Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Natalie Grant, Mandisa, and Being Light in Darkness

If you are a social media following Christian, by now you have read about Natalie Grant (and her husband)’s early departure from the 2014 Grammy Awards. (You can read Natalie’s comments on her Facebook page here.) You’ve likely also read that Mandisa decided to forego the entire proceeding. (You can read about Mandisa’s decision here.)

For her part, Natalie Grant was at the Grammy’s because she was nominated for a couple of awards. A high honor, indeed. After sitting through several hours of the “pre-show” (since 70 of the more than 80 Grammy’s were awarded before the telecast), she decided to head home. To be fair, Grant did not express exactly why she departed early, but did suggest that it had to do with the content of the show. To be fair, she did not express exactly at what part during the show she decided to depart. It could have been during Beyonce’s “performance” with husband Jay-Z that left little to the imagination – both in Beyonce’s wardrobe and in their behavior toward one another. Or, perhaps it was Katy Perry wearing an illuminated Knight’s Templar cross in a way that few during the Middle Ages could have envisioned. Indeed, it is ironic that Perry was sporting a cross most closely associated with the Crusades….she’s so politically incorrect!  Regardless, by the time Madonna got around to singing at Rev. Latifah’s church-inspired wedding ceremony, Grant and her husband were long gone.

And then there is Mandisa. Although Mandisa was nominated for three Grammy’s (and won two!), she chose not to attend. Obviously it is debatable whether she might have attended had she known she would win. But, I take her at her word: she was not attending for other reasons. Spiritual reasons. Not a push-your-religion-on-others spirituality, but the very personal challenge every Christ follower faces to be in the world but not of it. Mandisa expressed that, because of where she is at in here walk with Christ, it was not good for her to submerge herself in an environment that celebrated "the allure of pleasure, the passion to have things, and the pompous sense of superiority" (1 Jn 2:15 The Message): the very things she is seeking to reduce in her life.

The reaction has been interesting. Some took the social media low road by attacking these two for their “hatred” of homosexuals, being judgmental, and being hypocritical. Such is to be expected in a culture that has been taught that the new Golden Rule is to treat all people equally by affirming their behavior regardless of your own convictions. Others, though, had a different question. A fundamentally evangelical question: wouldn’t it have been better for Grant to stay (and Mandisa to attend) so they could be light in darkness? It’s a good question and one that demands an answer. Let me share a few ways to think about the question:

First, the question assumes that being present is enough in evangelism. It is true that God calls us to be light in darkness. And, unfortunately, the Church has done a better job convincing believers to “stay away” form lost folks than encouraging us to interact. Obviously if we are going to be a witness for Christ, we have to be “with” unbelievers. But the simple fact we are present with unbelievers does not – by itself – constitute being light. If that were the case, our men’s ministries could visit the local strip clubs under the guise of “being light in darkness.” I realize the example is exceptional, but it makes the point – just being present is not enough to constitute being a witness. We actually need to share our faith verbally to truly be light in darkness.

Second, the question assumes that those attending the Grammy’s are open to a gospel witness. I realize this is moving into risky territory. Only God truly knows what is going on in a person’s heart and life. And, it is very possible that a person attending the Grammy’s is doing so during a time of great spiritual searching. But, the environment is not terribly conducive to probing a person’s deepest spiritual concerns. In reality, the Grammy’s show is about flaunting the trappings of success and pushing the boundaries of convention (usually by seeking to be edgier than last year’s show). The simple fact is that there are some environments that are more conducive to sharing our faith than others. That does not make us unevangelistic, it makes us wise.

Third, the question ignores that the cultural drift away from basic moral standards has practical implications for the discerning Christian. Too often we ignore the fact that Christians are, well, people. People who struggle with sin and wrestle with pride. Simply put, not every activity is beneficial for us. Depending on where we are in our walk with Christ, attending a show like the Grammy’s may do us more spiritual harm than good. Mandisa alluded to this as she shared her struggle to be in the world, but not of the world. An event that celebrates “the world” is not the best place to engage in that struggle. While Grant was wisely circumspect in her wording, it is safe to say that watching various women parade half naked on a stage, gyrate their bodies to music and – in some cases – imitate sexual acts with others is not the best way to move toward spiritual maturity.

So what are we to make of all this? Simply that Natalie Grant and Mandisa are not that different from you and me. They are Christian ladies who are seeking to live out their faith in a very bright spotlight. In so doing, every action they take (i.e. leaving the Grammy’s early) or don’t take (i.e. skipping the Grammy’s altogether) will be utterly scrutinized. Because both women have handled themselves with tremendous grace and Christian maturity, I suggest we follow that model. Could they have been light in darkness? I suspect they are. 

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