Where Logic Meets Love

The Problem with Christian Radio

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

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Today I want to talk about Christian music stations.

This is not a discussion about the entire industry of Christian music. It's not about the quality of contemporary Christian music or the careers of Christian music artists or the dual goals of praising God and making money.

It's about my experience as a Christian wanting to listen to Christian music in my car.

Yes, I know the critiques of Christian music: that all the songs sound the same, that all the singers use the same weird breathy way of singing, that radio stations have been playing "I Can Only Imagine" 50 times a week for the past decade. I don't care. I like it, and I like having it on rotation with my classic rock and oldies stations in my car. It makes me calmer, it makes me happy, it helps me put my life in perspective, and it keeps me close to God.

What I've discovered in the past few years, though, is that listening to Christian radio is one piece of the lifestyle of a "proper" conservative Christian in America -- the lifestyle package that includes how you dress, how you date, how you speak, how you parent, and how you vote. And as a result, that lifestyle is reflected back by Christian radio itself.

When after college I re-discovered Christian radio, something that had occupied three of six saved stations in my car in high school, I found that either I had changed or the stations had (probably both). Suddenly I had to have quick reflexes to change the station in order to avoid getting angry and/or offended at the parts other than music. It might be a Focus on the Family segment telling me what my God-ordained role as a wife was. It might be a "positive and encouraging" news segment creatively edited to be about how awesome churches are or celebrating that some religious organization had earned the right to discriminate against people for being gay or not Christian enough. Or it might be the morning show hosts making an offhand comment that they didn't even realize was political because an issue's been twisted up to be one and the same with Christianity.

I thought I'd found a Christian station I felt safe listening to out here in Whoville, up until last week when suddenly the DJ started talking excitedly about "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" and how we needed to show our support for Dan Cathy for saying he supported the "biblical definition" of marriage.

I swore loudly and banged the power button to shut the radio off.

All I want is to listen to Christian music. I should be able to do that without being made to feel that my family isn't holy enough or my political beliefs are sinful.

Here's something else: I've never heard a Christian station call themselves "Christian." They're always the "family-friendly" station, or the "positive and encouraging" station. The one that's "inspirational" or "safe for the whole family." But the irony? It's the Christian stations that I feel the least safe listening to.

When I'm listening to a classic rock station, I may not be hearing music praising God. I may not be challenged to reflect on Jesus' sacrifice or how I'm loving my neighbor. I may hear swearing or references to sex and drugs. But I know that the DJ isn't going to start making political comments, casting judgment on my friends, or celebrating someone's discriminatory actions. Somehow the things that secular radio realizes are completely inappropriate are more than fair game for Christian radio stations.

Christians come in all flavors, so why is Christian radio dominated by a single perspective?

20 comments:

  1. YES YES YES. That's exactly how I feel too! There are times I really do like listening to Christian music - it truly can calm me down and some of it is pretty good. As long as I mix it in with other music that I enjoy - I like it. But yeah, it's so frustrating because they talk about things only from ONE point of view - assuming that ALL Christians feel and think the same way. Guess what? WE DON'T. I feel like it's a reflection on a huge part of the "Christian" culture. As much as I love the church I work at, I usually don't feel safe to share my opinions because it's just assumed that everyone thinks the same way.

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    1. Exactly -- somehow one way of living has become the face of Christianity, and so some people assume that all Christians are like that. It's frustrating not just when people assume I agree with them, but when people who aren't Christian assume that I believe certain things because that's what Christian media puts out there.

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  2. I don't think it's possible to listen to ANY stationary and not hear at least some political messages from the DJs and/or commercials. You just aren't noticing them on other stations because they're a little more subtle about it, and it's stuff you agree with.

    I almost never listen to the radio at all, nor do I watch much tv, for this exact reason. The constant onslaught of messages attempting to erode my faith is exhausting.

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    1. Alright, challenge accepted -- I will spend more time listening to some other stations and trying to pick up on the comments that push one one way of living or one set of political beliefs as the only right one. In any case, it's definitely most overt on Christian stations, and that's what most bothers me -- there's not even an attempt to acknowledge that people can have diverse ways of living or diverse beliefs. Certainly they have the right to say whatever they want, but it bothers me that I can't find new Christian music separate from the barrage of commentary on my life.

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    2. No, see, the problem is that the stuff she agrees with isn't "political." It's Christian. It's loving others and doing unto them as you'd have done unto you.

      What she objects to is people who make others' very existence into a political controversy, to debate like Congressional budget proposals. Who say that "I don't feel you have the right to exist around me" is a legitimate viewpoint that needs to be aired, even championed, and that she's not a real Christian if she disagrees.

      When you know that that's Not Ever Okay? It can be really challenging to deal with people who say otherwise.

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  3. This is a huge part of the reason why I dislike Christian radio. The Focus on the Family segments more often than not leave a really sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, and have ever since I was a little girl. I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds them abhorrent. I'll admit, I do have the local Christian Station on my presets for two reasons: A) the local station does an insane amount of traffic reports in the morning, something that is much appreciated. I can flip it on and know if there is an accident on the freeway within a couple of minutes. B) Sometimes I drive one of my friend's five year old home and watch her if her mother has to work late, and her mother prefers she only listens to Christian radio. This is fair enough, and I wouldn't question how she is choosing to raise her daughter. Very rarely will I listen to it outside of those who occurrences. My commute can be stressful enough without the commentary, so I don't see the point in adding more voluntarily.

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    1. OK, good, I'm not alone here in how it makes me feel. It seems ridiculous to me that a radio station that is supposedly striving to be "safe" or "inspiring" or "encouraging" can instead cause so much stress/anger/whatever. Very frustrating :(

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    2. I listened to one K-LOVE host talk about how awesome and necessary spanking is, and freaked out and slammed the car door on the way out as we parked. My dad beat me when I was very little, and used those same "Christian" teachings as justification for it.

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  4. I love Christian radio, and as you know I don't disagree with their political points. Where I have a problem with them sometimes is the fact that they are only targeted toward Protestants, for the most part. There are huge parts of Christian beliefs that either I don't agree with, they omit, or they simplify (as in you have to do nothing but "accept Jesus" to gain salvation- um, where's the part about LIVING your faith?) They pretty much reject anything that is part of some Christian traditions but not part of another (aka saints, Mary, etc.) As far as my Christian station goes I've never heard them endorse only heterosexual marriage but would not be surprised if they do. And my other big problem is that the Bible is the ultimate authority on everything- there is tradition and one's experience of God too. Oh, and acting like the English language translation is the ultimate authority out of all translations- and only the King James version too. But finding the political/familial views objectionable is something I am more likely to find on secular stations (as in them assuming that all of their listeners are liberals.) Country music stations seem to dance the boundary between views the best, in my experience. But I definitely love the music- and that's why I listen, not because I love their political views, which is a negligible part of the programming, at least on my station.

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    1. Oh, they're definitely Protestant-focused, and narrowly so. That's what I mean -- not just that they espouse a narrow set of beliefs politically, but faith-wise as well. There's a very specific type of Christianity that seems to be the viewpoint of every Christian radio station I've encountered, and that's what's so frustrating to me.

      Mike mentioned something similar about country music -- he started listening to country stations just within the past year or so. He said he likes that they're not afraid to talk about God, but that it's always in a comfortable, part-of-life kind of way, not a "lecture you on a specific interpretation of the Bible" kind of way.

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    2. I agree with the country music thing. I'm not a fan of some of it, but I do agree that when they mention God it sounds normal and more comfortable and non-preachy.

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  5. I have mixed feelings on this post. Yes, Christian radio is very opinionated, but I think I expect that. I don't know of a Christian station that ever claimed "yes, we cater to all religions." I am not Catholic, so I suppose I don't see it from the perspective of a Catholic listener.

    I also feel that most radio stations have their own opinions as well...such as casual sex and getting drunk are completely normal and okay. I disagree with that and it bugs me. It's funny because I've gotten frustrated because I like some contemporary music, but there are songs that are outright upsetting to me so I've banged off the radio as well.

    I wish there was a happy-medium station, you know? I like KLove, but yes they have a lot of strong opinions. I mostly feel encouraged when I listen and I don't feel like I have to have my guard up, although I am aware when I disagree with something.

    Ugh about the whole Chick-Fil-A thing. The chicken sit-in thing came out of a place of love and support of a company (AND freedom of speech), but I believe a whole group of people ended up feeling hated. :-(

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    1. It's not that I expect Christian radio stations to cater to all religions or denominations, it's that it seems ALL Christian radio stations cater to the SAME specific, narrow denomination. So there's no way for me to get Christian music separate from beliefs (political, faith, or otherwise) that I have serious issues with.

      I think part of the reason I don't have an issue with other radio stations is that I don't listen to a lot of contemporary music. So if I'm not listening to Christian music, I'm listening to a classic rock or oldies station, which might have references to drugs and sex but don't have the in-your-face "Imma **** these ****" quality that some recent music does.

      This is probably the best post I saw on the Chick-fil-A situation.

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    2. That is a great post on the Chick-Fil-A!

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  6. I've always avoided "Christian" radio for just these reasons! I do run across it when dialing around, though, and will sometimes listen for a bit. One of the stations here in Pittsburgh plays a LOT of Catholic rosary, which could be quite soothing or inspiring, but unfortunately they play what sounds like "random people trapped in a basement with nothing else to do but read the rosary"--they have unpleasant speaking voices and read in a halting way, struggling to pronounce words--it can be hilarious for a while before it begins to drive us crazy, but it's funny in a snarky way, laughing AT these presumably earnest praying people, which my 7-year-old and I agree usually makes us feel bad afterward.

    I've never liked much contemporary Christian music--just the occasional song--but I'd happily listen if a station played hymns. I like hymns and find many of them inspiring.

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    1. That's pretty funny about the rosary station. I tend to avoid "talking" stations generally, but Mike likes listening to them sometimes. Among those stations I do think it's easier to find different Christian viewpoints than on the Christian music stations, but they seem to be far less "polished" than the music stations.

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  7. I wonder...if it's a local radio station...you really might be able to actually get them to at least tone it down if multiple people who feel this way just spoke up. "I'm a Christian, I like your music, but Christianity and politics are two different things. It offends me to hear X Y and Z constantly brought up and so I can't listen to your station anymore."

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    1. My experience has been that this is pervasive on Christian stations throughout the country, and it's the national station K-LOVE that does the most consistent commentary between songs that I've experienced. However, you make a good point -- I've found another local Christian station I'm trying out here, and if they too turn out to spout very conservative values, it couldn't hurt to let them know what I think.

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  8. I thought I was the only one who loves Christian music but hates the politics and the Dobsonism! For a while there was a local station that played music only, no talk, but it seems to have fizzled out, with only K-Love remaining. So I stick to mix CDs.

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    1. Regarding "music only, no talk" stations, one thing I've noticed in comparing Christian and other radio stations this past week is that the other radio stations rarely have talk in between songs, and when it's not music it's a commercial, with the exception of things like morning shows. But the Christian stations often have little sound bites in between songs to introduce the next song (like, "When bad things happen, you have to lean on God to get you through it, as such-and-such artist shares in this next song."). And in my experience, most don't have commercials, so they fill the non-music time with things like Focus on the Family segments.

      I've thought about just listening to what's on my iPod, but I do enjoy getting to hear new music, even if it's usually from the same limited group of artists.

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