Our family could hardly believe our ears last week as we watched the eight remaining American Idol contestants belt out the Christian praise and worship song, “Shout to the Lord.” We were both somewhat pleased and somewhat puzzled. Why an explicitly Christian song on the biggest show on TV?
The comments from our family went from something like “Is this for real?” to “Wow this is cool” to “I wonder how those who are not Christians [singers, judges, or fans—take your pick] are thinking about this” to “Hmm, another clever marketing ploy by the producers to cater to the audience . . . although they may have gone too far this time.”
As I talked with friends and pondered this unusual event over the weekend, I found myself wanting to come down with a clear judgment of whether the singing of a explicitly Christian song was a good idea or a bad one. I wanted to be very excited that Jesus’ name was being raised in such a wide international way (and well done, I might add, by the singers who were backed up by a gospel choir), but I kept wondering about a number of things. Were all those who were singing “My Jesus, my Savior” truly talking about their personal Savior and Lord or were they just performing? Shouldn’t this song be reserved for those who have professed him and truly want to worship him? Or was I expecting too much or being judgmental?
What about all those who are not Christians who were watching or participating in the live audience? How would I have felt as a Christian if the song were glorifying the god of another religion? Or has that already happened so much that it’s about time Christian songs got some air time? Is this the best way to reach non-Christians or is it perceived as one more example of the dominant Christian culture shoving its Jesus down everyone’s throat? Did this set back the cause of Christ or advance it?
As you might have guessed, the cynical comment in our family circle about the producers using “Shout to the Lord” to advance the show was mine. (Sorry, such is the price that comes with living under the sun more than a few years.) Whether we liked the singing of the song or not, whether we are Christian or non-Christian, the producers of the show have us buzzing (and writing) about American Idol—pure genius maybe? Or was this the result of a Christian in a position of influence on the show taking an opportunity to give praise to God?
As I consider my own difficulty in discerning this issue I am full of gratitude and empathy for all of you in schools and churches who are working hard to help kids develop a discerning and loving spirit. Discernment is just plain tough, particularly at a young age. When interacting with kids, maybe the answer is not always to come to a quick answer but to help them wrestle with an issue from all the angles, and then to help them consider how to answer an issue in terms of Christ’s law of love: How do we love God and love our neighbors better?