Dan Haseltine, lead singer of the Christian rock band Jars of Clay, recently caused a faith-fueled firestorm by daring to tweet his questions about gay marriage. He never even supported a position one way or the other. He just asked questions. And now he has had to issue an apology.
It’s hard to be a rock star these days. Poor Justin Bieber, for example, can’t throw eggs at his neighbor’s house or recklessly drive his Lamborghini without the Twitterverse exploding all over him. Have a “wardrobe malfunction,” burn yourself at the stake onstage, or twerk your way into the up and down a foam finger, and outlets from mainstream networks to niche social media communities jump all over you.
It must be even harder to be a Christian rock star. Artists see the world a little differently and are always looking for ways to express their feelings. They start conversations with their work. Financially unsuccessful artwork can still be successful to the artist if it stirs up conversation. That’s all Haseltine was doing on his Twitter account.
But conversation doesn’t pay the bills. You have to give your fans what they want to do that, and if your fans demand a particular position on a particular issue you have to walk that line. In this case, Haseltine veered off the line his fans demanded. Although the majority of the conversation was very respectful and full of a sincere, intelligent exchange of ideas, there were plenty of attacks as well. You can see the entire conversation here. Hope you have a lot of time on your hands.
In mainstream music, shock is the name of the game. Katy Perry can go all occult onstage, and that generates buzz. Miley Cyrus can virtually impregnate herself on a foam finger, and that creates buzz. All buzz is good buzz. Buzz sells albums, so the more you can shock others the more money you make. It has always been that way, right back to Elvis’s spinning pelvis and the Beatles’ long scruffy hair. Probably longer.
The pressure is different for an openly Christian artist though. They have a fan base with specific expectations. The target market is strongly connected through social media and customers listen to what their leaders have to say. Based on Haseltine’s Twitter conversation, many of his followers are open to questioning doctrine, but quite a few are not.
At one point, Haseltine even Tweeted that radio stations were pulling his music. Again, most of the conversation was supportive, even congratulating him for being a “thinking Christian,” but there were still that minority of Tweeters who absolutely cannot abide thought and discussion within their community.
Apparently, the Christian radio market appeals to the lowest common denominator. While there clearly are plenty of believers who are willing to have open discussions and debates about their disagreements with this popular singer, and there are even a number of fans who support love over Old Testament retribution (you know, like Jesus did), some Christian music stations are not willing to tolerate such discussion. Disagree and you won’t get played. Don’t get played and you won’t make money.
These stations are making a business decision, not a doctrinal one. They have judged that their target audience is so unwilling to listen to a “thinking Christian” that they are going to cease and desist playing all Jars of Clay music. They must fear losing listeners, therefore advertising, therefore money. It’s not about what’s right. It’s about the almighty dollar.
I can only imagine that this, plus a few panicked business managers, led to Haseltine’s eventual (perhaps inevitable) explanation and apology.
Talk about pressure. To pay your bills in this market you have to tow a line that you don’t necessarily agree with. Questioning is intolerable.
The worst thing here is that Haseltine is more than just a singer. He is the founder of Blood:Water Mission, a nonprofit with the goal of improving the lives of poor villagers in Africa and stopping the spread of disease by providing clean drinking water for local communities. The organization digs wells for impoverished communities that only have access to filthy, polluted water sources.
When your community turns against someone like Haseltine, denying him airplay because of a question, you’re also cutting off funds to his extremely valuable humanitarian project. You’re choosing to inflict more suffering on impoverished human beings and expose them to preventable, deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS simply because you disagree with the act of questioning the traditional opinion on marriage equality. This goes beyond denying equal rights to American citizens; this goes to inflicting pain on suffering people.
That’s something Jesus definitely wouldn’t support. It’s like attacking the Samaritan because of his heritage rather than accepting his help. It’s reprehensible.
I’m not in a position to comment on Christian doctrine. Even when I defined myself as a Christian, I chose the right and reasonable course over the doctrinal one every time. I guess that means I wasn’t a very good Christian. No surprise there. Thankfully devout Christians such as Haseltine and most of his Twitter followers are willing to do the same, to ask WHY? instead of merely accepting what they are told. And most Christians, especially young ones, agree with him.
For now, there has been a backlash. Haseltine appears to have been silenced. But I commend his bravery for getting the conversation started in a community he knew would be hostile. Celebrities have influence, and it’s nice to know that he is using his influence for good.