Kirk Franklin, Cross Movement, Dr. Tony Evans and the Art of Compromise
Did you know that sometimes, when you take shortcuts to get what God has for you, you can end up with unintentional consequences that will last for generations?
Every urban Christian from my generation remembers when God used Kirk Franklin to change the way non-Gospel radio stations dealt with “Gospel” music. In the mid-90’s, East-coast Hip Hop saw an uprising underground/consciousness/knowledge of self rap. That stage had it benefits but it also had its low points for believers, namely all of the Jesus Christ dissin that came from Nas and Wu Tang and the like.
But in 1994, it seems that God was determined not to let his name/fame go unchallenged. Out of no-where, the Lord’s name began to be praised over the airwaves. It may have started on the Gospel stations, but soon, even urban radio stations were spinning Kirk Franklin & the Family’s “Why We Sing” in HEAVY rotation. This was seen as a victory for urban Christian music, and more importantly for the glory of God in a world that was determined to leave him out.
Fast-forward 5 years and enter into a basement discussion with members from The Cross Movement, Kirk Franklin and Dr. Tony Evans. Both Ambassador and Kirk were members of Dr. Evan’s church at that time and we had all performed at an evening service at Dr. Ev’s church. After the service we went back to Ev’s home and Kirk asked us to perform again one of the songs that we had done that night. And we did. After listening, Kirk just sat and looked with awe. We wondered what was going on. Was he about to offer us some kind of record deal?
Finally he spoke and said, “Don’t yall wanna blow up? That’s so amazing, why would you wanna keep it small. People need to hear this!” We informed him that we had nothing against “blowing up” but that there were certain things that we were just not willing to do in order to do so.
After talking for a while, Kirk shared some of the things he thought we could do to get more notoriety. He did not suggest that we water anything down, but it did come up in a round about way. But then he began to share his future plans (this was right before “Stomp” came out). He was excited about some of his upcoming partnerships with well established “secular” artist in order to help his thing “blow up” even more and his plans to “remix” certain secular songs with a “Christian twist.” Then, after noticing that we were not too enthusiastic about his plans, he asked, “What? Yall must be thinking something cuz yall ain’t sayin nuthin.”
We finally begin to share our concerns about leaning on secular artists for success and, how that has the potential to detract from God’s glory. We thought we had made a great point when we reminded him, “God brought you into the spotlight without any of that. Reason Why We Sing was all Him and He made the world sit up and listen!”
BUT, before Kirk could even consider the truth of that statement, Dr. Evens jumped in and took a bite out of CM. “Don’t you try to put that on him! This is his career and if that’s what he needs to do you shouldn’t make him feel guilty because of it.”
We were shocked! We were speechless! We were confused. Ambassador remarked, “But Ev, the stuff we’re saying . . . the principles we’re advocating . . . we got’em FROM YOU!” It was hilarious. It was immediately obvious that even though pastors often times mean well, sometimes they are not acquainted enough with the nuances of cultural trends and tendencies to be able to see how their principles apply in certain contexts. Whereas we, at least in this instance, understood precisely where things were going and could see the immediate implications at the street level.
Today, there are many moves being made to ensure that Christians, or the Christian’s art is not marginalized. Some of these moves may have unintentional consequences. Unintentional is one thing. But unforeseeable is another, and someone should be able to foresee the quagmire we are getting ourselves into.
Even if our pastor’s today give us their blessing, we must be sure that we are not simply running with their approval because, in our hearts, we know that the only reason they have approved is because they do not fully understand our culture. In Genesis, Abraham ran with his wife’s plans even though he knew, in his heart, it was not what God desired or designed to bring about his promise. And even though the Hagar initiative had little consequences in his own life-time, we see that as things got on, Abraham’s decision has not ceased to complicate things for Abraham’s children.
Kirk still went on to make some of the moves he would make; some he did not. Partnerships still ensued as Kirk worked with Ambassador and our protégé Da Truth. Every time Kirk sees me, he still tries to marry me to his sister-in-law. It’s all love. But I am excited that God did what he did in Christian Hip Hop history without any hint of compromise, because, as we saw with Abraham, God is going to do what he’s going to do regardless. The only question is, how will we complicate that mission (for ourselves and those that follow) along the way.
If this was helpful/encouraging/challenging/intriguing, look for my new book From Hip Hop to Hollywood: The Art of Christianity. Pre-order begins March 1st at http://www.urbanremixproject.com/shop/books.php