Kyle J. Boyer co-authored this article.
Snoop Dogg, The Clark Sisters, Bishop Rance Allen, and Tye Tribbett. Most of those names are synonymous with gospel music. Each is known for some combination of Pentecostal roots, contemporary sounds, and catchy melodies. Yet, they are now featured on a project that is sending shock waves through some corners of Christianity. Snoop Dogg’s new gospel album, Bible of Love, was released on March 15. The project is unique not because it is a gospel album released in the spring—that happens often. The album is unique because Snoop Dogg is known for everything but the gospel.
When many of us think of Snoop Dogg, the last image derived is of him possibly having a sincere and authentic relationship with God. How can one from Long Beach, California, who has rapped about drugs, sex, violence, and money possibly have a relationship with God, our God…?
The mere title of this album, Bible of Love, and some of the featured tracks force us to deal with this stark reality: the gospel is not reserved for just one sector of humanity.
Over the last year, the dominant conversation in the Black Church world, if not in the American Christian world overall, has involved the Millennial generation and our perceived lack of investment in the 21st century church. Also discussed has been Millennials and our perceived insistence on being included in conversations some think we haven’t earned the right to participate in. Still, we have to acknowledge that the “Snoop gospel” discussion is not solely a Millennial issue as it represents a conversation that the entire church must have about who, and what, is entitled to represent the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There is no doubt that as a former Rastafarian, celebrated rapper, and worldly music mogul Snoop is challenging the boundaries between the church and the world. Yet, is it possible that some are uncomfortable with that boundary being challenged because they haven’t yet resolved which side of it they are on?
[bs-quote quote=”We’ll watch nationally-televised award shows and praise God when our favorite secular artists perform gospel renditions, but cry heresy when the one producing the music doesn’t seem to live up to our standards.” style=”style-13″ align=”center”][/bs-quote]
It’s amazing how susceptible we are to that nasty disease called hypocrisy. We’ll watch nationally-televised award shows and praise God when our favorite secular artists perform gospel renditions, but cry heresy when the one producing the music doesn’t seem to live up to our standards. When we take a step back we’re forced to realize that no one person or group of people has exclusive rights to singing, writing, or producing gospel music, just as no one has exclusive rights to reading the Bible. It’s a sad lowering of expectations to think that the average person can’t appreciate the fire of the gospel message while also understanding the flaws of the gospel messenger.
It is wrong to conclude that by celebrating and promoting the message that is supposed to be at the center of gospel music, Snoop is disrespecting our stance on holiness or our beliefs in sanctification. We should appreciate that one who has traditionally rapped about vices has chosen to use his music to define love and mercy. We should appreciate that Snoop is promoting a message of grace and the forgiveness that emanates from it. So, we must confront such truth—that is, the truth of—what are these things in action? We’ve heard The Clark Sisters sampled on Jay Z’s Family Feud and now featured with Snoop. Once again we hear Bishop Rance Allen, our Uncle Rance, featured on another secular artist’s album. So, what exactly is the problem?
If we are to be the church, “the salt of the earth and light of the world,” what’s the issue? Is our faith that dense? Is our salvation that lucid? Is our holiness that fragile? Or are we just that judgmental and arrogant that we fail to remember, it wasn’t that long ago that many of us were bumping to explicit music from Tupac, Ludacris, Ice Cube, OutKast, or to go further back, Teddy Pendergrass and The Isley Brothers? The moment we begin to discredit one’s ability to impact nations because of what they are or were associated with, we become nothing more than contemporary Pharisees.
No, the gospel is not reserved for a portion of humanity, instead it is for all of humanity. It was Jesus who, in layman’s terms, stated, “I didn’t come for the ones who have it together, I came for the ones who are still searching.” Jesus essentially told us that his coming was not for the churched, but for the unchurched, the bound, and the mistaken, so that they might encounter the truth. And, here we are again, witnessing the release of another project that could expand the reach of the gospel, and it comes at the hands of someone we, the church, least expected. We questioned Lecrae didn’t we? We question Chance The Rapper. Now it’s Snoop whose sincerity is doubted.
The emergence of secular artists producing and singing gospel music is neither new nor taboo. We had no problem in 1980 when the Commodores sang “Jesus Is Love.” Aretha Franklin (the PK daughter of the great Rev. C.L. Franklin), Whitney Houston (the singing prodigy and product of a New Jersey Baptist church), Kelly Price, and even troubled and controversial R. Kelly have produced notable gospel singles and albums. Let us not forget Pharrell Williams, who is a son of the Church of God in Christ, and John Legend, who often pays homage to his own Baptist upbringing. These artists, and others, have produced songs that are sung in some churches today and at some of the most celebrated occasions and events.
However, the issue with Snoop is not solely who he is, it’s where he has been and who he has associated with. Franklin, Houston, Price, and Kelly are all byproducts of the Black Church. Each having sung in church choirs and ensembles and celebrated for their music gifts. Even after they left the church’s four walls and stepped into the realm of secular success many within religious circles continue to use the phrase “But they came from and belong to us—the church” as a mechanism of “tolerance.” Unfortunately, that same grace and mercy is not extended to Snoop.
[bs-quote quote=”The possibility remains that Bible of Love could remind backsliders that God loves them and compel them to come back to the sacred space of the sanctuary.” style=”style-13″ align=”center”][/bs-quote]
Last year, Chance The Rapper rose to fame for his unapologetically Christian singles, one of those being “Blessings.” Many pastors and clergy men and women had an issue with a rapper singing and promoting the gospel. Sounds crazy, right? Nevertheless, his boldness captivated the hearts and attention of millions, possibly leading numerous individuals to accept Christ or to entertain the idea of accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
We saints must remember that we fulfill our mandate best not as the judge nor the jury, but as witnesses for Christ. The moment we begin to forsake our role as witnesses, we fail to exemplify who Christ is to the world—the same Christ who told us, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13:35). There remains a powerful possibility that Snoop’s Bible of Love, like similar albums before it, could compel men and women, boys and girls to Christ. The possibility remains that Bible of Love could remind backsliders that God loves them and compel them to come back to the sacred space of the sanctuary. It is still possible that Bible of Love could ignite a fire within some young man or woman whose God-given gifts have yet to be stirred—after all Paul wrote in Romans that, “the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:12).
Church of God in Christ General Board Member and former International Youth Leader Bishop J. Drew Sheard once stated, “You can’t scale and clean the fish before you catch it.” Snoop’s album is welcomed bait. Plenty of gospel artists have lost their sound, authenticity, and distinctiveness. Snoop Doggy Dogg, as we once knew him, has collaborated with some of those who have not, and challenged us to be living Bibles of Love expressing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Kyle J. Boyer is enrolled at United Lutheran Seminary, recently published a devotional entitled Reflections for the Call: A Devotional for Young Preachers, and is a licensed elder in the Church of God in Christ.