Authors: Church Needs to Embrace Hip-Hop

Post a Comment » Written on March 7th, 2006     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (March 7, 2006) – Two Evangelical Covenant Church pastors say the church must “sit at the well” with hip-hop culture if it is to continue to reach out.

Efrem Smith (top photo) and Phil Jackson (lower photo) recently published The Hip-Hop Church: Connecting With the Movement Shaping Our Culture. They learned during the 2005 Midwinter Pastors Conference that their book was nearing sales of 4,000 and a second printing of 2,000 additional copies was scheduled. The book has drawn national media attention, including the Wall Street Journal.

Efrem Smith Jackson, 42, and Smith, 36, grew up with hip-hop and speak as insiders. Jackson is pastor of The House Covenant Church in Chicago, a mostly youth and young adult hip-hop church. The church has received national attention, including a segment on the PBS program Religion & Ethics.

Smith is the pastor of Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the urban ministry director of Minnesota Fellowship of Christian Athletes. His previously authored Raising Up Young Heroes.

“The youth and young adults living in hip-hop culture are the modern day Samaritans,” Smith says. In their book, the authors draw upon the story of Jesus’ conversations with the woman at the well and note how he even sought her out.

Too often the church wants to live safely within its own walls, but Jesus routinely traveled through cultures that others avoided and engaged people of those cultures, the two pastors observe. Noting that Jesus first asked the woman at the well for water, the authors write in their book, “To begin an authentic dialogue, the church must ask for a drink from hip-hop culture. Approaching hip-hop from a position of judgment will not lead to real dialogue.”

Jackson and Smith also point to the Apostle Paul, who familiarized himself with the culture of his time so that he could cross boundaries to speak in Athens.

Phil Jackson Many people think rap is the same as hip-hop, the authors say, but rap is only a part of hip-hop, which is a culture unto itself. Hip-hop is a way of dressing, a way of talking, relating, doing business and even viewing the world through postmodern eyes, the authors say. It is a culture that is open to spiritual discussions.

Smith and Jackson believe they understand why church members are wary of the hip-hop culture, especially if they think it is only what they see in many of the rap videos, which often degrade women and glorify illicit sex, materialism and drug use. “People get the wrong idea about the hip-hop culture or rap if their only contact is through some of the rap music and behavior of the artists,” says Smith. “It’s like rejecting rock if their first introduction was Marilyn Manson, but they didn’t know Bono.

“Hip-hop culture is like any other culture,” Smith continues. “There is good and bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the evil and the divine.”

Hip-hop is important to certain segments of the population, especially African-Americans because, “Nobody else is validating people’s experiences,” Jackson says. The music industry is the only industry where blacks consistently can rise to the top, he adds.

Hip-hop comprises a number of elements, including the emcee/rapper, the deejay, visual artist and the break dancer. Many elements of the black church are found in hip-hop, Smith notes.

The emcee or rapper is akin to the preacher, and the deejay – the one who spins the records – is the worship leader, Smith says. The work of the visual artist parallels the stained glass windows in churches, while the break dancer is in keeping with praise dance.

Even the call and response of rap draws from the black church. ” ‘Wave your hands into the air like you just can’t stop’ is like ‘Can I get a witness,’ ” Smith says.

Jackson sees a difference between rappers and emcees. Rappers rhyme what is popular to make money, while emcees tend to be social commentators. Others such as KRS-ONE are commentators with a particular agenda in the same vein as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly or Al Franken he suggests.

Although Jackson and Smith are hesitant to separate secular from sacred, they do say there are differences between hip-hop and “holy hip-hop.” Hip-hop artists can function as reporters, but are not prophetic because they don’t have godly solutions to offer, Smith says.

“I’m not trying to sell the church on Kanye West or Snoop,” Smith says. “I am trying to sell them on John Reuben and G.R.I.T.S.” – the latter two being “holy hip-hop” artists.

The church can and should be the place where “holy hip-hop” is birthed, supporting young artists and recognizing the best parts of the culture. More than simply commentating, “holy hip-hoppers” can be prophetic, speaking biblically to a culture, Jackson says.

To purchase a copy of the book online, please visit the online Covenant Bookstore at Covenant Bookstore.

Copyright © 2011 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

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