The Testimony of Meghan O’Gieblyn, Romans 14, and the CCM Debate

May 2, 2013

In the ongoing debate about CCM, many Christians argue that Romans 14 supports the propriety of their using CCM in Christian churches. An application of Romans 14, however, to the testimony of Meghan O’Gieblyn’s experience with Christianity and CCM supports rejecting the use of CCM in churches.

The Testimony of Meghan O’Gieblyn

Writing in Guernica, an online magazine about art and politics, Meghan O’Gieblyn relates the role that she believes CCM played in her Christian experience (Sniffing Glue: A Childhood in Christian Pop). She writes,

I was homeschooled up until tenth grade, and my social life revolved around church. I grew up submersed in evangelical youth culture: reading Brio magazine, doing devotions in my Youth Walk Bible, eagerly awaiting the next installment of the Left Behind series, and developing a taste in music that ran the gamut from Christian rap to Christian pop to Christian rock. . . .

“Meeting kids where they’re at” was a relatively new concept for the church. My parents had grown up in an era when teens were supposed to sit in the pew and sing hymns along with everyone else. When I reached middle school, Christian youth leaders were anxiously discussing the battle for “cultural relevance”—one of the many marketing terms adopted by evangelicals. In the ’90s, mainline Protestant churches were losing members to the growing evangelical movement. With the explosion of rock-concert-style megachurches, many traditional congregations incorporated contemporary worship services in order to attract young people. For our dwindling Baptist congregation, this meant scrapping the organs and old hymns with arcane lyrics like “Now I raise my Ebenezer,” and replacing them with praise choruses led by “worship teams” of college kids with guitars and electric violins. It meant sermons full of pop culture allusions, with juicy titles (“Marriage in the Line of Fire,” “The Young and the Righteous”) designed to make conservative values seem radical and hip. . . .

I saw MTV for the first time when I was thirteen. My parents, like most of my friends’ parents, didn’t have cable, and I literally had to go halfway around the world to see it. In November of 1995, my grandfather went on a trip to Moscow and took my sister Sheena and me along. . . . It was supposed to be an educational experience, but we hardly left the hotel. All week, he attended back-to-back meetings while Sheena and I stayed in our room, eating duty-free chocolate and gorging ourselves on Euro MTV.

On one of those gray afternoons I saw Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video. In a smoky warehouse, the band and a team of tattooed cheerleaders performed for bleachers full of kids. As the song progresses, the scene dissolves into anarchy. . . . I watched this perched on the edge of my bed, about three feet from the TV screen. . . . I didn’t catch any of the lyrics, but I was mesmerized. . . . I couldn’t have told you what the word “irony” meant, but I knew I’d been cheated by Christian rock. This was crack, and I’d been wasting my time sniffing glue. . . .

Despite all the affected teenage rebellion, I continued to call myself a Christian into my early twenties. When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything. It was a label to slap on my Facebook page, next to my music preferences. The gospel became just another product someone was trying to sell me, and a paltry one at that because the church isn’t Viacom: it doesn’t have a Department of Brand Strategy and Planning. Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity. When it comes to intransigent values, the profit-driven world has zilch to offer. If Christian leaders weren’t so ashamed of those unvarnished values, they might have something more attractive than anything on today’s bleak moral market. In the meantime, they’ve lost one more kid to the competition. (bold text is in italics in the original)

From this brief sampling of Meghan’s testimony, we learn that Meghan was homeschooled, did devotions in her Bible, and grew up in a church that had organs and sang “old hymns that had arcane lyrics.” She was part of a Baptist church that later changed from that approach to music and became a church that “incorporated contemporary worship services in order to attract young people.”

Later, after she had encountered MTV and secular rock, she felt that she had been “cheated by Christian rock.” After her early twenties, she stopped calling herself a Christian. She views herself as “one more kid” whom Christian leaders “lost . . . to the competition.”

Applying Romans 14 to Meghan’s Testimony

At a minimum, we must understand that Meghan believes that her exposure to CCM in her local church contributed to the process that eventually led her to secular rock and then to the point where she now no longer calls herself a Christian. As such, she testifies plainly to the horrific results that came about in the life of a child who was in a Baptist church that regularly exposed her to CCM.

In Romans 14, Paul unequivocally asserts that Christians must never do anything that would cause a brother to stumble:

Rom 14:13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.

Rom 14:15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.

Rom 14:20 For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.

 21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.

Yet, exposure to CCM in her local church did contribute to Meghan’s stumbling. Moreover, an examination of the comments to Meghan’s article reveals that many others have had similar experiences of turning from Christianity in part because of the CCM that they encountered in churches.

Applying Romans 14 and Meghan’s Testimony to the CCM Debate

Meghan was in a Baptist church that changed its music. She no longer calls herself a Christian. CCM contributed to her current tragic state. Many others have had a similar experience.

Many children attend services today in churches that use CCM. Romans 14 makes clear that churches must never do something that would have the possibility of contributing to people turning from the faith, as exposure to CCM did for Meghan, but the use of CCM by these churches puts these children at risk of having a similar tragic experience.

Even if Meghan were the only person who had ever had such an experience, believers would be obligated to reject the use of CCM in their churches so that they would not put even one other child at such risk. Sound churches that have rejected the use of CCM in their churches must continue to do so, especially for the sake of the children in their churches.

May God help us not to do any such thing that may contribute in any way to even one child in our churches turning from the faith.

Rajesh

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