The notion that an entertainer is ordained to save souls through their craft is a pedestal on which no man can remain, and one on which they probably weren’t fit to be placed to begin with.
As a disclaimer, I spent a minute working in the Christian music industry. Additionally, I have many friends who have or continue to work in various forms of Christian entertainment and music… Though not many of them seem to feel very good about it.
To be fair, it is extremely difficult to know someone’s true intentions. I believe that there very well might be people in the industry I’m about to discuss that go to work every day with a fire in their soul to do what they believe to be right. I don’t think they are many, but it would be dishonest of me to say that I don’t believe that they exist. Some would say it’s improper to judge people’s intentions, but with that point I pretty strongly disagree. We make judgments all day long, it’s how we use our uniquely human traits of logic and discernment to navigate this thing called life. To say that we shouldn’t judge is silly and unrealistic and quite frankly gives a pass to people who probably don’t deserve it. Judge away, you’re entitled to it.
When I began playing Christian music as a middle school preacher’s kid, I thought I was going to change the world. My friends and I started a band called ‘red letters’ and stacked our music with just about every Christian cliche you can imagine. We led praise and worship on the side, but our true goal was to play some heavy rock music for Jesus! I idolized bands like Zao and Strongarm and Blindside and Stavesacre and [~200 other bands] who were playing ‘edgy’ music but with a die hard message about how Jesus changed their lives. I grew up in kind of the golden age of “Christian version of” bands… As a freshman in high school I could tell you the Christian version of almost every popular band from Limp Bizkit to Snoop Dogg. There was an entire scene based around these types of bands that grew and shrank and grew again to the point that when I was on the road from 2005- 2009 some of the most popular bands that we played with were wildly militant about their faith. It felt like these dudes were taking all of the angst of the teenagers that came to their shows and channeling it directly towards windmill-kicking the devil in the face or whatever. It was a weird thing to witness every night, and feels especially weird now looking back on it as an adult who has since watched a lot of those guys discover that it’s fun to say bad words on the internet or ironically retweet The Church of Satan. I heard an interview recently with a Christian hardcore drummer that I really admired growing up and he must have said “fuck” about 35 times. I didn’t mind it, it just furthers the point I’m making here that most of the guys that were in it then are now out of it and likely think “it” was a little contrived.
Recently it became news in certain circles that Christian comedian John Crist got into a little bit of trouble. Transparently, I have a little proximity to John through some mutual friends, and I’m not writing this to lambaste the guy, but I think the whole situation serves to establish a few points about Christian entertainment and the behemoth of an industry that has sprung up around it. The first of these points is that hardly anyone is strong enough to bear the spotlight of being a Christian artist for very long.
When I was in the 5th grade my stepdad joined the Christian ministry, and as such he took his calling very seriously. He almost never drank in public, even a glass of wine at dinner, and was always very aware of who was around and the image that he might be portraying by doing normal things that the rest of us take for granted. This kind of pressure takes a toll on you. When someone labels you as a spiritual leader of any kind, you are no longer able to live the life that you were used to before. Whether or not this is a healthy ideal is irrelevant, but putting someone who tells jokes for a living on the impossibly high pedestal that is expected by consumers of faith-based entertainment is a little ridiculous. The same applies to musicians, artists, etc and so on. The booking agency I used to work for even had a Christian magician, I never saw him perform but I’m sure it was almost exactly as good as you’d imagine it to be. Nonetheless churches paid shitloads of money for these acts with little to no discretion of who they were aside from the label of being Christian. $30k for [insert relatively anonymous Christian recording artist name]?! Sure thing, we’ve got a budget for youth events!
My understanding is that Crist got caught up in some “sexual sins”, which would probably not be anything of note if he weren’t beholden to the glare of church folks. He sent some drunk texts, traded some tickets to his shows for handjobs and stuff (even though tickets are only like $20?!), things that any hair metal artist would have laughed at as petty, but it happened and now his career is paying the price for it. To be clear, I do believe there is a predatory component to what happened and that he should be held accountable, but I think the pressure of being part of the Christian entertainment industry probably helped get him there.
That leads to my second point: the Christian entertainment industry is endlessly predatory. It is an industry like any other, where the primary goal is to make lots and lots of money, and at that this industry is very good. I don’t have any problem with artists making money. If it were up to me artists would make more money than they know what to do with, but doing so by using something that is considered sacred by your fans is about as predatory is it gets. I was once instructed to use the “number of souls led to Christ” as a sales tactic for a pretty well known CCM artist. I refused to say this to my promoter for so many reasons, but the primary reason was that I knew that he would know that it was total bullshit and also that people were going to drop $45 per ticket to come see the show regardless. It’s a captive audience, one that believes that any artist or creator that comes through town with the title of ‘Christian’ must be worthy of a respect and adoration that normal artists on the devil’s radio aren’t.
People erect a concept of morality, of virtue, of holiness upon this false view of all things; they ground good conscience upon faulty vision; they argue that no other sort of vision has value any more, once they have made theirs sacrosanct with the names of “God”.
This is where things get ugly though; the platform afforded to spiritual leaders in the Christian church breeds an extremely dangerous environment for impressionable people, particularly young women. I can think of dozens of examples from the news of faith leaders in America abusing their roles for sex, abusing minors (check out Roman Catholicism), building vast infrastructures of guilt and shame to subdue and manipulate congregants, etc and so on… It’s a bad setup when you have someone who has been placed (or has placed themselves) in a leadership role and can say “Jesus told me this” and people can say “alright cool got it- you’re the boss!” As I said earlier, I know faith leaders who are genuinely wonderful people doing very good things with their positions, but the power disparity established by most Christian churches is bad news if any of these leaders have even remotely bad intentions and the guts (read: shittiness) to take advantage of their position. Many of the takes on this situation portray it as a situation where Crist used the position he was afforded by The Church to act on his own sexual desires, which is possible. Probably hard to know for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised knowing what I know about the industry and the faith communities that support it.
In response to the news breaking about Crist’s “sexual sins”, he released a statement saying that he screwed up and he’s seeking health and forgiveness (I’m paraphrasing). There are a few different ways to interpret what may have actually happened, but I tend to believe that if a woman says she was victimized by someone we should believe her. He hurt people, and that’s bad, and now his career is going to pay the price, even if only temporarily. I do tend to think, however, that this whole thing could have been avoided if Christian entertainers weren’t forced to live up to unreasonably high standards. He knew and is now learning to what extent that his paychecks relied on maintaining his image. Don’t step out of line. Keep your secrets hidden so they can eat you alive and eventually play out in a very public way. Reading what he is accused of must be confusing for someone who has never spent any time in or around the modern Christian church, as it seems relatively minor, but nonetheless he got caught and that’s that I guess. The best redemption for this situation and so many others like it is for consumption of art and entertainment to not be linked to a belief that someone is inherently good or bad because of the industry in which they exist. Bearing the title of a Christian artist is much more than just a very successful marketing tactic, it is a dangerous invitation to view one’s art and image as more important than it is and for the artist to potentially use it for their own nefarious goals.