This track by Propaganda entitled “Precious Puritans” (PP) has generated not a small amount of commentary in certain circles of the Christian blogosphere. A friend first brought it to my attention with the following email:
Everything is seen through the eyes of race for people groups that are not the majority culture. This song points out a way white preachers do not get that. We have to confront our white privilege that blinds us to race issues if we are going to have serious efforts towards racial reconciliation.What do you think? Is the song off-base?
A number of things could be said in response but for the purposes of this post I’ll focus on the song & it’s message for the church. In short, I would recommend PP as a positive contribution to the overall discussion of racial reconciliation albeit with a few cautions & and a number of questions.
First a disclaimer. I recognize that lyrics will often lack the nuance more readily available to prose and that a certain amount of artistic license is granted to a lyricist in order to make his song “work”. In other words, I don’t expect a 3-4 minute song to cover all the fine points of a subject matter beyond the basic message at hand. So while I may push back on a few thoughts I hope to do so graciously, mindful that a single song can’t represent all the layers and shades of someone’s thinking. [see, for example, Propaganda’s own qualifications concerning the Puritans here.] Having said that here are my thoughts:
1) I find myself in agreement on the essential point(s). I take PP to communicate two fundamental points and I go back & forth on which one Propaganda considers the main point. First, Propaganda would have us recognize the racial insensitivity at work when white pastors blithely quote the Puritans. The Puritan participation, advocacy, and/or silence on the slave trade creates a bitter taste for black Christians who hear these men lionized from a pulpit. Second, Christians must recognize–and fight–the temptation to “pedestal” fellow Christians (past or present), acknowledging that we’re all “crooked sticks” that God uses to make straight lines according to His will. [I suspect this latter point is the primary point of the song]
2) The song paints a picture with an incredibly broad brush. It’s hard not to notice that Propaganda speaks as if the Puritans were a monolithic group, but history is rarely, if ever, so neat and orderly. I seriously doubt Propaganda intends to convict an entire group on the basis of a stereotype, but the language & tone don’t seem to leave much room for exceptions. I’m no church historian but is it right to talk as if all Puritans were slave owning/selling/hating bigots?
3) The song comes close to raising an impossible standard for public ministry. No pastor (or artist in Propaganda’s case) can rise to the level of inerrancy but that shouldn’t dissuade us from answering the call or commending certain men for corporate edification. As Propaganda notes, “There’s not one generation of believers that figured out the marriage between proper doctrine and action” and history bears that out. Peter was guilty of gospel compromise (Gal 2:11ff), Martin Luther was guilty of antisemitism, and Jonathan Edwards owned slaves. Even so, if God saw fit to use these men for the building up of His Church, shouldn’t we build on them too?
4) The song creates a host of unanswered questions–not necessarily a bad thing. Can I quote the Puritans to a white Christian/congregation? Should I never quote the Puritans to a black Christian/congregation? Is censoring Puritan quotes a prerequisite for celebrating diversity in the church?
Having listened to the track multiple times, I don’t think Propaganda is trying to write off the Puritans any more than he’s trying to write off his own ministry. Rather, we’re being challenged to acknowledge & confront the sins of our forefathers even as we stand on their shoulders to gain a clearer vision of the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Praise God! He uses crooked sticks like us and them to make straight lines. Now go read those crooked Puritans and marvel at His grace.