Dear LifeWay –

By now, you’ve discovered that many of us are disappointed with your recent decision-making.

You’ve seen the buzz on social media, and I’m confident that you’ve heard from some of us at your customer service lines. There are some serious head scratching aspects regarding your pulling of Sho Baraka’s album, The Narrative off the shelf. You claim you received complaints about his album. You claim some of the album’s language is inappropriate.  You claim the album does not reflect the values of LifeWay and that you reserve the right to remove albums and media that do not coincide with those values.  So I have to ask a some questions:

Whose values are you referring to when you say that the album offended people? 

Honestly, I’d love to know who these people are. They certainly don’t represent me or a large segment of people within the Body of Christ. I know countless believers who love the album, have been moved by the album, and feel like the album has moved them closer to Jesus and justice.

What was “inappropriate” in the first place? He used the word “penis” in a song. Why is that offensive or inappropriate enough for you to pull his album? For one, he used the word to vulnerably share with his listeners about the sexual indiscretions from his past. He directs them to the redemption that can only be found in Christ.

Don’t all Christian parents want their children to walk in sexual purity? What is wrong with an artist expressing, in an artistic way, the need for sexual purity? Secondly, doesn’t the Bible itself contain similar language and vocabulary that could be considered inappropriate for the very same reasons? Paul said to the church in Galatians that he wished some of his opponents would castrate themselves (Galatians 5:12)! Is that more or less inappropriate than a reference to male anatomy?

Are you aware that silencing cries for justice and reconciliation is “inappropriate?

The Narrative does an amazing job expressing the struggles of minority brothers and sisters in this nation. The album also goes to great lengths to affirm the Imago Dei – from the womb to the tomb. In an age where human dignity is being trampled, compromised, exploited, and redefined, we need artists like Sho and albums like The Narrative to show us the way.

The Narrative is historically accurate, prophetic, culturally relevant, and scripturally sound. Sho walks listeners through the controversial narrative of America and the American church with poetic brilliance. He also tethers his music to biblical norms, kingdom hope, and the persistence and pertinence of the Gospel. Throughout history, this type of voice has been silenced, shunned, or ignored. You might say that using the word “penis” in a song is inappropriate. I would say that silencing a call to justice is exponentially more so.

Why are you so willing to censor truth and reconciliation? 

The Narrative is an incredibly relevant and prophetic album for the days in which we live. Sho goes to great lengths to walk his listeners through the racial injustice and tensions that have plagued our nation for centuries. He shares his own struggles processing the world around him. He also points the listener to Jesus and helps shine some light where others only curse the darkness.

Sho walks folks through the scalding and tumultuous waters of race, injustice, and faith. He does so artistically and brilliantly. At a time when the church is quickly losing relevancy in the eyes of the unbelieving world – particularly as it relates to issues of the gospel and justice – this album is both timely and needed. Your censorship loudly communicates that LifeWay is either:

  1. unconcerned with issues of justice and the gospel OR
  2. under the belief they hold the keys to what is considered “appropriate” ways to discuss justice and the gospel.

My guess is the majority of the folks who contacted you regarding how inappropriate the album is would rather have music their students can get hype to at youth group meetings rather than listen to music that will equip and embolden them to be shalom-makers in a broken world, crying out for peace.

Your decision reveals once again that the privileged have the power and the ability to silence minority brothers and sisters who do not align to a particular standard or brand of Christianity. This has been a long history in the American church, and it is unfortunate that you knowingly or unknowingly perpetuated this legacy.

Have you even listened to the album?  

Has anyone on LifeWay’s team listened to the album?  If you haven’t – do so! If you have, how can you not see the value in this album for the church, and for unbelievers during such a vitriolic and polarizing time in history?

Finally, more often than not, the truth itself is offensive. If we really want to delve into issues of race, justice, and even sexuality, we can no longer afford to pillow fight with the issues in a way that makes everyone feel special and uplifted.

Some truth is ugly. Some issues are grimier than others, but that is okay. If we as Christians are going to produce books, music, and movies that almost solely satisfy “the sanitized’s” expectations, we may potentially stifle the power and reach of the Gospel.  Feeding the saints and reaching the lost are not synonymous in producing art.

Thankfully, Sho’s album found a way to do both – which is a tremendously difficult task. I wish LifeWay would see the bigger picture. I wish they would not acquiesce to the faction of saints who believe their definition of morality and sanitized music trumps the weightier issues of cultural relevance, justice, and kingdom advancement towards a hurting world.

Please don’t stifle The Narrative with the uglier narrative of privileged Pharisee-ism. The world and many of our brothers and sisters in Christ have lived under the tyranny of that narrative long enough…