance music DJ/producers. I know a few real sharks. All of them have let pretty girls into their DJ booths to indulge in a spot of drug taking away from security lights/cameras/etc – including one good friend of mine. He didn’t believe in drugs, but he was hooked by the music and by the club culture and by the DJing lifestyle. So he was part of some people getting high. Is this music designed to ‘entertain?’ Or ‘edify?’ Or facilitate an experience that is by definition supposed to bypass the cerebral cortex and hit you at a more ‘subconscious’ level?

I was asked to actually MD a choir for Roni Size back in 2009 for a massive gig in Bristol. The problem came when I said that I wanted to see the words of the arrangement. When pressed, I made it clear that I was up for giving it a go, but I wanted to be part of something that sent a positive message. I was pulled off the gig immediately.

I used to play r’n’b and hip-hop and other things. I’ve seen how people live. Certain musics do go hand in hand with lifestyles. This again requires massive unpacking, and there will never be a universal consensus, and fb isn’t the best place, but it’s nice to at least toss these ideas into the air.

The nature of the Bible as an entity is very different to anything else that we could attempt to compare it to! So while it is indeed the case that anything good can potentially be used for bad purposes, I am not sure that particular plane of thought would hold in every dimension. At some point the Bible has to emerge as a distinct entity that does not even fit the archetypal boundaries of ‘literature.’ Genres are fully within the domain of human creativity. Death metal is a genre created by humans that uses the God-given gift of music. So in strict logical terms, it would be sounder to compare ‘music’ and ‘the Bible’ as both come from exactly the same source.

Which leaves two more things:

a) I am not a Kirk Franklin-hater – I think that he is an incredibly talented songwriter who has made some extremely difficult spiritual decisions. If you look very carefully at Bono’s theological statements over the years, not all are what most Bible-believing Christians would call orthodox. I know Jessie J’s keys player – she also plays for Rihanna and others. It is a wild, wild scene in which the music itself plays a role in self-perpetuating the glorification of self. If you have ever been in a studio when people are recording these albums, you’ll know that studio sessions are renowned for drug use. Guys used to keep me away from certain places and certain rooms. There are a lot of subtle references to various subcultures in that video that may not be especially obvious…and really, how I never lost my way like so many other Christian musicians did on the commercial music scene – it is a miracle. When ‘Stomp’ came out, it was in clubs. Everyone wanted to sing it, play it, dance it, dance to it. When you’ve played Steve Wonder and Motown and funk on gigs and you see the carnal vibe that happens, you know that gospel music is supposed to be different. It is only my opinion, but if you’ve one foot in the church and one in the world, this is complicated.

b) I am totally not about trying to get you to think what I think [just because I think it]. But I do know that lots and lots of Christians have not always really taken the time to consider what they are listening to for themselves. People wonder why those in the church do not appear to be any more immune to sexual temptation than those who are secular. They also wonder why so many Christians are no less materially-minded than secular people. In short – what’s the difference between ethical, fair-minded secular people and Christians? Not a lot, I’d say…which is why so many people still think that they can be good without God. He’s not made enough of a difference in the lives of His followers for those who don’t follow Him to be convinced as yet. Can our music play a part in making a difference? Is it about God, or about us? I don’t think that Kirk’s current output is anything like as Christocentric as stuff from times past and I do think that it is the sort of gospel music that is going to make a nominal Christian feel that they are closer to God than is actually the case, and in that case it is music that claims to bear the truth but that could easily lead a person astray. That has got to be a concern for any true Christian!

With that, ‘A’ then responded thus:

I think you have a point with Franklin having one foot in the world and one in church. I think that’s the most important thing here, forgetting about secular music sampling and homosexuality, Franklin is (possibly) trying to serve two masters, God and the world, which of course he cannot do and must not try to do. Instead he, and I suppose other artists, need to remember to serve God all the time and if He wills it, to serve God in the world (“secular society”) but not serve the world.
Thank you for the eye-opener 🙂

In Part 2 we will explore the follow-up from ‘B’ and also go over some points from his first response in more rigorous detail. Thank you for staying with this to the end – I really don’t take your time for granted.

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10 comments on ““Is Kirk Franklin trying to serve two masters?” Part One

  1. Interesting comments, I just thought I would share my some of my thoughts.

    Firstly, I tend to negotiate my reading of any media produced by Ex ministries because a good percenage of the time they are right about what they present but not righteous in how they go about presenting it. I think we have to remember that these celebrities and artists are still people who God loves dearly no matter how far gone we think they might be. What we tend to forget is that people are generally ‘sometimeish’ particularly when it comes to their Christian walk and perhaps this is true of Kirk? That’s my first thought but that said, I will move on to my next comment about the industry/ies.

    The music industries as said in the post all about money. Genres are generally constructed for marketing and promotional purposes. In order to sell records they need to successfully categorise it, describe it and package in order to communicate the attributes of the music. The easiest way to do this is through the perceptions/understanding we have of particular genres. My point in saying this is, just because Kirk Franklin and such like artists market themselves or once marketed themselves as gospel music doesn’t mean that it is or will always be gospel music (in its truest form) that they are selling. Just because he is branded as a gospel artist doesn’t mean that he has to be a Christian but it means that gospel is the label he can use to sell to a Christian audiences. Prime example, the song in question barely mentions God or Jesus or any relationship with God in the lyrics, and the part that does is so vague that if a secular artist sang the same song then they wouldn’t market it as gospel, they would just sell it as a feel good song. Concerning the video and the connotations of homosexuality, I think these things are often done to get people talking, not to say that it’s harmless though. It’s an industry and Kirk Franklin is doing a job selling a product with crossover appeal that people buy into.

    So, is Kirk Franklin trying to serve two masters? It appears so, Kirk’s public image and product is a paradox at the best of times but I think this is part of his appeal as many ‘Christians’ actually behave the same way. They say true art is a reflection of life and this could be what people buy into. Having said that, we actually dont know the man personally, only God knows where his heart is. Maybe he generally doesn’t understand how/why his artistry is questionable and confusing to many.

    How do we deal with this confusion? I think the only way is to take responsibility for ourselves, stop compartmentalising these ‘gospel’ artists/celebrities and spiritually discern whether or not we should listen to their music because it may well be that some of the things they put out there at particular points of their careers were blessings from on high. That doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t change later down the line because as I said in the beginning, people are sometimeish.

    • theomusicologist says:

      Daniel, thanks very much for going the distance with this and for some perceptive insights of your own! We have been hoping for much more of this kind of thing here at this blog, and some some folk have brought some great things, we treasure comments from people who really have thought about what they are saying.

      I love this idea that KF’s appeal is in part because his doublemindedness (James 1 – and paradox IS a very good word) actually appeals to people who are in the same place as himself. This is one of the best thoughts that I have ever heard from a young person in British Adventism on this subject (good thoughts on this subject are unfortunately very rare indeed and the lack of any consistent critical edge is one of my biggest frustrations – something that I am sure you will not be surprised to hear). It links to other things, so you will be quoted!

      You invoke the second half of the Oscar Wilde aphorism that “it is not that art reflects life; rather it is life that reflects art.” Now, that aphorism is something that I intend to address in one of the planned DVD projects for the new ministry that I am in the process of getting off the ground. But for now, let me touch on the question of whether or not he understands how/why his artistry is questionable/confusing to many.

      Speaking as a professional musician in my own right, I know that you simply cannot remain in music without knowing your audience. Long before you reach his level of stature, one makes decisions about what to play/sing/write and to whom. That means one also decides who to perform to and who not to bother with. If you click on his site and look at the newsflash for the event he will be doing later in the year with Donnie McClurkin, Israel Houghton and Marvin Sapp – it is marketed to fans of ‘gospel, r’n’b and pop.’

      I could say MUCH more about this in detail, but in a nutshell, nice as you were to suggest he may not know how he is being received – trust me, my brother, he cannot NOT know. And that is why every single artist (myself included) will one day give an account of how we used our talents before God Himself!

  2. It’s true what you say that he must be calculated in what he is doing in terms of who he works with and who he targets but I think perhaps maybe what I was trying get at is whether Kirk understands the level of accountability and responsibility that comes with someone of his profile/influence or whether he sees it more as he is doing a job/running a business. He clearly knows what he is doing on the business side of things but could he be acting in ignorance on the spiritual side? I think that’s the part we don’t know but either way as you say he will have to give an account!

    Your blog is interesting to me, I will be back tracking and reading some of your stuff. I look forward to seeing more!

  3. Kingdomliving says:

    He helping to bring people to Christ that’s all we need to be concerned about. I love what he is doing for the community. Music changes all the time. Everyone is not into them old songs that came out generations ago. Did not music change since the bible days to become more relevant? Who cares he if grabbed a beat from somewhere else and used it. What message did he send across when he did his song on it. God bless Kirk. You can talk about his faults. You can do that for anybody, because no body has arrived yet and everyone is fighting sin everyday. It is by his grace that saved us, and I think people tend to forget that. But his message is bringing people closer to Christ. So if you are nosey enough to concentrate on his faults, pray for him and pray for yours too. We need to love each other and stop all this talking about people. Help your brothers and sisters in Christ.

    • theomusicologist says:

      Kingdomliving,

      That’s an interesting handle that you have chosen. Thank you for taking the time to visit this blog and make a comment.

      Sure, not a single one of us can claim to be without fault. The Apostle Paul referred to himself as the ‘chief of sinners’ at one point, and look what he did for the cause of ‘God’s kingdom!’

      Music does indeed change, and I have not argued for a second that everyone should like the same type of music in the same way. So that comment is not entirely ‘relevant…’

      I want to be careful how I say anything further, because anyone who has read all three blog posts – or even one or two in this series – will know that you haven’t really understood what I am saying about the problems with Kirk, because if you had, you could not have sensibly made this comment.

      It is entirely because God’s kingdom does matter that gospel musicians and Christian artists in general be extremely responsible for how the message of truth is portrayed. We have a rule in the world of preaching: “one is not merely responsible for what one says; one is responsible for what the people hear.”

      I made the point that some of Kirk’s music is genuinely spiritually evocative. But I am saying that he is on very dangerous ground in that video – not least because the take-home message of the song is not really in harmony with what the Bible teaches about the best reason to ‘smile.’ Your somewhat childish comment about me being ‘nosey’ is itself less than helpful, because this is no small matter. God is bigger than theology because He is greater than language itself, but He has still charged us to preach the Word – and be faithful to it. That’s our job as ministers. It is because I do not want people to be deceived that I have taken the time to share these concerns. And in great detail.

      So please; try and read more carefully and ask questions before making statements. God’s grace is less forgotten than you appear to believe. I would argue that God’s grace is so well-remembered that it is the biggest reason why Christians (myself included) find it so easy to sin, ask forgiveness, sin, ask forgiveness…it’s become a treadmill. Now THAT’s what I call a problem!

      • Kingdom Living says:

        First, I apologize for calling you nosey. I didn’t know it would be taken that way and I should have tried a different approach. It just upset me a little at the time how much harm this article may actually do then what you meant for it to do. See there are some people out there where Kirk Franklin’s music may be the only thing they have that maintains anything godly in it. There are some people that may be on straddling that fence on giving God their life through God using Kirk Franklin’s music to minister in their lives. I know that because when everyone in my community grew up we had every rap cd out but one thing we did have was that God’s Property. And when that same person goes to google Kirk Franklin for music (as I did) and this article pops up. Now after reading this article it may push a person away from Christ instead of helping them dedicated their life. I think you could have just handled this issue better. We are all the church. Love is the greatest commandment, and its not hard to address your issues privately now a days, even with someone that is more famous through social media. I think we practice religion so much today then understand how and why we are doing this. We are all on the same team. And we need to love and help each other get better. Even when we correct someone, we still need to use our fruit of the spirit to make sure we correct them in a way God would want us to. And there is nothing loving about putting someone on blast in an Internet article.

        Again. We are all saved by grace and not our works..It’s not that people know so much about grace where we abuse it, it’s that we don’t understand grace enough. A lot of people address grace but the more we actually understand it the less we sin.Jesus told us that. Just to understand more and more about how good God has been will help us be better. How he loves us through our flaws and everything. So understand that we all need to get better, me, you, Kirk, and everybody. So that’s not put up articles or run each other down to every one when we mess up let’s help each other get better and let God work through us to get more souls saved. And I feel this article may do more harm than good.

      • theomusicologist says:

        Kingdom Living, I have a pretty good idea about where you may be coming from, and you are entitled to your concerns.

        However, this blog is not for everyone. My ministry is not for everyone. This is not really the forum for a serious biblical exposition of a powerful idea that remains misunderstood, but I have an increasingly clear appreciation of the kind of folk to whom God has sent me to be a witness and they are not going to be worrying about the kinds of things that others will worry about.

        You say ‘this article.’ There are three articles! And a really detailed case is made – in painstaking depth – so anyone who can read English well enough should not be confused. If people actually read carefully, they will see what I have actually said.

        It is precisely because we don’t understand grace properly that we continue to endorse what God has not called us to endorse. There is a huge danger for Christians in the area of contemporary gospel music, and I understand that you have a feeling that I ‘could have handled this issue better.’ However, there are others who would never have stopped to think about these issues if they had not been written out in a serious and thoughtful way. The world is used to Christians making excuses.

        Elsewhere on this blog, someone from my own church community has pointed out the fact that my criticisms of another member of my own church are so devastating that people might wonder which side I am on. That made me think, and I addressed that. But the way in which I have handled my reflective critique on this aspect of Kirk Franklin’s output – starting with the links to two of my favourite songs of his – gives this argument of yours no real legs to stand on.

  4. David Hughes says:

    It saddens me that still, after so many years, christians and the church continue to struggle with this issue. Music is of God, a gift of creation and all creation sings to God. God dint create “christian” music or “secular”music……MUSIC ! What we do with it is like what we do with God’s creation……some good and some bad…because we are all sinners. Judgement is mine says the Lord – i’m soooo glad about that because we’ve all seen man’s judgement throughout history and its full of hindsight apologies. To Kirk – apologies for this blog and article for any hurt or offensiveness caused…..God bless you.

    In the words of Larry Norman……Why should the devil have all the good music?
    Love wins….Love wins…..Love wins.
    Amen?

  5. Definitely believe that which you stated. Your favourite justification seemed to be on the
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    I say to you, I definitely get annoyed even as people consider issues that they just don’t understand about.
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  6. Joe says:

    Hi to everyone. I took time to read through these write-ups to realize that it is not abnormal to have people talk-down on this wonderful piece by theomusicologist. I was reminded that Jesus himself didn’t have everyone on his side when he was on earth. He foretell that anyone who chooses to follow him aright would be hated of men for his sake. I haven’t seen this article before I realized that some of Mr. Kirk’s music are somewhat off track. Anyone who truly follows biblical principle would see clearly; Simple.

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