Has Derek Webb crossed the line?

Just what line we don’t know. But according to a cryptic email sent to members of his mailing list this week, Derek Webb has apparently pushed the envelope a little too far for Christian label INO Records.  Here’s the email in its entirety:

i haven’t sent many personal emails to this email list but we’re in a situation that has gotten a little out of control and it’s time to fill you in. as some of you may know, i’ve been working for months on my new record, ‘stockholm syndrome’, which i’ve recently finished and turned in to the record label. they’ve been very supportive over the years, but this time we didn’t get the response we expected. it seems i’ve finally found the line beyond which my label can support me, and apparently i’ve crossed it.

i consider this my most important record and am adamant about all of you hearing it. we had originally hoped to have ‘stockholm syndrome’ out this month (next week even), but at this point we’re not sure when the record will come out and in what form. the majority of the controversy is surrounding one song, which i consider to be among the most important songs on the record. so we’ve decided it’s an appropriate time to break the rules.

but because of various legal/publishing issues we’re having to be rather careful with how we do what we’re going to do next. that’s really all i can say for now and i’ve probably said too much.

we have a plan and we’re moving ahead, but we’re not sure what kind of trouble we might be getting into. we’ll let you know as soon as we know our next move-

There is some speculation that the controversy might be over some strong language on the album. The web domain www.giveashit.org is registered to Webb, and it’s conceivable that the song in question may be related in some way. And while we’re dumping fuel on the fire of rampant speculation, knowing Webb’s outspokenness on social justice issues, it also may be in reference to a famous quote by pastor/sociologist Tony Campolo.

“I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

Whatever the case, my curiosity is officially piqued.

36 thoughts on “Has Derek Webb crossed the line?

    1. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the “unedited” version of the album was posted on NoiseTrade, with the Christian bookstore version to follow shortly thereafter.

      Alot of attention, publicity, speculation and curiosity going into the release.

  1. this reminds me of when david bazan put out his amazing album “control”, and *gasp* used vulgarity. he was on jade tree records, a completely non-religiously affiliated label, so he had no issues there, but the hip christian kids were all disconbobulated. on his next album “achilles heel” he had the amazing lyric “you were too busy steering the conversation toward the Lord to hear the voice of the spirit begging you to shut the fuck up, you thought it must be the devil trying to make you go astray, besides it could not have been the Lord b/c you don’t believe he talks that way”. maybe a bad example, b/c bazan is no longer a christian :/ but, we’ve had the conversation in here before about scripture & vulgarity, paul said shit in greek, isaiah referred to filthy menstrual rags (which is way more vulgar then a 4 letter word), jesus had very harsh words at times that in their context may well have been the equivalent of son of a bitch or bastard. “brood of vipers” and “whitewashed tombs” don’t sound very nice. i think webb being free to be himself is best for him. he’s too talented to be dragged down by stupid pop christian nonsense.

  2. Yeah, I my curiosity was piqued when I got that e-mail as well! I assumed it was a similar issue to his leaving Caedmon’s – his song lyrics were too colorful for comfort. They “parted ways” on friendly terms and Webb went on to begin to do his on stuff with lyrics that were more blunt than Caedmon’s would ever produce.

    I like Webb’s music a lot, but it’s still hard to hear him outside of the Caedmon’s type sound that I grew so used to from him.

  3. I think it’s interesting that if you’re a record label (or a person for that matter) that thinks “cursing” or vulgarity is questionable you’re considered “stupid pop christian nonsense.”
    It’s an age-old question of holiness. Drinking, dancing, smoking, cursing, they all fall into a gray area or at least an area that deserves caution and discernment from both sides.
    For me, in this specific culture, cursing is something that could possibly hinder my witness or testimony. Call me a prude, or whatever, but it’s how I was raised.
    “The question should not be, what can I get away with? Rather, it should be what best glorifies God?”

  4. i agree with jim, shocking i know.
    but also when i read his letter all i could think was, shamless publicity stunt. hey but it’s working isn’t it?

  5. jim i didnt’ say that in a blanket sense. CCM is crap. that’s my opinion, obv, but i’m not saying that you have to be vulgar to be “cool” or relevant. i’m just saying that i think it’s a silly thing that you aren’t allowed to be honest to yourself as an artist when connected with one of these labels. they’re more concerned with bubblegum imagery then with supporting artists being true to their art. if someone has no need to swear, they shouldn’t. everyone’s different, and everyone is influenced by different things. the same approach isn’t going to work on everyone. there are people like me who can relate to a johnny cash type who drinks, dances, smokes & swears AND does billy graham specials and loves the Lord more then anything. as far as webb, it’s a matter of artistic integrity, imo.

    1. Derek is free to be creative and provocative. He isn’t free to demand / expect others pay him to be provocative. His label has been very “cutting edge” and now they draw a line and its all about bubblegum imagery?

      This is all about effect anyway. God is still the judge of Derek and the heart behind this as well as the Christian store owner and and young family trying to disciple their young children in their choices of music.

      1. To be fair, ETM is right about INO. They’ve allowed Derek to say some pretty provocative things, which have often been very critical of the mainstream church. He’s enjoyed tremendous creative freedom with their support.

        But I also think Tim was speaking in general terms regarding his perception of the CCM industry. Not specific to Webb’s music or relationship with INO persay.

  6. I wrote a response out and then deleted it…multiple times. The argument just keeps going deeper and deeper philosophically and I am realizing that this is not the place.

    I love you Tim, you stupida$$ futhermucker.

  7. I’m torn on this. Because, on the one hand I frankly couldn’t care less if Webb curses like a sailor on his record or not. I’ll still buy it and will continue to enjoy his music and what he brings to the table.

    But I also side with INO’s issues with it. (Of course, remember this is ALL speculation. We really don’t know what the “controversy” is!) If you’re a parent, you kind of expect that the music in your local Christian bookstore isn’t going to have an explicit lyrics label on it. It’s just common sense.

    They’re in business to make money. They’re a Christian label, and they aren’t going to make a dime off of one of their most popular artists if the Family Christian Stores chain refuses to carry it. I mean, this is the same bookstore chain that put a magazine featuring prominent women pastors on the cover behind the counter like it was porn. I think they may object to cursing on a record in their store.

    A while back there were two Christian artists with cursing who put out songs I was going to feature here. One was John Mallinen who said “fucking” in one of his songs, the other band who I can’t remember said “shit.” I never did do the post, probably for the same reasons INO is leery about the album. 😆

  8. and that’s the issue to me. as a “christian” organization of any sort, you have a greater responsibility than just some dude who wants to curse on his record. there are so many things to take into account that sometimes (ala nyack college) it is easier to simply say no, you may not curse on the record or no, you may not dance, etc.
    I know, I have no real problem with cursing when it comes right down to it. I have no problem with beer. I have no problem with dancing. But they all are issue that divide, so sometimes it is better or more mature to simply say no for the sake of unity.

  9. Agreed. To an extent. We could say no to everything and still not have unity. Case by case, you just have to make the best decision you can on where you’re putting up parameters. In this case – if our speculation is correct – I agree with INO’s decision.

    I never really had an issue with Nyack’s no drinking policy for students. (Following it was a different story.) I did think it was far reaching to impose that same policy on staff. But that’s neither here nor there.

  10. Another layer of the onion has been peeled back.

    According to Patrolmag the song does in fact use the “s word.” But not only that, it is critical of the church’s treatment of homosexuals.

    Double taboo for the CCM crowd.

  11. A few things from Webb’s Twitter feed:

    …for now, i can just say this: the record has a lot to do with race and sexuality.

    …be sure, our label trouble is very real. but i can’t afford to miss any opportunity. that said, we’re about to make some kick ass lemonade.

    …something’s going to happen on or before may 19th

    Alright. I’m obsessed with this story, I admit. 😆

  12. so if these assumptions are right and he is being critical of the church for their treatment of gays and he is in-acting his freedom to use explicit language to do so…..
    what i wonder is what effect does he think this will have? i can’t see it changing anyone who he thinks is in the wrong. i can see it building up a critical, contrary, negative spirit though.
    i feel like there is enough of that. it doesn’t take much thought or faith or love to point out flaws, does take a good amount of arrogance though.
    but that is making a lot of assumptions based on not a whole lot of information.

  13. I can’t speak for him, I can only imagine myself in his shoes. So I imagine that alot of this has to do with getting conversations going. As an artist, that would be a big chunk of why I did what I did. Shine a light on an issue, get conversations started. He’s done it before with things that needed addressing. This issue really is one of them too IMO.

    And if that’s his goal. Well, here we are… mission accomplished.

  14. Thinking more about it…

    I’m not sure if criticism in and of itself is necessarily a bad thing. I think I’d be hard pressed to find any Protestants who think Martin Luther was out of line. But he raised a ton of key issues that the church at that time really needed to address.

    Webb has been a trail blazer, and has asked the church to look in the mirror on a number of issues in the past. I wouldn’t say he’s been coming from a place of arrogance, even when his messages are at their bawdiest.

    1. i think in this way it is hard to compare martin luther with anyone in our culture today. our culture values stepping out and disagreeing, and being different and being contrary. his didn’t. so what was dynamic and important and necessary then might not be so much now.

      1. Right. They were also major theological reformations. There’s obviously a big difference.

        But I do have a ton of respect for Webb putting himself out there as a voice what is willing to say what alot of us in the church think and feel, but can’t (or won’t) articulate. He could have taken the safe route, stayed in Caedmon’s Call and done the CCM thing for the rest of his career and made a pretty good living at it. But he’s following and speaking his heart. I can respect that.

  15. You know…Derek is really tipping his hand by allowing his name to be shown in association with giveashit.org. It only cost a few dollars more to make your name anonymous with your domain name. So, it’s obvious he wanted people to know that he registered that domain name.

  16. He’s been interviewed about it by Sojourners. The website is in conjunction with a latrine digging project he’s partnered with. (See the third comment in this thread)

    I don’t think that part’s much of a secret. The question is whether it’s related to the song and label controversy in any way.

  17. With respect to the question of whether it is appropriate for a person to use strong language to condemn the complacency/distraction/stupidity/forgetfulness/downright evil of those who go around calling themselves the people of God, one might be tempted to turn to the prophets of the Old Testament.

    I don’t mean to compare the moral weight of Derek Webb’s particular message to that of, say, Amos; it’s just that we ought to be careful in suggesting that it’s unhelpful or wrong to speak harshly about what we see as injustice in the church.

  18. Looks like we’ll start getting some answers tomorrow. From Derek’s Twitter…

    it’s a weird feeling to be so proud of something you were forced into. just wait till you see what we have planned. it starts tomorrow.

  19. Interesting thought from Image Magazine’s blog today:

    What does it say about evangelical Christians that we (yes, we, I’m implicated) bandy about the name of the Almighty God of the Universe—one represented by the four letters YHWH in Jewish tradition—in our pop songs, but tremble in fear before other four-letter words?

    Something bad, I bet.

  20. I don’t know Derek Webb’s stuff and only a little Caedmon’s call, but I’ve been around CCM almost since the beginning. (My sister had “My Father’s Eyes on vinyl.)

    CCM has gotten better, but the whole subculture is still too full of happy talk and good clean fun. I can’t stand to listen to Christian radio because it’s just top 40, and I don’t listen to any top 40 stations. About the only thing I buy from Christian bookstores is bibles. Culture wars bore me.

    The evangelical church has gotten so caught up in the externals of the culture wars that they completely miss most of what the gospel is saying. We’ve made it “just me and Jesus” and forgotten us and the world. We’ve labelled mercy Social Gospel and Liberal, and it’s Very Bad. We’ll send a few bucks to a Compassion kid (not a bad thing), or maybe even serve soup at the Open Door Mission, but not live in the city. There are members of my suburban church who are afraid to go downtown, and this is not a scary city. I’m no shining example, but I’m trying to do the right thing and be a good friend and neighbor to the people who live around me.

    I don’t really care too much if somebody cusses up a storm in their music, just so long as it does some good. Bruce Cockburn (who cusses like a sailor in concert) stirred up controversy with “If I Had a Rocket Launcher (some son of a bitch would die),” but I think that was more because his lefty audience didn’t like the idea of blowing somebody out of the sky even if they were killing innocent civilians. Bruce did it to make the point that he was really pissed that our government was supporting right wing torture states, not that he was really going to go Rambo.

    I heard Tony Campolo use his “give a shit” line when he spoke at Houghton College ages ago. It struck me as a bit manipulative, but it probably got the attention of the oblivious middle class kids there. You don’t have to use coarse language (fwiw, shit and fuck are coarse words, not swearing) to catch someone’s attention, but it can help. A good image, a metaphor, a story can do it too. I’ve always been interested in performance because you can show people things you can’t tell them. Photography, documentary, and trips can do the same thing. Heck, just getting kids to work on a house in a rough part of town is a step in the right direction, so long as they learn they are brothers and sisters with the poor and don’t give a little help out of a sense of noblesse oblige.

    If Derek Webb’s language gets some people to think about the issues he’s addressing and not just blow up another bubble in the culture wars, then good. If not, it’s just posturing and wasted breath.

  21. Ken. You took the time to write that, so I just wanted to say thanks. And I think your comments are on point.

    Now tell me. How come I don’t know you? And when do you want to get a beer?

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