On their 1995 record Jesus Freak contemporary Christian music pioneers dc Talk wrote a song called “Colored People” and wooo boy in light of current events is it something.
There has been a lot of talk this week about evangelical (for lack of a better term) leaders holding a rally for president Donald J. Trump in Miami to pray over him and celebrate his unapologetic approach to protecting unborn human life. I’ve devoted enough words to that particular topic for now that I’m going to choose to just say “yeah, obviously” and move on. If you’re interested in what I have to say about republicans being handed the keys to endless wars and death by simply claiming themselves pro-life, you can find that here and here, and sprinkled throughout some of the other things I have written because it is the single most mind-numbing power grab in American political history.
Anyway on the stage at this particular event with their hands extended towards our God-ordained butterball of an accused rapist president who is currently threatening to commit war crimes against Iran is the usual cast of televangelists and grifters, each of which could probably occupy a few days of research into their own motives but I don’t have the time for that. One new face to the MAGA grifter scene stood out to me though due to my own upbringing and love affair with contemporary Christian music as a kid.
That face is Michael Tait of DC Talk and Newsboys (and I guess “Tait”) fame. I’m not sure why, to this very day, I still hope beyond all hope that my Christian childhood heroes are better than the current hellscape of American Christianity, but I do and as you can probably imagine, I am often disappointed.
Tait met seminal goofy white Christian rapper and record label executive Toby McKeehan (TobyMac) in high school in the mid-80s and proceeded to attend Liberty University together, where they met Kevin Max and went on to put out 5 records that won them 4 Grammy’s and made them comfortably wealthy. I don’t have a problem with them making money on their music, they worked hard and sold a lot of records, they deserve to get paid for that and you’ll never hear me say otherwise.
My first exposure to DC Talk was through a VHS tape called Rap, Rock & Soul that came out in 1991 to introduce the world to a three piece band of Christian kids who were here to reclaim music for the lord, or something along those lines. As best as I can remember, Toby was the rap guy while Kevin Max handled rock and Tait covered the soul portion of things. The tape consisted of these guys doing normal early 90s rap video stuff wearing normal early 90s rap video clothes and talking about Jesus between songs and such, and I very much loved it. If I had known about A Tribe Called Quest at that point in my life I probably would have loved them too but I didn’t so these guys were the best that I had available to me at the time.
My first live concert ever was DC Talk, Grits, and a band from New Zealand that I loved called Hoi Polloi. This show was in a big church auditorium and became a pretty common occurrence for myself and many other kids who liked music in the church at a young age. DC Talk was still a rap group at this time, touring on their album Free at Last, but not long after that they began to mainstream their sound and put out a couple of contemporary rock records that secured their position as the kings of Christian music. Good for them, their music meant a lot of things to a lot of people and I’m sure there are at least a handful of other curmudgeony 30-somethings listening to Protomartyr in their kitchen this morning who got here somehow from a start at church shows in the mid-90s. That was very specific but you get it.
Since seeing the picture of Tait worshipping DJT yesterday, I have been trying to figure out why it bothered me so much. I, truthfully, don’t care about the music career of this guy past what he did when I was a kid, but maybe my proximity to the phenomenon that was Christian music in the 90s and how it catapulted me into a love of music in general set me up for this very specific type of disappointment that I felt. In my normal sleeplessness last night I found myself reading old DC Talk lyrics to try to figure out as an adult what these guys were actually about. I landed on two songs that instantly began to play in my head as though I had been listening to them every day for the last twenty years. Those songs were What if I Stumble and Colored People.
Both of these songs were absolutely huge singles for the band, and both of them addressed slightly uncomfortable but in a way that made church folk feel okay topics. Looking back, it’s as though they were right on the edge of being able to push people beyond standard talking points but the culture at the time maybe wouldn’t let them do it in a way that current artists might. The historical context of Christian music in the 90s helps this make sense too, context is important. What if I Stumble is a song that was written after a fan saw one of the members of the band drinking a beer in public once- seriously- which led to a whole conversation about living beyond reproach for people in ministry and evangelical Christians who fancy themselves ministers in one way or another.
The second of these songs, Colored People, is the one that I actually couldn’t stop thinking about in light of the elevation of the one non-white member of DC Talk to a position of MAGA evangelical stardom. Colored People is a song about how we all need to be “color blind” to share this planet, I guess. Being “color blind” was a popular phrase in 90s Christianity, I even remember having a tshirt that said something along those lines at one point in time. The reprise of this song is as follows:
Ignorance has wronged some races
And vengeance is the Lord’s
If we aspire to share this space
Repentance is the cure
Ignorance has wronged some races and repentance is the cure. Maybe it’s worth noting that Tait isn’t credited as a writer on this song, however he sure as shit made some money and established some credibility with it throughout his career. This song was on the CRW charts for years and I would bet that you can still hear it now if you were to for some reason want to turn on a Christian radio station. A guy who once stood on stage and crooned that repentance is the cure is now standing on stage next to a man who has repeatedly said that he doesn’t think he needs to repent for anything. A man whose entire playbook consists of shameless unrepentance and repetition of previously unthinkable talking points until his followers accept them as gospel fact.
I suppose at this point it makes good business sense for Christian artists to stick to the script, no matter how crooked it gets. Of the three primary members of DC Talk, the one that has done the least in the CCM world over the last twenty years seems to be the one with the most rational head on his shoulders.
It is brave in the current landscape to step back from what the crowd is worshipping to say “hey what the fuck is actually happening here?” because it might have some implications to your paycheck and your future employment. Royalty checks give Kevin here the ability to do that without too much stress I’d assume, but nonetheless good for him for stepping out.
I do believe that repentance is the cure for a lot of things. I don’t mean repentance in the sense of religious repentance, but that of just simply understanding where we have fucked up and where we can do better. Politically speaking, we have a ruling party that thinks that repentance is for cowards and for the weak. They think that admitting that this country has ever been wrong about anything makes us pathetic and anyone who says otherwise isn’t a real American. This is, quite obviously, dangerous bullshit. You can’t claim Christian faith and also claim that you have no reason for repentance of any kind. Actually, that’s incorrect. You can claim whatever you want, you just have to be prepared to pay the consequences of it once your golden calf is melted down and fed back to the fire from whence it came.