I have been listening to Propaganda’s new album and also reflecting on the recent online dust-up concerning his song “Precious Puritans”. If you aren’t hip to the discussion, a little debate has been going on about whether or not Prop went too far in his critique of the Puritans as slave owners.
First watch the clip:
Now, if you desire to get you caught up (though I’ll warn you it could take a good hour) then you need to check out these articles. First read these two from Joe Thorn: Precious Puritans Part 1 and Part 2. Then go readOwen Strachan’s rebuttal. (Be sure to also read some of the comments on these). Steve McCoy then responded to Owen’s critique and also offered a solid exposition of the song. That’s enough to get you caught up though you can also read this reaction from Thabiti Anyabwile as well as this one from Anthony Bradley.
The Song Initially Disturbs Me
When I first listened to the song it disturbed me. And I have to be honest and say that at first I think I missed the point. I thought I got the point that he was baiting us by piling on the Puritans and then kind of throwing in a switch at the end that said “God even uses crooked sticks like me”.
But it didn’t sit well with me because I felt that he was encouraging us to just totally drop the Puritans by saying, “why would you quote them”. As I read his explanation of the song on Joe Thorn’s blog I gave a hearty amen to everything he said. But I still thought that his critique of the Puritans was too sharp and that he used such a broad brush that it totally made his secondary point outshine his primary point—that God uses crooked sticks.
In my mind the song wasn’t matching up with his interview with Joe Thorn. Then I read Steve McCoy’s piece and it helped me see it a little more clearly. Reading Steve’s post helped the lights flick on and helped me see the “angry poet” in the beginning and the turn in the song when Prop says, “step away”. It helped me really understand what I believe Prop was saying in the song, “God uses crooked sticks. Don’t dismiss them in anger but don’t swallow them whole either. They had flaws, and let’s take those flaws seriously. But lets also remember that they are crooked sticks and lets give glory to God and not blindly follow a group of men.”
But something about the song still disturbs me…
What still disturbs me about the song is the word “your”. I know that this is probably part of the art of the whole thing. But I have to be honest in how the song makes me react. It makes me feel like I’m not on the same team as Propaganda. It makes me feel like a dirty white guy that just casually reads the Puritans but doesn’t think about their racism.
And his indictment is true. I think he’s right that in some sense I do “not have to consider race”. If I’m not careful I can be just as blind as the Puritans that I read. I can think that racism isn’t still present in our society. I can think that there are not still battles to be fought and hills to be climbed. If I’m not careful I can theologically decry racism but in practice I can passively live on the wrong side of gospel reconciliation.
Yet, I’m still disturbed by the “your” Puritans. Artistically, go ahead and keep it in the song in the beginning. That’s all part of the “anger”. It’d rob the song of it’s power if he referred to them as anything different. But in that last line of the song I wish he’d have said “our” precious puritans. Because flawed and crooked as they are they belong to Propaganda just as much as they do to me.
There is not a white history of the church and a separate black history of the church. Though filled with a horrible history of hate-filled disunity, in the gospel story of cosmic redemption and reconciliation those two “histories” merge into a beautiful tapestry. The Puritans, in as much as they were bought with the blood of Christ, belong to all of us—crookedness and all.
Maybe It Should Still Disturb Me
There is one more thing that disturbs me though. And that is that I wanted to put on a sentence at the end of that last paragraph that said something like this: “Just in the same way as (fill in the blank with African American heroes) belong to all of us—crookedness and all”.
But that sentence wasn’t present.
And you know why? Because in my office I have shelves lined with Puritans. I even have excellent books, like Piper’s Bloodlines, that combat the heinousness of racism. But what I don’t have is a shelf filled with African-American saints throughout the history of the church. It’s not because I don’t want them or that I would reject them. It’s simply that I’m not exposed to them. I tend to only be familiar with the crooked sticks that bend the same way that I do.
But those that aren’t the same kind of crooked as me should be my heroes too. The Lord uses them as well. Maybe Prop has a really solid point after all.
So help me out. Help me fill a shelf with African-American brothers and sisters that will benefit my soul just like the Puritans do. Help me find some Christ-exalting men and women that will help me revel in the excellencies of Jesus.