Seventh-Day Adventist and Nazi Party views on African-American music – Part One

It has taken some time to consider how to respond to the suggestion that – as both an ‘academic’ and ‘performing’ Seventh-Day Adventist musician – I offer some thoughts about 10 music regulations from the bad old days of the Nazi Party that may yet become even more notorious than they already are. Given the spectacular limitations regarding certain types of understanding in global Adventism, I am going to try to ensure that what I write in this SDA-specific blog post can be as widely understood as possible (without watering my vibe down too much). And some people are going to like me even less than they do already; fidelity has often come at the expense of popularity.

This blog post is going to require at least two parts, possibly three. Let’s see what happens.

Click here to read the blog post in question; it contains 10 stipulations regarding jazz (with reference to other musics) that were handed down by an official of the Nazi Party during the Third Reich. Now, this is the ‘easy-read’ version, but it seems a fair few people have been reflecting on both the 10 regulations cited therein. If you were to follow the link at the bottom of the online article cited above, you will uncover some very interesting insights by  J.J. Gould. I will respond to all ten regulations in the course of this (multi)post, but for now I want to start with one of Gould’s most penetrating observations:

“If you’re a Nazi, and you can pass something you don’t like off as a “Negroid excess” or a manifestation of “Jewish Freemasonry,” it helps you with the kind of Nazi cred you need [to] insulate yourself from having to justify what’s wrong with the music as music.”

One of my best friends in ministry (it’s all his fault that you’re reading this as he tagged me into ensuring that I actually saw this in the first place) has already observed:

“Yeah, what’s scary is not so much the rules but the line of reasoning. I have literally heard a very similar line of reasoning used when discussing music in worship…”

He’s not the only SDA clergyperson to tell me that this is familiar territory in terms of the types of value-led thinking that characterise the approach of numerous SDA churches to music. This is about to get very bad indeed for several conservative SDAs who sincerely believe that the only safe and acceptable (as in, what God Himself would accept – as far as they are concerned) forms of music just happen to be those which fit a very specific proto-European aesthetic which is by definition not universal. None of these folks would argue for one second that the Bible is only valid in English – even if some would argue fiercely about which English translation is best trusted – despite the fact that a literal word-for-word translation is impossible. Now, for those SDAs who think that all theologians and Biblical scholars (those two things are not actually the same) are the handmaidens of Satan himself: while it is true that some scholars have done some very damaging things to our church, you would have no commentaries to read if some people had not invested into learning Biblical languages so you do not have to. And those of you who depend on concordances also benefit from the work of scholars. This means that most of you will not have personally invested into getting a technical understanding of the complexities of linguistic verities – and you’re in excellent company as many of the most popular conservative SDA speakers who pontificate on music don’t know that stuff either. My personal experience of English speaking Adventism includes the kinds of speaker/teacher/preacher who hold that the KJV is the only English translation worth reading but whose mastery of the English language is so weak they make the kind of arguments that would make a grammatically-literate person laugh uproariously into their (generally-speaking) non-decaffinated coffee.

This means that the church is full of people who are incapable of grasping the real ramifications of the fact that the grammatical schemas of the Biblical languages are so incredibly different to that of English that at times the very best we can do is a distortion of the original by definition. They would all be excited about the concept of the Bible being translated into every conceivable language and dialect, regardless of the ‘grammatical’ challenges – not least with various idioms that simply don’t translate!

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So with ‘language’ – it is accepted by SDAs that the Islamic ideology regarding classical Arabic as the only valid language in which to understand the revelation from Allah is not the one. Likewise, the Mormon ideology which holds that the Book of Mormon and the Bible (KJV, of course!) are best read and only really properly understood in English would be thrown out immediately. Irrespective of the fact that most of us do not really understand the structures of the languages that we speak as ‘natives, ‘ we do recognise that every language that people speak matters. But we cannot ignore the fact that the West colonised the world by imperialist expansion – conquer, divide, conquer – and then imposed Western values (it is an unassailable fact that even some of the missionary endeavour that took place also did a huge amount to impose Western values). It so happens that music is one of the most important ways in which we understand (in practical reality) Antonio Gramsci’s concept of hegemony which in turn helps us understand the way in which Western musical values have been exported – then accepted – and now embraced – all over the world.

One of the consequences of this self-same ‘hegemony’ is that Seventh-Day Adventists of many, many cultures/races/educational backgrounds have bought – lock, stock and barrel – into a form of neo-colonial European imperialism. Let me try to quickly explain: ‘Western music’ as we now know it has evolved from the earliest forms of  European sacred music into the development of musical systems from which the ‘high art’ musical traditions (of Europe) have arisen – which in turn produced newer European sacred music forms that were not only being practised during the apotheosis of the slave trade [some of you REALLY need to put that into your pipe and smoke it – how can this music be the highest form of sacred music when it was so easy for Anglo-Catholics to sing it whilst enslaving Africans and plundering the Americas?!?] – it was precisely the spectacular proliferation of wealth that came to Europe through slavery that made some of the most important advances in arts, sciences and ‘culture’ actually possible in the first place – and for those of you who have no serious understanding of and involvement with classical music, please understand that for both secular and Christian Anglo-Europeans, what they refer to as ‘European Sacred Music’ is understood as both ‘music’ and ‘culture’ – which in turn helps us to understand why that music is performed by more non-Christians than by Christians – especially in the professional world.

Just in case someone missed that: MODERN ANGLO-EUROPEAN HYMNODY WOULD NOT EXIST in the way that we know it were it not for the slave trade…

This means that the much-vaunted hymnody of Anglo-Europe has come into existence at a VERY, VERY high price indeed. And before anyone is injudicious enough to accuse me of being a hater of classical music or a uncivilised, unsophisticated neophyte who doesn’t understand this music: I have invested more than most into becoming a professional conductor of classical music and to conduct Bach, Beethoven and Brahms is one of my greatest privileges – but this does not mean that I regard that music as more valid than the music of my own African-Caribbean culture, or that of African-Americans who are black like me (my first Masters degree was in jazz piano and I am very proud to be a jazz musician).

Let’s play a little game with the Gould quote cited earlier:

“If you’re a Seventh-Day Adventist, and you can pass something you don’t like off as “spiritually [and therefore biblically] inferior” or a manifestation of “Pentecostal [unbiblical] spirituality” it helps you with the kind of Adventist cred you need [to] insulate yourself from having to justify what’s wrong with the music as music.”

I am going to unpack this in some detail in the next post, I promise you. For now, suffice it to say that I am sick to death of the unbelievable levels of assumption and presumption regarding the phenomenon of music by SDAs who pontificate in public about music having invested absolutely NOTHING into understanding music properly as a phenomenon – social, cultural, historical, technical-musical, even psychological (and wider-scientific) and more. And I have serious issues with the fact that many of our church members – who would yank a preacher off the pulpit who mis-exegeted Revelation 14 and publicly discredit a health speaker who spoke againt Ellen White and the health message – frequently let people with the weakest possible level of knowledge about music and history spout utter bile and folly and fund their ministries. I hate the fact that we have spent so long serving a neo-colonial agenda that we now (in effect) think that everyone must be the same colour/race within Adventism. This now means that we cannot tolerate the idea that a conservative Adventist can think differently about music to most other conservative Adventists but still be a conservative Adventist… The forthcoming exposition of the dangerous ideology propounded in these ten regulations will indeed show just how close conservative Adventism’s musical aesthetics is to that of those espoused by the Nazi Party and how we have sacrificed biblical theology for pseudo-theology built on personal-cultural aesthetics that then masquerades as theology. For the sake of peace I will not name specific names – not now – but I will say that if the standard of our thinking about the Bible and theology was akin to our thinking about music, we would be worse off than the children of Israel were when they lost their way and lost their identity at the chosen people of God.

In Part Two we take up a specific question/objection concerning the link between European sacred music and the slave trade. And just to be clear: given that the contents of this blog post will put me at serious odds with many Adventists with whom I would like to continue positive relations, the labels ‘conservative,’ ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ are highly politicised and often less rather than more useful. However, I am neither ‘liberal’ nor ‘progressive’ in theological terms. This does not mean that I regard veganism as the 11th commandment and I have the most withering contempt for the idea that wearing a tie is holy and necessary. But in theological terms, I am RADICALLY biblically conservative – including in my belief in the prophetic force of EGW. So for those of you who have no idea how to read me – please try that for size.

 

 

 

November 2015: #3 (answering questions with the framework of faith)

The third question in this post series (but the fourth post, as #2 had two parts) is:

Will any answer we give make sense without said framework?

The framework in question is the framework of faith – as understood and defined by Seventh-Day Adventists. A large body of the groundwork for this post has been laid earlier in the series, but I will endeavour to answer this question as accessibly as possible.

If a Christian were to insist that any answers to certain questions can only make sense with the framework of ‘faith,’ they have a duty to be able to explain what faith actually is! The generally-accepted idea that questions regarding certain aspects, concepts and elements of Christianity can be explained with recourse and reference to faith without an adequate explanation of what that faith looks, sounds and smells like in either theory or practice is as big an example of the general lack of credibility of Christian faith. And Seventh-Day Adventists are amongst the worst culprits in this regard.

One concept that I enjoy teaching whenever I can is that our theological logic must itself be logical. Under no circumstances are we authorised to think and act in a functionally illogical manner and claim Scriptural justification. Stay with me as I break this down.

If a person says that prayer is illogical because God cannot be seen, heard or touched, then that’s a statement which looks like an argument. If I give a cellphone to a person who has just travelled 5000 miles out of an extremely remote territory and is still confused by Western technology and say that they could talk to someone on the other side of the world with this device, how easy would that be to believe? Much easier now that they have undertaken a journey which will have blown some of their gaskets to smithereens – they now have a framework for the impossible being possible from the airplane alone! But if they are simply in their remote area and have yet to see a Land Rover, never mind a bus or a plane – then they could be forgiven for saying that you are lying when when you say that this little thing can help you talk to someone on the other side of the world.

Why? Because there is no frame of reference. It’s not ‘logical.’ Or put another way, ” it doen’t make sense!” But this supposedly logical position is itself rumbled when we realise that it is based on large-scale ignorance. And that’s why the smart thing to do is keep asking: “what do I not know about…?”

Now, a child can play with a mobile phone and then actually use a mobile phone, but not understand how it works (i.e the science behind the technology). All they know is that it works. But now I’m about to go deeper. Let’s say that you see a name/number flash on your phone. You greet the caller by name and have a conversation. You hang up, assuming that you spoke to the person whose name is linked to that number in your phone. But supposing it was not the person? You did not see them! It could have been an impostor, or maybe even a robot…

Something as mundane as using a smartphone can throw up all sorts of issues about what know, what we assume, what we believe, why we think our knowledge is true and our assumptions/beliefs are reasonable. Whole books are being written from a secular perspective along the lines of telling people that they are not as smart, as rational or as balanced as they like to think. Much of what society thinks it knows, it does not, and cannot know. So in the same way that the faith of an honest Christian is not a reason to know that the Bible is true, the empirical argument of a skeptic is less final than could ever be the case. Why?

Absence of proof is NOT proof of absence!

No person is going to be won for the Kingdom of God by argument alone, however excellent in its Biblical and rational dimensions. But it is certainly possible to give answers which make sense WITHOUT the framework of faith. The Christians may usually have no idea what those are or what they look like, but if those answers did not exist, we would have to say that faith is blind and unreasonable, because reason and logic don’t apply to God.

NO CHANCE.

God IS the AUTHOR of cognition itself. As such, he’s the author of language. That means that our capacity to use words like ‘logic’ come from Him. Don’t think for a microsecond that God cannot be found in the realm of the intellectual. He can. But he cannot be served solely in the arena of great ideas. He can only be served in the real world. Our job is to find ways to answer the hard questions about Christianity that are both real and truthful – and as such, that speak to the actual reality of people’s lives – NOT our mashed-up assumptions of those realities!

 

 

November 2015: #2b – the rejection of questions by SDAs

APOLOGIES for the paragraphing issues: nothing I try can fix them right now. But the text is correct!

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This is the second part of the second question in this series. Here’s a link to the first – for (necessary) context.

This is the question at hand:

Will any of the perplexities of life make sense without the framework of faith?

Now, this might seem like an unnecessarily large number of variant translations of a pretty well-known text, but this post is not for everyone. I’m writing it as a resource for those who are serious about getting to grips with a challenging reality. The updated KJV does use the same word as older KJV editions (yes brethren, there really is more than one edition of the KJV!) – ‘answer.’ But look at some other words that are used instead of answer:

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man who asketh you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.
but sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear:
But in your hearts set Christ apart [as holy—acknowledging Him, giving Him first place in your lives] as Lord. Always be ready to give a [logical] defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope and confident assurance [elicited by faith] that is within you, yet [do it] with gentleness and respect.
But in your hearts set Christ apart as holy [and acknowledge Him] as Lord. Always be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you, but do it courteously and respectfully.
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
Instead, regard Christ as holy in your hearts. Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.
but treat the Messiah as holy, as Lord in your hearts; while remaining always ready to give a reasoned answer to anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you — yet with humility and fear,
Honor Christ and let him be the Lord of your life. Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope.
but sanctify [the] Lord the Christ in your hearts, and [be] always prepared to [give] an answer [to] every one that asks you to give an account of the hope that [is] in you, but with meekness and fear;
but set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts, being ready always for a defense to everyone asking you a reason for the hope in you,
Will the perplexities of life make sense without the framework of faith? The truth is that this question has no fixed answer. Such an answer cannot exist. In the first post I pointed out that what makes sense to one person may well not make sense to another. The traditional over-emphasis (and indeed, over-dependence) on being able to ‘give an answer’ has meant that any type of answer given to a seeker for hope and truth is deemed successful just because it was given. But one can give ‘an answer’ to a question or challenge without really addressing the question in any real way. This is why we gain much from the other translations (above) which exhort us to be ready to offer:
  • A ‘defence’
  • A ‘logical defence’
  • A ‘reasoned answer’
Let’s get to brass tacks. Before I had the privilege of studying theology formally, I spent 29 years putting up with some quite terrible platitudes, the biggest being:
Young man, converted people don’t ask such questions!
In short, prototypical Adventism has focussed so much on ‘statements’ rather than ‘arguments’ that the majority of our church members have learned that asking questions in the hope of real answers gets you no-where. It now means that this question is especially vexed because ‘the framework of faith’ is anything but a framework of Biblical faith – for the most part.
On absolute principle, it can be argued that the framework with the greatest ‘explanatory power’ is that of what we Adventists know and refer to as ‘the great controversy.’ Here’s where we go wrong: we assume that people ought to accept this framework because it makes so much sense.
‘Sense’ is going to be determined by the presuppositions already held by a given individual. If a person has a materialistic worldview, then answers which posit supernatural activity will be deemed groundless at the outset unless a route is found to connect to the foundational presuppositions. SDAs are in no position to do that because if we take the point of the previous paragraph: something may have a totally plausible explanation, but that explanation might not actually be the ‘truth’ of what is actually happening (or has/is happening). So non-academic Adventist apologetics with its myriad undercooked theodicies has gotten stuck in a gum tree with no way up or down – because the ‘faith’ being offered is not a faith with teeth, and is not faith at all. It is what I call ‘glorified acceptance.’
The process of defending the concept of the necessity of faith in a good God who cannot be known through sensory experience is absolutely impossible unless an Adventist has wrestled with very hard questions posed by the perplexities of life for themselves. I remain baffled at how we still seem to think that if we can find the right ‘answer’ we will help to win more souls to the church (not always the Kingdom, by the way). I have news for us today:
WE – SDA church members – are THE answer – GOD’s answer – to the question of the efficacy of Biblical faith when challenged by the tragedies (and lesser perplexities) of life!
Glorified acceptance is not Biblical faith and so people are indeed finding answers that make more sense to them than those offered by a conceptually toothless and spiritually inconsistent Church. The ‘answers we ourselves give are often not linked to the Truth (John 8:32; John 14:6) that alone can set us free. Result: the world will have to find that Truth DESPITE the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, not because of us. Until we change, we will continue to lose 43% of all the members we baptise.

November 2015: #2a (Faith and meaning in life’s perplexities)

Our second question in this series is as follows:

Will any of the perplexities of life make sense without the framework of faith?

Some of the introductory remarks in the first post will be very helpful to readers looking to follow the thread of thought as deeply as they can. However, the context of this question: it was asked in response to this blog post by an SDA, and it is being responded to by an SDA, so this response is very specific to the Adventist community.

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I spoke about the fact that ‘sense’ in this context is determined by the recipient of an answer. This is a fundamental element of the so-called ‘apologetic task.’ Christian apologetics is not about ‘apologising’ for the faith (sick to death of hearing folks spout that claptrap – an inevitable consequence of using words the meaning of which we don’t know!). Have a look at the following conversation:

Skeptical Friend (SF): Hey, long time! How you doing?

Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA): Hey, good  to see you! I’m well thanks, what about you?

SF: Well, I’m okay, but I’m happy to see you, ’cause I’ve got a few questions.

SDA: Okay cool, let’s sit down over here, I’ve got a few minutes. (Both parties sit down.) So, what’s up?

SF: So this business of believing in the Bible…you say that the only way to know about God is through the Bible, right?

SDA: Yeah, it’s a major part of God’s revelation, probably the most important we have now.

SF: How come?

SDA: Nature is a big way that we know God exists, and Jesus came to show us what God is like. But the skies and oceans can’t actually talk to us about God – not in words – and Jesus is back in heaven! So, we need the Bible to know who Jesus was  – and is – and what God is like.

SF: Okay, I get that the Bible is a big part of the belief system for many Christians, but I have a big, big problem with the fact that many people have died without ever reading it. And I’m still not sure that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity. I’ve met some Christian people who see themselves that way, and they are pretty vibrant to be around! But they’re not as into the Bible as you are. I don’t know what I think…

SDA: Okay, okay, well the thing is…for the Bible to make sense, you just have to have faith.

SF: Yeah, you’re always saying that, but I still have no idea how you get faith! Where does faith come from? I once heard a story about a primary school teacher who asked her class what they thought the meaning of ‘faith’ was and a nine-year-old boy put his hand up and said, ” believing what you know isn’t true.” So, why do you believe in the Bible? How do you know its true when you can’t prove so many things?

SDA: (smiling) Well, that’s why faith is so important. I know that the Bible is true because I have faith…

SF: …but that’s my problem! I’ve been meaning to bring this up for a while, but can’t you see that just because you have faith, that faith is not proof that the Bible is true?! Your faith is not proof of anything!

SDA: Yes, but I never said it was.

SF: So how then do you know that the Bible is true? How DO you actually know? What if you’re wrong and it is all lies, or at least parts of it? I think I’m readier than I’ve ever been to say that I believe in God. But I don’t think I can trust the Bible. Of course the Bible says that it is true…because whoever wrote it wanted people to think that! But because those words are in the Bible, that’s no PROOF that the Bible – or the whole of it – is in fact inspired! And if I’m going to follow the Bible, I need to know that I can trust it. How does that happen? Why do so many Christians emphasise some bits and ignore others? I’m fed up of this, it’s just so confusing!!

[…phone rings. It’s SDA’s phone…]

SDA: …erm, sorry, I have to take this call…

So, our SDA friend managed to get out of giving an answer on that occasion. My question and challenge: how would you respond to the skeptical friend? In #2b we will consider a number of different translations of 1 Peter 3:15 and become clearer on our mission in the context of ‘contending for the faith.’