Saturday, February 20, 2010

Christian concert for a public school?

I was listening to the radio on my way to the airport this morning, mainly to have some noise on to keep me awake. I was vaguely listening to some commercial about a benefit concert being held at West Lafayette High School, when a clip from the musical group was played:

"Jesus, help me see the morning light..."

Then I started paying a lot more attention.

Apparently the concert was to raise money for Haiti and for local student athletes in the Lafayette area. They would also be presenting an award to the student who was named athlete of the year.

...Am I the only person that finds this a bit inappropriate?

I think some schools have special rules where outside groups can rent their space, religious or not (correct me if I'm wrong). If this was just some outside group having a concert, it wouldn't bug me. But it seems like the public school system itself is sponsoring and organizing this. It's not just a band that happens to be Christian - they also chose to publicize it using a blatantly religious gospel soundbite.

What about the non-Christian students and student athletes? I was a student athlete - Captain of our golf team - and I would have felt extremely awkward if our award ceremony had been full of gospel music. It's simply inappropriate for a public school.

Am I overreacting? Was I just especially cranky at 6:30 in the morning? Should we not care since it's for a good cause, or should the high school had found a more appropriate, secular band?

Edit: Finally got some real Internet, and it turns out it's for Purdue students. False alarm. Thank you stupid uninformative commercial.


  1. I think you're right. Also having been a non-Christian athlete would have been feeling the same.

  2. When I was in middle and high school, we sang religious music in our chorus concerts. I don't think they were trying to send a message of religion, but music is still music, regardless of whether it is religious or not. Should the public schools ban the singing of all religious music or music that mentions god/jesus just to keep things perfectly secular? I don't think so, otherwise you'd be cutting out alot of really awesome pieces (many of the composers in the Baroque and Classical periods were commissioned by the churches, so obviously their music will be religious in title or - if a choral piece - in the lyrics). Should they never sing a Requiem again? What about state universities? We sang a requiem every year when I was in university, and many of the other pieces were religious in nature (of course, they also performed very non-religious pieces, such as Carmina Burana). It certainly wasn't because the director was trying to push a religious message - she was a liberal woman, a lesbian, and the director of a gay man's choir. Of course, I'm sure she was also trying to garner support within the community so more people would attend (I live in the Bible Belt), but I think her main concern was to make good music, as was, I believe, the goal of the music directors when I was in middle and high school.

  3. I'm glad it was a false alarm, but that's kind of a thorny issue, and for the most part I don't know that there's a problem, legally speaking, with a public school sponsoring a Christian band at a charity event. I say that only because every band brings with it their own ideological views, be they sociocultural, political, or religious. I'd only be concerned if the school was funneling the money to explicitly Christian organizations or refusing to sponsor secular bands as well. I think you'd have to be able to demonstrate some unambiguous favoritism.

    But yeah. False alarm and stuff.

  4. Personally, I'm a bit more concerned about what they're doing with the money: "Concert proceeds will help build a house in Haiti and provide scholarships for high school football players." Isn't that an odd combination? Why not just give it all to Haiti?

  5. Good point Crystal, but all musical groups that sing gospel do it with the purpose of spreading Christianity, this is an inappropriate group for a public school function. And, If they're impartially studying gospel music as part of a music class they should also have Hindu and Islamic hymns in the curriculum. This is a secular gevernment and public schools should have nothing to do with any form of religious proselitizing no matter what the religion is.

  6. The problem is that there may not be many non-judeo christian songs available for SATB middle and high school choirs. There is a greater array of foreign language pieces, which are adapted from animist traditions, but those can be very difficult to sing. And when middle/high school singing groups go caroling to senior citizen luncheons/retirement communities, they create positive publicity, which can often show schools and communities why these music programs need to continue. There was one choir teacher that did have students sing at Zondervan, but she was replaced the following year.

  7. >all musical groups that sing gospel do it with the purpose of spreading Christianity

    This is false, and if necessary I'll construct a counterexample.