I'm a savage…classy, bougie, ratchet
Sassy, moody, nasty…acting stupid, what's happening?
Bit&* what’s happening.
These are a portion of the lyrics of the hook from Megan Thee Stallion’s hit song, “Savage,” which “The dReam Center Church of Atlanta” chose to feature as their background music on Saturday as parishioners of the church drove by in their cars to receive communion. In a video posted to the churches facebook page Saturday at 3:08pm, the lead Pastor of the church, Bishop William Murphy III, can be seen greeting the members of the church as they drive by and encouraging people others to drop by in order to receive free meals, merchandise and communion elements that he delares “have been sanctified and prayed over…so when you take them tomorrow, your body has to respond.” Playing “Savage” was clearly an intentional choice by the dReam Center, who later posted two flyers prominently displaying the word “Savage” with explained with the acrostic Saved, sanctified; Apostolic in Function; Vested in the things of God; Anointed for my generation; Greatness & Exploits and Extra. Bishop Murphy Murphy proceeded to utilize this acrostic in his Sunday sermon as well.
Let me begin by saying that I have a sincere love and affection for Bishop Murphy and the dReam Center family. We are co-laborers in the gospel with one common enemy. My goal in writing this piece is not to be combative, but compelling in my argument.
In this article I contend that the utilization of secular music in this manner and fashion, designed to make the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ more culturally relevant, socially attractive, or influential, is biblically unacceptable, ethically inappropriate, and spiritually ineffective; furthermore, the practice of such actions profanes the name and reputation of God.
This is not the first instance of a prominent Christian Pastor or church utilizing secular songs or catchphrases as gimmicks to create tension and stir up controversy – which they know will result in increased attention brought to their sermon, church, brand, or social media profile. Jamal Bryant, Senior Pastor of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, is king of this practice. I vividly remember attending Baltimore’s Morgan State University in 1999 and witnessing Pastor Bryant (who at the time was lead Pastor of Baltimore’s “Empowerment Temple”) contend that Jesus looked at one of the thieves on the cross and told him, “F-You,” as in “Forgive You.” In 2014 he came under fire for blurting out, “These Hoes Ain’t Loyal,” a lyric from a hit Chris Brown song. At New Birth’s 2018 Watchnight Service, Pastor Bryant commandeered Lil’ Duval’s hit song “Living My Best Life” and changed the lyrics from “I ain’t going back and forth with you ni^$%!” to “I ain’t going back and forth with no sinners.” Bryant is not alone as a plethora of Pastors and gospel artists incorporate secular themes, lyrics, beats and more into their songs in order to increase their appeal and marketability. Bishop Murphy’s own protégé, Tasha Cobbs, famously featured rapper Nicki Minaj on her 2017 song, “I’m Getting Ready.” Other artists such as Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin and even my personal favorite, Tye Tribbett, have had major collaborations with known secular artists whose lifestyles, music, and/or message are contradictory to the message of Christianity.
For the Christian, it matters not what I believe or how “I feel” about this practice. The only thing that matters is what the Bible has to say. The Word of God is the standard that governs Christian belief and practice. I believe it provides explicitly clear instructions and principles which demonstrate how unacceptable these practices are.
In Ezek. 22:25-29, God levies charges against the prophets (v.25, 28), priests (v.26), princes (v.27), and the people (v.29) because of their injustice and corruption. This corruption transcended class and social status and varied in expression. For brevity’s sake let’s examine v. 26 where God declares,
“Her (Israel’s) priests have been acting violently against my law; they have made my holy things unclean: they have made no division between what is holy and what is common, and they have not made it clear that the unclean is different from the clean, and their eyes have been shut to my Sabbaths, and I am not honoured among them (Eze 22:26 BBE).
Here God deals with the “priest,” those who were enstrusted to safeguard and preserve the holiness of God’s law. Instead, they violated it, reducing it to a common level of uncleanness. Worst of all, observe the consequence of their behavior. Their failure to maintain the distinctive quality of the things of God meant that God too was disregarded and treated with contempt. When the priest failed to honor the things of God and ceased to keep what was “holy,” distinct from what was “common,” it resulted in the name of God being dishonored. Other translations use the word profaned, which in Hebrew translates into pollution, defilement, and to be treated with contempt. This was the result of the leadership’s failure to keep the things of God separate and distinct from that of the world. The rest of the chapter shows that the people followed their example.
This same separation is taught in the New Testament. In 2 Cor. 6:14 (GW), Paul instructs the church at Corinth to
“Stop forming inappropriate relationships with unbelievers. Can right and wrong be partners? Can light have anything in common with darkness?” “…what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” He proclaims, “…go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord…” (2Co 6:17 ESV). James echoes this teaching, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (Jas 4:4 NASB).
In light of this, how can Bishop Murphy justify his actions? Megan’s song Savage is completely filled with sexually perverse inferences, explicit lyrics, and graphic imagery. Furthermore, this past week a remix was released with Beyonce’ whose lyrics include: “Hips tick tock when I dance, on that demon time, she might start an OnlyFans.” TikTok is a reference to the social media app where the song has gone viral with a dance attached to it that millions have copied. Onlyfans is a reference to the website where users can upload their own sexually explicit content and charge users a monthly fee in order to view it. This is the song Bishop Murphy chose to create an acrostic out of and play in the background while his church served communion.
Perhaps you think I’m too deep…maybe I find your thinking shallow (smile). It’s not my intention to come across as one who doesn’t enjoy music. I love a hot song with a dope beat and innovative lyrics just like the next person. My iTunes library is not filled with exclusively gospel songs. I won’t front and act like I don’t understand the allure of artists like Cardi B, Nicki, and Beyonce. Real talk – Nicki BLAZED that verse on “I’m Getting Ready!” Yet, as much as my ears approve I cannot divorce it from the truth in my heart.
I cannot give affirmation where there has been no inspiration. I know that as much as Nicki may spit a good verse, her lifestyle is anything but submitted to God. Let’s talk plainly, it’s not merely the fact that we know our favorite secular artists are not saved, we know full well that their music and lifestyle openly promotes things which are absolutely contradictory to the Word of God and we choose to ignore it. Tasha’s album with the Nicki collab was released late Sept 2017, less than three months later Nicki almost broke the internet with her sexually explicit Paper magazine shoot…we ignored it. Meanwhile, praise teams all across America were rushing to incorporate their collaboration into our worship sets and providing any excuse we could to justify it. (If this image offends your eyes, consider that the music offends God's ears).
No. Stop it. Let’s be honest and admit that we are using these artists fame, popularity, and social stature to attempt to make our ministries more relevant. Youth leaders scramble to attempt to utilize these songs to inspire participation and excitement from their youth because they have all but lost their influence. Why else would any church leader allow their praise team to remix “Drunk In Love” and perform it in God’s house of worship? Who honestly doesn't hear Beyonce’ regardless of the lyric changes? Who doesn’t see the “Savage” dance in their head when they hear it? It is ethically inappropriate and intellectually dishonest to ask people to disregard what their brain hears – for what you want them to hear. ALL of us (yes you too) heard little Duval’s version all the while Jamal Bryant was talking to us about sinners.
When preacher’s sermon’s are continuously centered around the lyrics of the hottest song, movie or TV show, it is clear indication that there are more inspired by secular content, than the spiritual content of God’s Word. It is biblically and ethically inappropriate to decide to build your sermon around secular content – and then look to affirm this choice with spiritual content. Do we really believe Bishop Murphy was already meditating on the contents of the S.A.V.A.G.E. acrostic and they just happened to line up with the song? Or is it far more believable that he already purposed to use the song and then built a message around it. Good preaching occurs when the text speaks to us first, not when we decide what to preach and seek out a text to fit it. The former is exegesis, the latter being eisegesis.
I know it won’t be popular, but let’s face facts. Our approval of the practice of mixing the sacred and profane is rooted in the fact there are yet desires inside us that still love elements of the world and need to be sanctified and submitted to the Holy Spirit. I am NOT saying all secular music is evil. I am saying that when we turn a blind eye to the source and lifestyle of an artist simply because their music is hot – we are engaging in an ethically inappropriate practice. I hear you already… “but Kevin you don't know the lifestyles of every gospel artist either.” You’re absolutely correct. What I do know is that a gospel artist who openly professes Christ as their Lord and Savior may not have a perfect lifestyle, but they have a forgiven one. A gospel artist may not have a spotless lifestyle, but any and every sin they commit has been nailed to the cross, buried in the grave and left there. They are not actively, intentionally, and rebelliously living a lifestyle which tears down God’s Kingdom. Therefore, we can listen to their music with a pure conscience.
Since the Bible clearly opposes this practice and we can’t justify it ethically, how effective can it be? Can you think of a single example in Scripture of a covenant believer collaborating with an unbeliever to spread the gospel? In Acts 9 it was Simon who saw the power of God as demonstrated through Peter and John and offered them money for it. We never read about believers attempting to purchase, utilize, or capitalize off the influence, stature or position of the ungodly.
I have repeatedly heard the argument about how effective collaborations are amongst our young people. These collaborations are evangelistic efforts they say. Our young people are not ignorant. They know Beyonce and Megan’s music, lyrics, dances, and videos better than we do and they “know” it doesn’t belong in the church. If they don’t know then someone needs to disciple them. It’s counterproductive to attempt to win souls while using methods forbidden in God’s Word. God is not mocked.
Truthfully, I was a huge skeptic of Kanye’s conversion. I publicly LIT into people for believing it. Once I saw continued evidence (confession, discipleship, etc), I publicly recanted and repented. What struck me was that for all Kanye’s collaborations (i.e. Kirk Franklin) and interactions with Christians, he said that they were all fearful to truly share the gospel with him due to the nature of his celebrity. Even sinners know when our heart is truly to see them saved, or a masked attempt to make a hit record and increase sales. When we will trade in our vain, carnal efforts, and embrace the truth of the efficacy of simply preaching Christ, and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).
We don’t need excellency of speech, enticing words, or the wisdom of men to win souls. We don’t need clever gimmicks and acrostics. We don’t need the newest gadgets and media technology. That which was effective then still has power and influence today. I exhort you to preach the gospel. Do so in demonstration of the Spirit and in power (1 Cor. 2:4). Plant, water, and trust God for the increase. The unconditional love of God, humility, passion, and sacrifice of Christ for our sins, and empowerment of the Holy Spirit is all that’s needed to advance God’s Kingdom.
I pray everyone of you will take a stand against this reprehensible behavior. Why is it this behavior only takes place in Christian houses of worship? Has anyone stopped to ask why we never see secular songs mixed in the halls of Jehovah Witnesses, Islamic Mosques, or Jewish temples? Just as with Israel, if we continue to show no difference between the sacred and profane, we will encounter God’s wrath and rebuke. Worst of all, our failure to honor him will result in the pollution, defilement, and contempt of God’s name among the people.
Partaking of the communion sacraments provide a time for Christians to commune not only with God, but with one another. It allows us to remember Christ’s passion, death, burial, and resurrection. This is a SACRED practice. It is shameful to pollute that sacredness by mixing it in any way with the music of those who operate in darkness. Our God is creator, not an imitator. He is glorified when we pray and utilize the creativity given by Him – not when we obtain inspiration from the world and attempt to worship Him with it.
Kevin L. Betton Jr.
. John B. Taylor, Ezekiel: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 22, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1969), 167.