Jesus is NOT My Boyfriend (or my Homeboy for that matter)

kinnon —  September 16, 2007 — 5 Comments

John Stackhouse nails this one.

One of the blights upon the hymnological landscape today is the continued presence of what we can fairly call the “love song to Jesus” genre. It’s been around as long as there has been Christian pop music–and even earlier, depending on what you make of sentimental gospel songs in the nineteenth century, eighteenth-century revivalist hymns, and especially a lot of the mystical poetry-cum-lyrics of certain medieval saints.

Today our congregation was asked to sing, “Jesus, I’m in love with you”–a line that shows up, in one permutation or another, in several songs that occur frequently in our worship leaders’ rotation.

Well, I didn’t sing it. It’s wrong, and I try not to sing wrong lyrics.

First, I’m not in love with Jesus. The locution “in love with” is one I reserve for one person only: my wife. I love my sons, I love my siblings and parents, I love my friends, I love my country, I love my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I love God. But I’m not “in love” with any of them. And I daresay most of the rest of us use this phrase in exactly the same, highly-restrictive way.

Second, it gives me the homoerotic creeps to declare that I am “in love with” another man. And I don’t apologize for saying so. A gender lens is interesting here, for a lot of men feel as I do (many have told me so), while many (not all) women seem to love telling Jesus that they are in love with him. I saw them, swaying with closed eyes and waving hands in the air this morning, singing exactly that. Maybe, indeed, they are in love with Jesus. But they shouldn’t be. (Read the rest of it here.)

One of the reasons I stopped attending the morning worship services at a particular church was the propensity of the “worship leader” to sing Jesus-I’m-So-In-Love-With-You songs – with choruses that went on for an eternity. (Yes, I believe in hell. I’ve had a foretaste of it much too often in “worship”.)

The good professor expresses my opinion more eloquently than I ever could. However, now that I think of it, I did write about this in a post from a year ago, The Power of Music in Church from which I’ll requote Stanley Hauerwas (originally via Gideon Strauss):

“One reason why we Christians argue so much about which hymn to sing, which liturgy to follow, which way to worship is that the commandments teach us to believe that bad liturgy eventually leads to bad ethics. You begin by singing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer, and the next thing you know you have murdered your best friend.”

Fortunately, my best friend lives in Pittsburgh. He’s safe for now.

kinnon

Posts

A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

5 responses to Jesus is NOT My Boyfriend (or my Homeboy for that matter)

  1. Bill,

    Great post. This topic seems to be a theme of several blogs. Dan Edelen had two posts on the same topic, his concern is, that this type of JIMB worship has no place for men. They can see through this….”This is how I should think about my wife.” After years of this type of worship our community has gone way back…very little singing, much conversation, always a meal together. we will add more music and contemplation, but the days of the worship band are at an end…it could be a trend.

    Reply
  2. I have to say, while I think these songs and ideas can go too far at times, I don’t take such a hard line on this issue. Christ as the lover of the church is a core belief in historic Christianity. While our current culture language for engaging these ideas is clumsy, I think we risk going too far.

    I personally have real issue with the “homoerotic” comment. It is more reflective of our own “wild at heart” gender issues than any genuine risk we face in worship. As someone who lives daily with the realities and struggles of same-sex attraction, I think his comment showed very little sensitivity. Further, I believe that it is these unhealthy reactions born out of our unhealthy views of masculinity that (ironically enough) contribute to the very problem it seeks to avoid.

    At any rate, just my two cents.

    Peace,
    Jamie

    Reply
  3. This subject is like Pavlov’s bell for me. I can’t not comment. Jamie raises a good point about the way Scripture describes the relationship between Christ and his Church. The problem is that we matter-of-fact, sexually liberated Westerners are metaphorically-challenged. Most pre-Enlightenment literature describing the affection of friendship would make us uncomfortable as well. The problem is with us: our highly distorted understanding of healthy relationships and the deep roots that disobedient culture has wound around our hearts. When we want to express our deepest desires and loves, it is often to non-sacred culture that we turn to give voice and expression to them.

    JIMB songs don’t work because, to our shame and detriment, the metaphor no longer works. Worse, the musical style in which the words are sung is culturally compromised. We are used to hearing the breathy tones and sentimentalized chord progressions from Jeffrey Osborne and REO Speedwagon, so a song about love for ________ in that style communicates different kinds of affections than what the Scriptural metaphor describes.

    To which many defenders of JIMB songs say: “So what? I don’t feel that way so the problem is with you.” And the tyranny of personal preference goes ever on…

    Reply
  4. I like this post and consider theological integriy in lyrics an important topic, but I disagree with Prof. Stackhouse, pretty much from top to bottom.

    However, I don’t think anyone should be forced to sing something they don’t understand or feel right about…even if it is good for them.

    Reply
  5. interesting reading this after just writing a piece about worship and the emerging church – this is one of themes i identified that brings some much needed deconstruction/revision to worship (as singing).

    If we get too i’m sick of Jesus as my boyfriend are we using shorthand for saying that intimacy boom of the last 25-30yrs is coming to an end – that there is a need to redress/rebalance the themes in our worship. Sing about a God of love is awesome formation but maybe there are some other themes that are also crying out to be revisted.

    Of course this is probably not new event in the history of the church – the closeness/distance of God, immediacy and mediation are themes across church history and ones in which the riches of the church lend themselves for us to tap into.

    Reply

What do you think?