Russell Moore is the former dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and current president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He’s a highly sought-after theologian, cultural commentator, and ethicist. He and I agree substantively on many moral/ethical issues. Sometimes he can write cogent, convincing stuff. But sometimes, he can be a sanctimonious scold. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but he’s not a great scholar, and he has a bad habit of stretching Scripture to fit with what he perceives as a “fresh” idea (which just ends up looking cutesy and ridiculous). In particular, he tends to take on an irksomely didactic tone when lecturing the more rambunctious elements of the Religious Right. This is very annoying when he writes about pop culture or political activism.
This summer, he wrote one of his worst pieces yet, a laughable attempt to delve into the theological connotations of hip-hop music and argue that the Church “needs” it. It’s called (I wish I were kidding) “W. W. Jay Z?” I lost brain cells just reading this article, so I will spare myself and my dear readers the painful task of destroying it piece by piece. Suffice it to say that it’s a theological, political and musical train-wreck, displaying equal measures of breathtaking socio-cultural naivete, sloppy exegesis, and patronizingly lame argumentation. (And at least one outright false statement when he carelessly refers to Trayvon Martin’s death as “a brutal murder” as if this had been established beyond reasonable doubt, which is far from the case.)
However, since this is a southern gospel blog, I thought I would touch on one place where Russell Moore ventures into the realm of southern gospel history. As he discusses the phenomenon of neo-reformed Christian hip-hop, he launches a side discussion about Christian attempts to co-opt secular styles throughout the past few decades. The “two largest attempts” he cites in this realm are CCM… and Southern Gospel! He argues that just like Christian pop music imitates secular pop music, southern gospel is a response to country music.
Now I know Russell Moore loves his country music, having written a lot about his favorite artists, but perhaps he should stick to country! Anyone with a modicum of knowledge about the real history of southern gospel music would laugh at the notion that it was an attempt to “appropriate [an] existing pop-culture art form…” Southern Gospel has its own unique heritage as an American art form which goes back over a century. In fact, it was established as a distinct genre before country music, and the earliest country musicians were influenced by white gospel.
I realize that nowadays southern gospel has become something of a gospel/country/bluegrass buffet, but if Moore is attempting to write with an eye to historical development, he’s got a little revision to do.