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I'm probably a theological outsider to this group, but my daughter (not a guitarist :-( ) attends a Christian college in Nashville and is working on a project some of you might have some insight and advice she could use.

As I understand it, she is studying Christian themes in protest music, especially music from the '60s. I thought about it, looked at some album compilations as well as my own collection, and offered the following: in the late '60s and early '70s, contemporary worship services were taking pop songs and bringing them into the church. They were secularizing the songs, which otherwise may not have had an explicit Biblical/Christian theme (e.g., "If I Had a Hammer," "Blowing in the Wind"). I was not aware at the time of a Christian-pop music culture such as exists now (when did it start?).

Some singers (Joan Baez) took Gospel songs, and either through adding verses ("A Tramp on the Street") or the context in which she performed them (songs on "David's Album") made them protest songs. By the way, my daughter's working definition of a protest song is one whose theme deals with social and political justice or injustice. I guess the Byrd's "Turn, Turn,Turn" would be an example of a song integrating Biblical teachings with a contemporary social issue (war in Viet Nam).

Do any of you have any thoughts about the connection between protest music and Biblical/Christian themes? Do you have songs (especially from the era) that would be relevant to her work, readings you could suggest (not "Render onto Caesar . . . "), or any insights? Thank you in advance.

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Yes, with a few notable exceptions such as you've noted (the Byrds, Pete Seger,, the protest songs of the 60's had more effect on Christian music than the other way around. There was no contemporary Christian music of the folk or rock genre in the 60's, although Ralph Carmichael, Kurt Kaiser and Sonny Salisbury were doing some 'youth musicals' that moved in that direction. At that time, there was essentially Black and Southern Gospel and most of us learned to play guitar with secular folk and rock music.
CCM appeared almost whole cloth with Larry Norman and 'Jesus Rock' around 1970. Larry, and Randy Stonehill, the second icon of the 'movement', were obviously heavily influenced by protest music. It really wasn't until the '80's, with the dramatic rise of Christian format radio stations, that CCM took off and diverged into numerous sub-genres reflecting just about all the musical styles of secular music.

Bob M.

Thank you. I know little about the genesis of Contemporary Christian Music; I hope my daughter has access to sources at Belmont; but in case she doesn't, I will share your post.

I think I came to understand the magnitude of CCM when I was still teaching high school. A girl in the front row often wore a band tee shirt (I forget the name of the group), but I felt a disconnect between the imagery and the band's name. One day I couldn't restrain myself, so I bluntly asked, "What kind of music does that band play: Christian heavy metal?" "Yes," she said. I have spent years trying to reconcile Christian music with heavy metal, so far without much success. On the otherhand, one of my sons took communion while wearing an Iron Maiden tee shirt from a very conservative priest. I keep remaining myself Our Lord came to help the sinners.
I'm thinking on the classic ones of the '60s Civil Rights movement was "We Shall Overcome". Pete Seeger made this anonymous spiritual known to Martin Luther King.
I didn't realize it was originally a spiritual. I will pass this on to my daughter (who is currently incommunicado on a reservation in South Dakota for a mission trip. I understand the area--Pine Ridge--is currently experiencing blizzard/white-out conditions. Anyone know if this is true?)(This is what she did instead going to Florida on her spring break. I love that girl!)
That is so impressive! You have much to be proud of!

John J. Cebula said:
I didn't realize it was originally a spiritual. I will pass this on to my daughter (who is currently incommunicado on a reservation in South Dakota for a mission trip. I understand the area--Pine Ridge--is currently experiencing blizzard/white-out conditions. Anyone know if this is true?)(This is what she did instead going to Florida on her spring break. I love that girl!)
As I recall from my history "protest" movements from the decades and centuries preceding the 60's movement had a strong foundation in the church and with individuals strongly motivated by their Christian faith. Subsequently a fair number of songs, we would know them as hymns now, were written that addressed those movements. Certainly the Temperance Movement of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Suffrage movement, the Abolition movement of the 1800's and prior, even the very early labor movement had a foundation in the respect for the individual understood to be "made in the image of God". I have a collection of old hymn books that goes back to the late 1800's and it is enlightening to see how many of the hymns address the social and moral concerns of their own time. I think sometimes, we being captive of our own recent, tumultuous history, tend to think that "protest" movements began with the youth of the 1960's but history demonstrates "protest" movements, often put into motion by strong Christian believers, were a vital aspect of much of our cultural changes over the centuries. After all the "Reformation" was a response to the perceived problems in the Church of that time. As a matter of fact those involved in that "Reformation" are still to this day called "Protestants" and much of the music reflects it.
Doc Fleetwood

Absolutely. Even "Amazing Grace" (to the extent the account of its writing are true) was at least social commentary, if not protest. And what about "Battle Hymn of the Republic"? Your response and everyone else's certainly have given me (and will give my daughter, I'm sure) a wider perspective on this topic. Thank you!
John~~ you might try Phil Keaggy on this he's a member of this community and he was really involved in this he would have first hand working knowledge. He toured with and recorded with Randy Stonehill quite a bit and still performs some of his music on tour , look him up he's a member

An update: Thank you to everyone who shared his or her insights and knowledge with me. I forwarded all of it to my daughter. Laura has returned from her mission trip; I thought some of you might enjoy her observations (even if they are off-topic):


Well, it has been a week since I returned from my spring break mission trip to Pine Ridge, South Dakota. I’m not really sure where to start because I had so many amazing experiences and met the most beautiful people.
The trip was 19 hours and we stayed in Omaha overnight with a Belmont grad. When we did finally get to Pine Ridge, the group and I were in awe of the hills and openness of the reservation. Our hosts were three college-aged people through a ministry called Greater Works, Alyssa, who once attended Middle Tennessee State University down the road from Belmont, and Jake and Lizzie Ladd, a newly wed couple expecting a son. The girls stayed in a church and the boys slept in a carpentry school across the street. We adjusted quickly to the cooking, the mice, and the dozen or so stray dogs that greeted us every time we arrived home each night.
We did a variety of things while on the reservation. Most of it involved cleaning, cooking, laughing, and playing. An older Lakota woman, Sophie, could not get over how covered with hair my jacket was as we played Phase 10 at her church, Gospel Fellowship, one evening. Another night at a nursing home, a blind woman named Vera played different hymns for us on the piano as we sang along. We met Bruce, a creative man who started 555 in White Clay, Nebraska, a thrift store that triples as a Native American shop for locals to sell art and a homeless ministry that feeds the street people of White Clay. Since Pine Ridge is a dry reservation, many people spend their days in White Clay getting wasted since they are unemployed and have no where to go during the day. Kelly, a Lakota man, played his drum for us one day at 555 while some girls and I were taking a break from washing dishes. We also played a lot of ping-pong and basketball on the trip. We went to their YoungLife one night and played games with the children, and then had a pick-up game with some locals while waiting to have supper at Gospel Fellowship one evening.
I apologize that this letter is all over the place, but that is exactly what the trip was- all over the place! I was never bored or thinking about what’s next. I truly enjoyed every second. I met new people each day that had a story to tell. Each day, I saw Jesus in Pine Ridge, whether is was through folding clothes at 555, playing Scrabble with some group members, or chatting with a street person in White Clay. I ache for these people; the American government truly gave them the worst land and, as the Lakota people believe, sent them there to die. Despite the cycle of poverty they are now in because of the reservation, they live each day with joy and purpose. Otta and Leon, the pastor at Gospel Fellowship, are living testaments to being a light in the darkness. Everyday is a struggle for them to share the gospel in a place where tradition rules and Christianity is seen as “the white man’s religion.”
Please pray for the Lakota people. Pray that people like Sophie, Vera, Otata, and Leon can spread His word with out violent opposition anymore. Pray that despite their poverty and the wrongs against them, they will see Christ’s light.

Thank you for all your prayers and support,
Ed, that makes for an interesting question in and of itself - at what point does protest music become Christian protest music, and at what point does Christian music become protest music? Some of the protest songs of the 60s were not ostensibly Christian at all - Blowin in the Wind, Where have all the Flowers Gone, If I Had a Hammer - and yet there were others that were ' If I Had My Way' comes to mind. For some reason we sang 'The Sounds of Silence' in youth group - yet there wasn't really any Christian content at all. By contrast, in the days leading up to prohibition, the songs and rallies against alcohol were very religious in tone, equating use of alcohol to sin. I'm not trolling here, just kind of musing over the whole topic and wondering where it goes.

Ed Ballard said:
.... As far as protest music you could count all Christian music in that category.
Thanks, Ed. I'm sharing your thoughts with my Laura. I am gratified that so many people have taken my inquiry seriously.

I think that since Christian music deals with and celebrates spiritual values that are often at odds with worldly values (and therefore commenting on the worldly values), the Christian music "qualifies" as protest music. One definition of protest music I found and shared with my daughter essentially said that protest music is simply that: music that comments on political and social events, etc.

The songs you cite (and might I add "Little Boxes," which my daughter only recently discovered for herself and which she likes) certainly are not ostensibly Christian, but the values they promote--human dignity, brotherhood, and justice--are all values compatible with Christianity. I'm glad you included "The Sounds of Silence": if the words written in the subways and on tenement walls were written by Lazarus, and the ones not listening were Pharisees, we'd recognize Christ's call to serve our brothers and sisters.

In another thread, someone (Ed?) commented on how many people are uncomfortable now when confronted with religious topics. Continuing with musing (I like your word!), I wonder if the difference between the Prohibition movement (b/t/w, I have a pencil from my grandmother her Women's Christian Temperance Union group sold to raise money) and the '60s has something to do with developing an ethical argument for desegration or ending the draft or whatever that did not rely overtly on theological arguments; since those movements challenged authority and theological arguments often rely on accepting a divine command as the ultimate authority, there would have been a disconnect.

Another thought that occurs to me is that the imagery of Christianity is based on a way of life that was remote from the experience of many people by the end of World War Two and certainly remote for the Sixties generation and after. Imagery is used to make the abstract, concrete. Good imagery communicates a lot in a very few words (which is probably why students and even a few teachers talk about "hidden meanings" in poems, when in fact what the poem--or the psalm or the hymn--is expressing is not hidden but unrecognized). Take Psalm 23 as an example: "The Lord is my shepherd." How many people do you think really understand the relationship between the shepherd and his flock? Perhaps there are still people in coastal communities who experience the power of Jesus's promise "I will make you fishers of men," but I suspect most people experience such statements at a relatively literal level. I think the imagery in the songs you cited was able to speak to the ethical and spiritual concerns of its audience at more than a literal level.


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