The “Jesus” You Never Heard Pt.3

It was time to face the music – or, rather, delete it.  The panel of experts obviously had concerns about the lyrical content of “Jesus.” So, a deal’s a deal, the song had to be pulled from the record and manufacturing begun.


What if I just rewrote the line “Jesus turns another trick” to “Jesus trying trying hard to quit?”

The label and the buyer went for it.  And here’s why:

No two members of the expert panel had the same issue with the “trick” line.  There was no real consensus.  Most of them agreed it was disturbing to them or, as they would write, disturbing to other Christians but not to them because, you know, they’re not like other Christians.  But they didn’t agree on why it was disturbing to them, I mean, other Christians and not them.  Jesus wouldn’t sin, some will think.  What will parents say when they’re kids ask what a “trick” is? Is it necessary to talk about such a vulgar sex act to make the point?  Jesus engaged in a sex act of any kind is a mental image that we ought not conjure up for others.  Prostitutes aren’t listed in Matthew 25 along with the sick and hungry and imprisoned.

And other panelists had issues with other lines of the song or with the entire premise of the song – Remember the guy who feared listeners would think they were in fact gods themselves?  I started wondering if I’d ever make a record if every song of mine had to pass through the panel’s scrutinization and emerge unanimously accepted before being recorded.  What would an accepted song sound like?

I wondered if the only lyric that would be affirmed by them unanimously would be one with no metaphors, no connecting of dots required on the part of the listener, no unanswered questions, nothing that might confuse or be unpleasant or be over the head of any single Christian anywhere.  There’s no sermon or book any of the panelists had ever crafted that would be acceptable by everyone else on the panel if judged by the same standards now being placed on our music. If we’re going to keep CDs out of bookstores because they confuse or tick off or make uncomfortable a single person or even a single pastor, we won’t have any music to sell.  There just isn’t that much consensus on the non-essentials of our faith among Christians in America.

So, realizing all this, that the panel could never be unanimously happy with anything I ever wrote, I set out to make the buyer and the label happy at least.  And really, the label was happy if the buyer was happy so I just focussed on him.  Make him happy without compromising the message of the song and the label gets to sell records and I get to say something I think needs saying and the buyer gets customers who don’t complain about his no return policy on music and shop elsewhere.

And it was the return policy I suspected was the real reason for the ban in the first place.  If the book store chain was truly concerned about selling products that were heretical or offensive they needed to get rid of a few books, half the t-shirt section and then come after the the music in the back.  One look at their best-selling books display convinced me the chain of stores wasn’t really all that concerned with keeping heretical products from being sold…as long as those products could be returned.

So as I went to work rewriting, I chose “trying hard to quit” because I wanted to see if the buyer and everyone else involved in this process really wanted my song pulled because it depicted Jesus as a sinner.  That was his issue originally right?  “Jesus doesn’t sin.” Was that the real reason for the ban or was it a return policy or a fear of being disliked by customers or a personal discomfort with the line for some other reason?  Was it really an allergy to heresy?  I figured I could keep my message in tact and find out all at the same time.

If the real issue was my penning Jesus into a sinful act, then depicting Jesus as an addict, even one trying to quit, would have been equally offensive as Jesus turning a trick.  An addict is a sinner.  Just like a prostitute.  And, well, for that matter, everyone else in the song since they’re all human.  The line is only slightly sunnier since he’s trying to quit and not in the act of shooting up, or standing in line at Starbucks, or freezing on a smoke break.

But was anyone offended by an addicted Jesus?  No.  The buyer and everyone involved in this ruckus from the beginning had no qualms with Jesus being a sinner as long as He kept His clothes on.  And it didn’t matter to me which kind of sinner I wrote into the second line, the point was the same: When we love people, no matter how messed up and less than us we deem them to be, we show our love for Jesus.  And if we don’t love them we prove we don’t love Jesus at all.

But how can we love someone we can’t even stand to hear being sung about?  And how can I love someone if I can’t forgive him for banning my record and not being completely honest about why?  I labored under that question for a while.

Then, I sat down with a music magazine for a cover story interview about this whole ordeal.  The interviewer was upset by the recent rash of bannings of albums by book store chains on what she saw as weak grounds.  I was tempted to agree and assert my right to free speech and artistic expression and on and on.  But I told her instead that I wanted to tell the good story of how we worked together to keep truth in tact and yet eliminate any unnecessary barriers to it, how together we figured out a way to say something about unconditional love in a way that wouldn’t keep our message from being available to people like me who need to learn how to love unconditionally. 

I told the story pretty much as I’ve told you.  But instead of hurting the buyer by telling readers I thought he really cared more about not having to deal with disgruntled customers than fending off any threat of heresy, I bragged on him.  I told the truth: We need more gatekeepers in our industry that care what products marketed to Christians are teaching about Christ and do whatever they can, no matter how unpopular, not to reward what Church leaders believe to be untruths with exposure of any kind.  Truth has to trump capitalism inside the Church or else the whole truth will be whittled down to only the most gratifying, positive and popular aspects of our faith. And we can’t determine what is true as well alone as we can with each other’s help.

I talked about how appreciative I was to have a label and distribution company that allowed me to be involved in this whole process and even guide it at times.  If I had been on another label, I admitted, the song may have been pulled without even a phone call to me first.  I shared how I planned to be more accountable than I had been in the past to other Christians and pastors by asking them to approve what I’m singing and saying before it gets out.  There was no animosity in the interview, no hint of bitterness or anger.  It was a really good story, I thought, about how a bunch of Christians went from being ticked at one another to solving a problem together and learning how to forgive in the end.

Too bad that wasn’t the story that got written…

Read part 1 and part 2.