Preacher's Daughter: Anti-Feminism in the Music of the Christian Right
I have a confession to make. I was raised in an evangelical Christian home, and when I was much much younger... I was a fan of contemporary Christian music (CCM). Oh, yes. I realized just how much of an affront to music it is almost half of my life ago, but lately, I've been thinking about just how entrenched it is in the ideology of the Christian Right. Consider this awful 1995 track by Twila Paris called "Rescue the Prisoner." (The "prisoner," it turns out, is a member of the LGBTQ community who is said to be "demanding rights" and "defending wrong.")
Then there's Michael Card's anti-choice song, "The Spirit of the Age," which as you can see below, has been put to use by the anti-abortion movement itself (lyrics in video):
It's all there, isn't it? And wow, what an emotional call to arms it is: "Could it have been the babies crying for themselves?/Never understanding that they died for someone else." Women have abortions because we are selfish creatures. We worship the contemporary cult of self interest—it's the "pagan spirit of the age," after all—and that is why we hate babies so much. Around 2:35, photographs of contemporary pro-choice protesters emerge, cast as the ones who want to kill "innocent and helpless little babies." Never fear, though, because God will soon "come and crush the spirit of the age."
On its face, some of this music can seem innocent and harmless, but a song like this one really crystallizes the way in which the Christian Right understands women. We are particularly susceptible to spiritual lies, the narrative goes, and have been ever since Eve's fall. This is why the North Carolina General Assembly recently passed a law requiring women to undergo an invasive ultrasound procedure and receive pro-life "counseling" before undergoing the procedure. Democrats in the state were not wrong when they called it the "Women Are Stupid Bill." That's precisely what it is. Women are thought to be easily misled by evil forces, and state Republicans just want to protect us. To make sure we don't have abortions because we so easily fall prey to Satan.
The spiritual inferiority of women is, I think, woven throughout this music just as thoroughly as it is throughout the politics of the Christian Right, even down to which artists cover which topics and perform in which musical genres. Roots music—as you know, one of my favorite musical traditions—is generally thought to be the domain of men. One of the biggest badass—read masculine—Christian bands around is MercyMe. I don't think I have to spell out the elevation of masculinity and male aggression in their music video for the hit, "So Long Self":
This song is about leaving behind the flesh to become, as the Bible says, "a new creation," in "Christ." Women have a particularly tough time with this, the narrative tells us, because we are easily misled by the desires of the flesh. Like Eve. So it is left to a band deeply invested in its masculine image to give us a jaunty hit song about it.
Women, however, are more likely to sing about the very deep romantic relationship we are supposed to have with Jesus, as in Francesca Battistelli's, "Forever Love." The man's role is to make the hard spiritual decisions, to take the lead in "dying to the self" and other such tasks. The woman's role, however, is to keep the flame alive. Because you see, our allegedly passionate, earthly natures make us particularly good at it, so long as we don't let ourselves go.
There are a few other things we're allowed to do in evangelical Christian music that are not recommended to men. For example, we get to use synths as we sing about searching for the "one God has for us." We are, in addition, the go-to gender for songs about maintaining personal serenity, being vulnerable before God, contemplating the wonder of the cosmos, living in the now, showing great love, seeing the beauty in ourselves and others, and other nice things good Christian women are supposed to do.
So, I suppose it's no revelation that the bland musical genre of Christian conservatives is also sexist. Still, I think the music reveals some things about the worldview that are not readily understood from soundbytes by talk radio assholes. If gender roles are rigid in the secular world, they are even more so for the Christian Right. Opposition to abortion rights is about how the Right views women as spiritual weaklings in need of guardianship. And "homosexual behavior" is something to be rescued from, if one wants to be a real Christian. Yes, it's unthinking, and yes, it's harmful, but there is a certain logic to it as well. We've got to understand that if we are to have any hope of overcoming its anti-feminist influences in politics. Some of understanding involves learning the language of evangelicalism, so I've tried to provide a smattering of it here.
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