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Christian music, female artists, and sex bombs June 8, 2010

Posted by orualundone in Music, Sex, Social Justice, Women's Rights.
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Let me start out by saying something: This is not a Christian culture blog. I have serious issues with the fact that there is a Christian “culture” at all, never mind that there is an industry based around it that pulls in literally billions of dollars every year. I do not want to review the newest Beth Moore Bible study, keep track of Chris Tomlin concert dates, or have long discussions about which movies are Christian enough to see (much less discuss ways to edit Get Him to the Greek so it is clean enough to pass). However, from time to time a book or song or album or speaker really moves me, in which case I will blog about it, whether it is the shining epitome of contemporary Christian culture or something my mother would faint to hear. Also, when the culture intersects with actual issues of substance for Christians and non-Christians alike, I feel it’s worth jumping in.

So it was with great interest that I read this article in Christianity Today chronicling the near complete lack of female artists in the upper echelons of contemporary Christian music. Not a single one of the top ten artists of the last decade were female, nor were any of the top ten songs of the last decade performed by a female. Only two of the top fifty songs of the last decade were by female artists, and those were pretty near the bottom of the list. What I found even more interesting was that in the article one of the female artists interviewed reported being told many times that having a woman on stage during a worship experience made them uncomfortable. In response to the article, Jennifer Knapp noted via twitter that not only had she never been on a Christian tour with another female artist until just this past year, but that she had at times been asked to change her clothes or not to speak between songs because it was somehow seen as being too sexual.

Randy Elrod addressed some of the issues surrounding the article in a well-thought out post on his website. Women in the church are often equated with sexuality, almost solely. As a young teen in the church I received any number of lessons and teachings about staying sexually pure, dressing modestly, being careful how I acted about boys, and just in general not doing anything to “tempt” the opposite sex. Because women have always been the temptresses, right?

It makes one feel a bit like some kind of nuclear bomb walking around – a sex bomb, but not the fun kind. Hug a guy the wrong way and you might make him sin. Wear a sleeveless blouse to church and well, obviously no men could ever think about the sermon with that around. And if you’re making out with your boyfriend and things get a little too hot and heavy, who’s fault is that? Why were you even making out with him in the first place? You should have set better boundaries for him. In the meantime, we prime men to think of women as dangerous sexual beings first before anything else, and to be so vigilant in guarding against impure thoughts that at the end of the day all any of us can think about is sex – and how we shouldn’t be thinking about it.

Obviously, not all churches are that bad. I’ve been to many where women participated in leading worship (although always in the minority and almost never playing an instrument). And there are plenty of incredible and popular female artists out there. But the dearth of women at the super popular level I feel reflects the underlying discomfort of the evangelical church with women and with sexuality and sensuality overall. And our inability to separate the sensual from the sexual, and the healthy sexual from the unhealthy sexual.

Making music, particularly playing an instrument and singing personal words that you have written (as opposed to simply singing a standard worship tune), is inherently sensual and intimate. It involves being vulnerable and exposing the deepest parts of yourself, while at the same time touching others deeply. The fact that many men and women alike are not comfortable with this kind of intimacy from a female, and cannot experience it without putting it in a sexual context sends a troubling message about how far the church has to go towards developing healthy attitudes about sex and equality.

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