June 9, 2023

Rev Donovan Myers puts the record straight

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I welcome the opportunity to provide some context and [hopefully] clarity to my reported contribution to your papers vox pox entitled “Do Bob Marley songs have a place in Church?” published on 8/29/11.  I am more interested in offering my perspective to the discussion than to be bugged down by the sensational, but I figure that my conversation with your reporter was too long and varied to be succinctly included in this kind of article.  Suffice it to say, my response to the discussion was an attempt at broadening the conversation to consider the issue of the relevance of Church music in reaching youth.  Consequently, my substantive point is that the discussion probably should not be about Bob Marley’s songs per se but about the Church becoming contextually relevant in its use of music forms.  The challenge is for the Church to consider how it presents the gospel to the youth.

My argument is that music forms are amoral but we have been socialized to think that the European forms are essentially Christian [because we were evangelized from Europe]; and on the other hand that “black and Afro” things [e.g. reggae] are bad.  I am of the view that the Caribbean Church still struggles with how to incorporate those elements that are African retentions.  It was here that I made the point that the Church usually doesn’t accept things until they are old [or have settled] and hence become classics.  I went on to celebrate the fact that the Caribbean Church has indeed been incorporating elements of local/regional music forms that are used in worship, but this needs to be ongoing. This follows the historical precedence for the use of “so-called non-Christian music” in the Church.  The reformer of the Church, Martin Luther, used contemporary bar tunes to create hymn for the worship in the Church.

The first sentence of my reported speech should have read “The real message of Jesus transcends any ethnic [not ethical] and cultural barriers.”  That idea was used to support the argument that God has spoken to His world through many different persons over the course of redemptive history, hence we shouldn’t become hung up on the messenger but the message [for after all, He once spoke through a donkey].  In response to your reporter’s query about whether one can divorce the messenger from his message [my words], I sought to make the point that we must evaluate the theology of any song used in worship to see if it is “truth” as the barometer for its inclusion.  The fact is that, though the messenger is not unimportant, her goodness or lack thereof cannot be the primary yardstick, since none of us come to the table with totally clean hands.  God uses us notwithstanding ourselves.

The sentence about modesty being defined by culture was totally out of context and came from another part of the discussions [almost as an aside conversation where I used the issue of modesty as an example].  It was not meant to be a commentary on the perceived modesty or immodesty of either Bob Marley or his lifestyle. Therefore I wasn’t making a judgement for or against Marley.

Let me close by answering the question more directly; “Do Bob Marley songs have a place in Church?”  Yes they do.  They could provide a hermeneutical lens through which we can view the world and the message of the gospel.  They, like many other “non church” songs, could be used to help us understand our context and evaluate how the gospel responds or offers good news. If the question were, “Should Bob Marley songs be included in Church hymnals?”, then my answer would be no.  Songs sung in worship should do just that – ascribe glory and worth to God [in His fullness as Father, Son and Spirit].  Marley’s songs were not written for that express purpose.   Any song to be used in worship should be thoroughly vetted against the criterion that it speaks to and/or about the God of the bible and God’s redemptive actions in God’s world.  Given that, maybe the church should reevaluate some of the songs it sings at present.

Donovan W. Myers (Rev.)

Savannah United Church

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