BETWEEN ThE LINER NOTES
Derek Webb: Make Love, Not War
By Jennifer E. Jones
Is he protesting the U.S. in Iraq? Is he talking about sex? The 'Mockingbird' himself, Derek Webb, sets the record straight on his latest album.
Jennifer E. Jones: I’d heard about this album well before I ever received it. All the press releases said: “Derek Webb Causes Controversy;” “Derek Webb Raises Eyebrows.” Is that what you were going for with Mockingbird?
Derek Webb: It’s never been my intention to do stuff that’s controversial. So far in my career, for some reason or another, I have always dealt with topics that go un-talked about in the church culture. So I don’t know if it’s really as controversial as it is just uncommon. I think more Christian artists should be dealing in these issues because it’s our job to put a Biblical framework on anything that the Bible gives us to cover. Anything Jesus is Lord of I can write a song about, and Jesus is Lord of all things including social issues, sexuality, the way I vote, my family, and the way I live. Typically Christian artists only cover the most spiritual two percent of life in their art but the Bible gives us much [more].
Jennifer: It seems like Christian music can be a lot of: "I love God. You love God. Let’s all love God together." I noticed in your album that finally someone is talking about something else.
Derek: I think it’s good and well within the liberty of the artists to speak about God, His character, how He loves people, and what our response to that love is. There’s a point at which what we believe about God must become ethics. If it doesn’t become the way we deal with people, then our theology is useless to us. The Bible says that if we do all these things and have not love -- if we have this tremendous theology but it never turns into our hands -- then we’re nothing more than a ringing symbol.
Jennifer: You deal with social and political issues, which I like to see because it seems as though, once they said “separation of church and state,” the church took that as: “We can’t talk about politics.”
Derek: That is a good moment for us to reexamine our definition of church work and Kingdom work. Separation of church and state is a complicated issue, and I’ve been in situations where it can be a gray area for churches because of their tax-exempt status. There are certain politics they can’t get into but as a member of the body who is charged with building the Kingdom, I have an allegiance that trumps my nationalism. That’s my job. There’s this really great quote by Bono. He was talking about music that deals honestly with sexuality, and he believes that Christian artists should be the ones writing songs about it. We have the Biblical framework to deal with it. Why should we let pornographers have the last word on sexuality? We have got to be contributing a voice to that conversation and saying, “Here’s what real sexuality looks like.” But no one’s going to know that unless Christian artists are brave enough to write those songs.
Jennifer: And you did write about that. One of my favorite songs on this album is “Please Before I Go.”
Derek: Yeah, it’s a bit overshadowed by some of the other songs (laughs)… But I do want to say in regards to some of the more politically themed content on the record, it was never my intention to win people to my way of thinking. I think that there are a lot of good Christian people who help the poor but all those people can reach very different conclusions on how to do that. There’s nothing wrong with that. We are diverse members of one body. Some of us are going to think differently. Mockingbird is much more about how can we encourage one another, what are things we can unify over, and how can we get the conversation going even if we don’t agree with each other’s conclusions. It’s not a record about politics. It’s about people. I wasn’t trying to get people to think like me; I just wanted them to think.
Jennifer: There’s a line in the song “New Law” that says: “I don’t want to know if the answers aren’t easy.” That echoes what you’ve just said. In the church we tend to hear about blind faith -- "We tell you and you accept it" -- instead of discussing matters.
Derek: There’s a reason why “New Law” is the second song on the record right after the title track. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek but typically we would rather not have to do the work of really thinking through these issues. We’d rather have you tell us what the right answers are. Just tell us how to change our behavior and let’s just make Christianity about that. We shouldn’t be satisfied with that. We are to be people who live by the Spirit and that’s more complicated. We don’t know as much about living by the Spirit as we do people giving us the answers.
Jennifer: You’ve touched on other topics that people are strongly divided on such as the war in Iraq. I believe it’s in “My Enemies are Men Like Me” where you say, “I will protest the sword if it’s not wielded well.”
Derek: We’re at a sensitive point in history. The church has got to offer creative solutions to the world’s problems. The church is going to have a unique voice in that conversation. We have the inherent Word of God to go to. We need to be prayerful towards our leaders and our government, but at the same time, we need to look at Scripture and see what it tells us about the right and wrong ways to deal with our neighbors and our enemies. That’s an essential conversation for the church to be having right now. Even if we don’t agree, in times when we have wars and poverty – extreme poverty that we know leads to acts of terrorism (and what I’m referring to is the situation right now in Africa where it’s 40 percent Muslim and people are dying by the thousands) – that is an opportunity. The church’s gaze should fix on an area like that because that’s an opportunity to wage some pre-emptive peace. It may be difficult to speak peace into a wartime situation but what we need to do is plan for the future. It’s the right thing to do to take care of our neighbors in Africa, the greatest concentration of our poor who we are commanded to love. It would cost us less money to do that now than it would in 10 or 15 years to have to go to war with the orphans whose aid we did not come to. Those are opportunities the church should be looking for. There’s no time to waste to learn how to better love our neighbors.
Got comments? Drop me a line.
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