by Bryan Baise
Art has always contained within it a draw to wonder. People will stare at the Sistine Chapel, mouth agape, for hours. The intricacies and detail of Lorenzetti’s frescoes on Good and Bad Government, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and the cinematography of Schindler’s List all captivate and move in varying degrees. In the age of YouTube and music videos it is still the same. Whereas people once gathered often at museums and concerts to be wowed to their very core, many now turn to the Internet for inspiration. And it is not just patrons who use the Internet for inspiration, artists will use it to promote their art, film, sculpture, and music. It is the latter of the four that seems to have the most immediate impact. “Art”, said G.K Chesterton, “like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.” Artists are no different, they use their art to promote their views.
As R.J Snell pointed out over at First Things, his music video “Same Love” has over 50 million hits on YouTube. I won’t rehash what Snell has written, and I would encourage you to read his article in full.
The video was written and produced to support same-sex marriage, and with the Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday it has become an anthem for the movement. I have now seen the video three times and I must admit it is very well done. At each turn Macklemore uses an array of words that correspond with an image that help provide an air of support for his belief that same-sex love is the same love as that of heterosexuals. It is deserving of a response, but I think the more interesting discussion needs to be the one that should happen around the table of evangelicals. Here’s what I mean:
The reality is that to a large degree evangelicals have been engaging the public square of aesthetics in unhelpful ways. We tend to see something like Macklemore’s video, turn around and give a 15 point systematic exposition of the problems, wipe our hands and think the work is complete. That is fine, and there is most certainly a place for it. But that misses the aspect that draws people to listen to Macklemore’s video with tears streaming down their face and wonder, “I don’t support same-sex marriage, but I can’t help but feel drawn to empathize”: raw emotion. Emotion is laid bare like a cadaver and people are drawn. When drawn in it can be like a vortex: you want to walk in the other direction, but something keeps pulling you closer and closer. No full-throated exposition of the song stops the vortex, while trying to distill the arguments into a finely combed 1200 word article is like going to a sword fight with a butter knife. Sure you can do battle, but do not think for a second that you’re going to come out unscathed, or even win for that matter. You have to go further.
What has to be shown by Christians writ large is that what is drawing a person is not primarily the message presented, but the beauty of the production wrapped around it. It needs to be shown that playing in the arena of raw emotion is not enough. It can compel quickly, but has no staying power. It’s like eating Subway, or Chinese food: you feel full, but 90 minutes later you’re hungry again. Furthermore, the Christian has the ability to clarify the emotion. He/she has the ability to show that the emotion felt is not bad, it is not evil. God created beautiful things, and His creatures are drawn to beauty. But good moral art will produce the fruits of truth and beauty in a way that “Same Love” cannot. That message needs to be taken up by artists, curators, musicians, and poets in their language. It needs to be shown in the majestic beauty of a painting portraying the love of a husband, wife, and their children eating dinner. A song about a husband caring for his wife to her final breath, as her body is stricken with cancer. A poem about a husband and wife making it through the difficult seasons (we all have them). There should be art that shows a sense of reality to the love of God, that depicts the “realness” of marriage, rather than merely its “Rockwellian” parts. We should show the “sweat and stink of the Cross” aspects of the Christian life, as Flannery O’Connor said. The gospel compels Christians to show its beauty in all of life, including art. In every area of life we spend tends of thousands of dollars to use the language of a culture we want to influence. In missions we raise hundreds of thousands of dollars so we can take the language of a culture and infuse it with Scriptural truth, this is no different.
All this is not to say that Christians should not engage in careful, thoughtful analysis when it comes to same-sex marriage. Andrew Walker poignantly argued that Christians need to be involved in the marriage debate, and I second that appeal. My contention is that we should not think that is the only avenue, or even the best avenue to engage. You can make the case (and it’s pretty strong) that those who wear the cultural crowns of influence in America reside in Hollywood and the music industry, not Washington DC. Evangelicals should engage both fronts, and engage vigorously. Snell writes something similar:
We can’t abandon the intellectual task of argument and research, or the political task of law and public policy, or education. All these are necessary and worth doing, but we also need the collaboration and help of artists, musicians, cinematographers, and poets, partly to show the beauty of conjugal marriage, but also, and perhaps more so, to tell the bigger story of the Church’s mission for dignity.
If Christians will contend in the public square and the aesthetic arena while displaying marriages in their homes and amongst the world that honor Christ above all, the beauty of God’s design for marriage will begin to shine brightly. May we all strive toward that goal.
You, too, can help support the ministry of CBMW. We are a non-profit organization that is fully-funded by individual gifts and ministry partnerships. Your contribution will go directly toward the production of more gospel-centered, church-equipping resources.