A controversy is brewing in the online Reformed world over the words of men from the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches: they dared to criticize “holy hip-hop,” or Christianized rap. Laudably but ironically, the men on this panel clearly had some visceral, instinctive aversion to rap, but what is particularly embarrassing is how they voiced a number of awful objections in trying to express this instinct. Rightly, they distinguished between the lyrical content of music and its form, noting that the latter also has intrinsic value in its moral effects, and they appraised Reformed rap as a worldly intrusion, a violation of Romans 12:2. But their other objections – that rap inevitably focuses upon the artist as an act of self-worship, that the form of the music de-emphasizes and subsumes the lyrical content, that the form of rap is inextricably tied with its pagan history, and so on – miss the mark. Many of them prove too much, e.g. by outlawing any form of music which leads us to compliment or praise the artist, or by denying that any form of music which has roots in a pagan past can be redeemed.
The bright spot is the distinction which Joel Beeke makes (~6:30) regarding how he would respond to his own children’s interest in rap and to someone who has been raised in such a culture, that is, a black. He notes that in the case of the latter, where we do not “relate to this culture,” we should be much more willing to accommodate the particular form and seek to develop the person’s interest in doctrinally sound lyrics without immediately requiring a new form of artistic communication.
What a kinist thing to say! The idea that different peoples will naturally have different preferences for musical forms, which preferences are not in themselves necessarily sinful or idolatrous, and that it is righteous to identify with our own people’s forms, is a monumental reason why whites should not listen to rap. As a kinist I have two central objections to rap: (1) it is objectively aesthetically inferior to other forms of music, and (2) in our milieu, preferring black music forms is communicating an identification with the prevailing multicultural and white-hating zeitgeist. The first point is more difficult to argue, as rap’s aesthetic inferiority is ascertainable largely on an instinctive, non-inferential level; thus those who agree will already see it and those who disagree (especially given their alienism) will be unwilling to navigate the arduous rational contours of objective aesthetic criteria.1 Nevertheless the second point is entirely sufficient and deserves further reflection.
Consider Joe Morecraft’s point (~9:30), that certain forms of music cannot be separated from their culture. He cites as an analogue the preference of certain men to wear earrings, where they are oblivious (willfully or not) to the identification with effeminacy and slavery publicly communicated by such a fashion choice. His error, however – and the same error is made by the other panel members who see rap as an evil inextricably bound with the pagan culture which gave rise to it – is to see a preference for rap as an evil identification of Christians with anti-Christian culture, rather than as an evil identification of whites with foreign culture. It is indeed true, after all, that a white’s preference for a distinctively black form of music, particularly in our current cultural context, involves an implicit identification with the white-hating, race-destroying, envy-fueled worldview of egalitarianism. (This is not, for instance, akin to an innocent and beneficial infusion of a foreign dish into a nation’s cuisine, or of a foreign word into a nation’s language.) Hence, when whites prefer a vastly foreign music form, they sin in abetting the milieu of full-bore integration. This is not because the black culture which formed rap is utterly and pervasively sinful, as if there were zero elements in black culture which could be Christianized while still remaining distinctively black. In such a case, all Christians, blacks included, would be obligated to renounce black culture as inevitably anti-Christian. Rather, while we assert that black culture is notoriously beset by many great sins, the reason that modern whites’ preference for rap is sinful is because it is wrong for a man to reject his own people’s forms, traditions, and institutions out of a disordered preference for the foreigner over the native, for the strange over the familiar.
This is the instinctive reaction which these NCFIC panel members have against “holy hip-hop.” Yet precisely because of their absurd and race-denying worldview, they are unable to articulate this instinct as a righteous preference for one’s own over against foreigners. They are forced to articulate it as a preference for the Christian over the non-Christian, thus condemning all black culture, from their white preferences, as inherently anti-Christian. This is why there was such a backlash to these men from the Reformed blogosphere. (Of course, the backlash was also severely worsened by antiracism’s lamentable status as a core tenet of modern Reformed thought.)
There is thus a kernel of truth in both the NCFIC men’s instincts and the reactive moral indignation of the antiracist Reformed. The NCFIC men’s instincts were righteous in seeing a white preference for a foreign music form as somehow ungodly, and the misplaced antiracist Reformed indignation was righteous in condemning the implication that all black culture is in principle unredeemable and needs to be white to be Christian. Only the consistent kinist can appropriately evaluate these issues, parsing the real, objective differences among the nations and affirming the righteousness of preferring one’s own. Only the kinist can affirm that black culture can be Christianized and remain black while also holding that it is wrong for whites (particularly in our current worldview-context) to prefer a distinctively black music form. The kinist has no problem with black culture, as long as it remains for blacks, so we can consistently admonish both those who think rap should be universally preferred and those who think rap should be universally condemned.
- Add to this that I consider myself no expert on such criteria! ↩