I watched the VMAs Sunday night, in their entirety, and I’m pretty sure that’s a first for me. The show created a significant amount of buzz on social media platforms for a myriad of reasons. There were the rumors of an *NSYNC reunion, which happened for a song and reminded everyone why an *NSYNC reunion would be a terrible idea. There was the repeated and continual tribute to Justin Timberlake. And there was whatever that was that Miley Cyrus did, which I’m sure had Billy Ray Cyrus once again singing “Achy Breaky Heart.”
But what most caught me was the performance by Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and Mary Lambert of their song “Same Love.” The song won the award for Best Video with a Social Message. It’s a song many are familiar with, as it’s gotten a lot of radio play this year. But not everyone is a fan.
Many Christians have rebuked the song as not understanding God, or Christianity, or theology. I read one tweet last night that said Macklemore needed an “intro to theology,” implying that his understanding of God didn’t even meet the standards of an introductory Christian theology course. Let’s take a closer look.
In the first verse Macklemore says,
The right wing conservatives think it’s a decision
And you can be cured with some treatment and religion
Man-made rewiring of a predisposition
Playing God, aw nah here we go
America the brave still fears what we don’t know
God loves all his children, is somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written thirty-five-hundred years ago
Reparative (or conversion) therapy enjoyed a few golden years, but as the recent apology and closing of Exodus International demonstrates, its days are quickly coming to an end. But the fact still remains that many conservative Christians do see one’s sexuality as a choice, at least when it’s not their’s that is under the microscope. Just as I do not wake up each morning and choose to be attracted to the opposite sex, my gay friends do not wake up each morning and choose to be attracted to the same sex.
Macklemore is offering a critique of the type of Christian message that one minute claims “for God so loved the world” and then spews hate the next. He addresses the reality of a “canon within the canon,” which is the practice of elevating certain books and passages over the rest (I’ve written more about that here). Many Christians are quick to trot out Leviticus 20.13 but never seem to get as passionate about Deuteronomy 22.11 or Exodus 34.26.
Macklemore goes on to sing about the content of one’s Christian message:
When I was at church they taught me something else
If you preach hate at the service those words aren’t anointed
That holy water you soak in has been poisoned
The message of Jesus, as I recall it, was not to hate each other and hate your enemies, but to show love for one another and love your enemies.
And then later he sings what is probably his most controversial line:
Whatever God you believe in
We come from the same one
That this line would be controversial is not surprising, but it is not a new idea to Jewish or Christian theology. The Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament) offers ample evidence of YHWH overtaking the personalities and traits of various local deities such as El, Baal, and Asherah. Many psalms and hymns are at heart henotheistic and/or homogenizing. Henotheism is the belief that many deities exist, but that there is one high God. We see God among the divine council, for instance, in Genesis 1.26 and Psalm 82.1. Other passages and beliefs are homogenizing in the sense that they make the claim that while God may be called something else by someone else, it is really God that is being worshipped. This is the basic claim made by theologian Karl Rahner when he spoke of “anonymous Christians” (with which I do not agree for a host of reasons).
I do fully understand the backlash that “Same Love” is getting from the conservative political and religious arenas, but the dismissive attitude exhibited toward the song that is meant to convey the message that it possesses an “un-Christian” message and “infantile” theology is misguided, at best.
There is no doubt that Macklemore, with his song, and MTV with its introduction of the song by Jason Collins, are making political statements. Jason Collins said, “I knew that hating someone for their sexual orientation was the same thing as hating them for their skin color.” To be sure, not every one agrees with Jason Collins or with MTV’s move. That is to be expected. But the theology behind it? Well, we’ve been down this road before.
Just as many today claim that one’s sexual orientation is a legitimate reason to hate them or cast judgment, many of our baptist ancestors used the same arguments, only then with a racial motivation. The so-called “mark of Cain” or “curse of Cain” was used as justification for slavery by the Southern Baptist Convention. But just because we’ve made these mistakes in the past does not mean we must make them again. Just as we rejected the notion that one’s skin color was an adequate indication of his/her character or relationship with God, so too we must reject using sexual orientation as a litmus test for whether one can call themselves “Christian” or whether one understands God or theology or ecclesiology.
So today I am applauding both the song and its high-profile placement at the VMAs Sunday night. The song does line up in some ways with my theology of God, my understanding of love, and my belief in equality for all, though not nearly a hundred percent. But beyond that I celebrate that the song works to make gay students and gay teachers and gay cousins and gay neighbors know that they’re not alone. It fights for one less person to take his/her life because of the hate they have experienced. It fights for love and life in a way that not much else in popular culture does right now, including many Christians. And it offers a healthy critique of our “Christian” messaging. That’s something we need. And as for the message that God loves all of God’s children? Well, that’s a theology I’m not ashamed to espouse.