Does Music in Church need to be Decolonized?

If you’ve ever read the comments in a traditional Seventh-day Adventist group or article, you will know that this is not a welcome conversation.

The majority would answer no to the title question, but to do so would be to discount the experiences of others.

Decolonizing music in church is an opportunity to share experiences and insight relating to music in church.

In our discussion, on Sunday, we will not examine decolonizing music as a tangible, all encompassing thing, but instead as a feeling of certain people. It is completely possible for two opposing feelings to exist at the same time. The perception of words and actions, whose meaning can be lost in transit between transmittal and being perceived. Messages received, may not always be the message sent. Perceptions may not always be real.

But, colonization is real. It is not made up. It was a race between the larger European countries to take over the rest of the world. This race resulted in an abundance of injustice, murder, and profit, and it is not completely over. Some aspects of that race, the spirit of colonization, is still alive and well today.

The spirit of colonialism is survived through church missions, the assumption that a nation of people don’t have Jesus, and they need you to bring Him to them. When missionaries bring Jesus to a country they impose an American or a European Jesus. This imposition hinders the local community from discovering Jesus from their own unique perspective.

By no means am I demeaning the great commission, Jesus did say go, but we decide where to go. The church often goes into faraway lands while neglecting those that are in need locally, or could use teaching at home. Often those individuals are in our own homes, churches, and places of work go without ministry. Jesus did say go, but it would be valuable to be mindful of where we are going.

Another way that this spirit of colonization is survived is by suppression of the cultural expression of music. Sometimes it may be perceived that there is a musical hierarchy, and music of any cultural expression outside of the European, or American culture is at the lowest level. Thus music is encouraged, unless it sounds, or says anything different from the norm. And it gets very intricate, down to the composition of music or lyrics, this suppression is widespread.

Many around the world have experienced this suppression of musical expression. Those experiences are not always shared and lurk in the shadows. When these experiences are given a platform people can be empowered. There is a perspective to be gained through the sharing of these experiences.

The uncomfortable truth is that Christianity, even Seventh-day Adventism, has had more to do with colonization, oppression, and injustice than it would ever care to admit, despite its abolitionist beginnings. It easy to deny these claims and “facts” and statistics can be shared in Christianity’s defense? Today, the complicity of Christianities, silence, and complicity with oppression is being vocalized.

It is easy and common to dismiss the experiences and feelings of our fellow Christians, but by doing so we forfeit an opportunity to learn, grow, and unite as a community. By hearing the perspectives of others we can gain perspectives of who God is. Music is intentional and created by God, we should summon the audacity to limit the movements of the Holy Spirit to a particular genre. To do so is goes beyond presumption.

What would happen if instead of criticizing, we just observed how God can be revealed through cultural expression. It’s ironic, that is exactly what Jesus is, the expression of divinity through the culture of Palestine. Through the life of Jesus, we are able to understand the context of the post-exile Jews. We should welcome the experiences of others, without discounting them, acknowledging the perspective of God that can be viewed through their experience.

Maybe this can be a beginning of seeking to understand Jesus through the lens of another culture. Join us on Sunday, 11 October at 6pm GMT/12pmEST/9amPST/5amACT. Hopefully we can recommend some further reading, to understand the perspectives of others. Please review the draft document before the discussion and I will distribute the finalized copy later.