December 3, 2018 § 2 Comments
You can feel the frustration in these words by the writer of Hebrews: “By this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” (5:12) “Let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.” (6:1)
The latest Christian artist to disappoint a lot of fans in a similar fashion is Lauren Daigle. The popular 27 year old singer from Louisiana with cross-over appeal recently appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show,(1) which many critics thought was a faith-compromising move since Ellen is a lesbian. Yet others saw justification in the opportunity to show love and offer a God-honoring anthem on such a high profile show. That made sense to me. But then, Lauren appeared on iHeartRadio’s The Domenick Nati Show(2) and was asked if she thought homosexuality was a sin. Her “answer”:
“I can’t honestly answer on that, in the sense of I have too many people that I love and they are homosexuals. I can’t say one way or the other, I’m not God. When people ask questions like that, I just say, ‘Read the Bible and find out for yourself. And when you find out let me know because I’m learning too.’”
Now, of course a Bible-believing Christian can and should answer on that. Having “too many people” in your life who are gay does not absolve you from the question, but rather makes the need to answer truthfully and gracefully even more urgent.
Of course we are not God—but God gave us His answer in the Bible (Lev. 18:22, Rom. 1:24-27, 1 Cor. 6:9-10, 1 Tim. 1:9-10). What you “find out for yourself” when you read Scripture should not be a different answer than what God’s word clearly reveals about homosexuality and sin, because truth is not relative.
Of course people can and already are letting Lauren know what the Bible says(3) in response to her perhaps rhetorical invitation: “When you find out let me know because I’m learning too.” The thing is, if her appeal for this knowledge is sincere, she is asking for something that, by the stage of her faith portrayed in her music, she should already know by now.
But that might be the reason we are so often surprised by a Christian musician who says something that seems to indicate a theological shift (or trajectories completely off the rails like the coming out of Jennifer Knapp, or the likes of Michael Gungor and former Newsboys frontman George Perdikis confessing Atheism). We gauge a musician’s theology and the maturity of their faith not by notes and chords but by lyrics. This makes sense, because we judge a Christian author by the words he writes. The difference is, so many—if not most—musicians do not write every word they sing. There are artists who write most or all of their own lyrics, but Lauren Daigle is not one of them.
This is not a big secret, but from Sinatra to Elvis to Elton John, a surprising (to me) lot of music legends had virtually nothing at all do with the words they sang. The majority co-wrote songs with one or more composers/lyricists. I’m honestly not sure what that looks like in the creative process. I’m sure it happens in a variety of ways (Is it, “You write verse one, I’ll write verse two, and she can work on the chorus…”? Or does Writer 1 do a first draft before passing it on to Writer 2 for development?). But in any case, artists who have the look, talent and voice have always used other writers’ material and not their own personal journals. They can’t be good at everything.
I browsed Lauren Daigle’s debut album at azlyrics.com(4). For the dozen songs on “How Can It Be” released in 2015, 14 unique writers are credited (notables include Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio). Lauren co-wrote only 8 of the songs, and each song has 2 to 5 people credited for lyrical content. Her latest (as of 2018) “Look Up Child” has 13 songs. Lauren’s name is listed alongside at least two other names on every song, most of which were co-written with Jason Ingram (her producer and songwriter for Bebo Norman, Point of Grace and others), Paul Mabury (Lauren’s drummer/producer), and sometimes Paul Duncan (songwriter for a number of Christian and Country musicians). None of Lauren Daigle’s songs are solely by Lauren Daigle. In “Lauren Daigle’s Story Behind the Song “How Can It Be”(5), the song that launched her career, Lauren tells how Paul Mabury brought her the song he co-wrote with Jason Ingram and Jeff Johnson 9 months earlier(6).
I’m not saying Lauren Daigle isn’t talented or original, that her music isn’t amazing, or that it doesn’t lift up the name of Jesus just because others have heavily contributed to the lyrical content of her songs. But what this means is when we hear Lauren Daigle sing, we are not necessarily hearing her heart. And that’s likely true of most musicians.
No doubt Lauren approves of and likely agrees with the words that are published and sung by her. Her testimony about “How Can It Be” affirms that she deserved the worst (because all have sinned) and “God just completely ransomed me… In my sin and in my shame, He fought for me.” She appears zealously behind the grace and truth that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I don’t doubt Lauren Daigle is a Christian. But by her statements in that iHeartRadio interview, I doubt that she is as mature in her faith as suggested by the words she sings, which are, by normal industry practice, largely the work of others. During that interview, and faced with a pointed question about one of the most contentious social issues today, it was Lauren without a team of writers, composers or producers. It’s in that studio that we get her heart—and the surprises, because Christian singers really aren’t the sum of the words they sing. This talented artist, gifted with a beautiful and very public voice (and the accompanying responsibility) was put in a hard position. Sadly, she chose the easy answer—the non-answer—and that sings louder than song lyrics.
“Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know…” (Sung by Lauren Daigle; written by Jason Ingram, Paul Mabury, Lauren Daigle)
Here’s a “so what?”-type question to finish with: When a Christian artist starts to “evolve”/move away from Biblical beliefs, at what point, if any point, does their past, non-heretical music become unedifying or unusable for worship or personal enjoyment? (I wrote this post a while ago thinking along the same lines about preachers).