Dr. David Moody, professor of broadcasting and mass communications, recently published the book, “Political Melodies in the Pews?: The Voice of the Black Christian Rapper in the Twenty-first Century Church.” Within it, Dr. Moody assesses Christian rap and gospel hip-hop as an evolution of black liberation theology. The book centers around the “theology of liberation” and how black churches can be more enlightened by this modern music. In a candid interview in his office, Dr. Moody gave details about what motivated his topic of choice and information about how this music can influence the black church.
Julia Nuzzo: What was your initial inspiration for studying the musical influences of Christian rap and gospel hip-hop?
Dr. David Moody: First of all, the book deals with black liberation theology. The seed was first planted in me in 2008 when Barak Obama had the conflict with his minister Jeremiah Wright, and I just became very interested in the subject. I’ve always been interested in Christian hip-hop and rap. That seed was planted in 2005, because of my background in broadcasting– working in radio, I love contemporary Christian music so, there’s always been an interest in that.
Nuzzo: Do you think the youth of today can accept this type of music as entertainment, and view it as something other than preaching?
Moody: There is a fine line between being entertained and being preached to or evangelized. Having a messaged delivered to you as far as the gospel is concerned, and that’s where you need to be careful. If a pastor is worth their soul they shouldn’t be in the pulpit to entertain people. The purpose of the message is to save souls and that’s the message that the Christian rapper, at least the ones I listen to, seem to subscribe to; it’s not just entertaining. People will be more inclined to have itching ears, meaning: they will want people to tell them what they wanna hear. That’s not what it should be. If you’re reading The Bible, God’s not telling you what you want to hear. He speaks to us and tells us what we need to know and what he wants us to know.
Nuzzo: How can black liberation theology emerge from Christian rap?
Moody: Liberation comes in from the freeing of one’s mind as well as one’s soul. So that’s where the connection is. I think the Christian rapper is doing the same thing. The pastors and ministers who were part of the group back in ‘65 and ‘66 that were concerned with Christian theology were very involved with the civil rights movement. Christian rappers of today have a different agenda and it’s not so much about civil rights but about getting his homies off drugs, stop gangbanging, etc. I think agenda and their message is different that was taking place in back the mid to late 60s on to the early 70s; where the term liberation theology stems from. Both groups are concerned with one’s mind being liberated and free.
Nuzzo: What is the main reason that Christian rap is being rejected from fundamentalist black churches?
Moody: The black church especially those who subscribe to fundamentalism are more traditional. A lot of fundamentalist black churches reject women preachers, women are not allowed in the pulpit, and that has a lot to do with tradition. They will use scripture to justify their stance on that. I think it’s a similar traditional thing. Sing the old hymns, anything they consider to be of a secular nature they reject. Again that’s not all churches; not all of them do. The churches that subscribe to fundamentalism don’t gravitate to the liberal side of things. They are pretty strict about that.
Nuzzo: What is the best way to get this music into black churches?
Moody: It’s slowly but surely getting into black churches. I think that clergy just needs to be to be more receptive to the music. It’s no different than having a praise dance team or a mime ministry perform in the church. Some churches now accept and will allow this. Both of those have been effective vehicles in terms of affecting the youth. Christian rap music and hip-hop is just another vehicle.
Nuzzo: Is Christian rap utilized at the church that you are a deacon/youth minister in Ohio?
Moody: Yes and no. But probably, more so no. My pastor will permit certain things. He has opened up and allowed mime and praise dancing. We haven’t really seen-
Nuzzo: So you haven’t gotten there yet?
Moody: Yeah, not really gotten there yet, but I think a part of that is that we haven’t gotten a lot of youth come forward to use that as a form of performance/ evangelism. I think he might be open about it considering what it is that the young person wants to do.
Nuzzo: Do you think Christian rap is more than just a new genre of music?
Moody: Its co-op from hip hop and that it really isn’t new, it’s just copycat something else and that’s where the argument has been that you can’t do that. I think that you can obviously. Because the same argument can be made about contemporary Christian music. Yeah, I think it’s another vehicle that can be used as far as the church is concerned, to reach the youth. I think that if you close the door on it you’re closing the door to evangelize and to reach out to a lot of youth that perhaps would have never heard gospel. You also have these Christian musicians’ music being crossed over onto mainstream radio stations, that’s what’s happening, it’s crossing over in secular formatted radio.
Nuzzo: Rap music is often associated with totally non-Christian values- do you think that’s why black clergy has not instated Christian rap as a vehicle to reach the youth?
Moody: I talk about this actually in the book; I make a comment in terms of some of the feedback of some of the grandfathers of contemporary Christian music like Phil Keggey, who happens to be a white artist who is a part of a group called “The Glass Harp,” that did rock music but he started giving into contemporary Christian music going back to the 70s and it was rejected in the beginning but is now being accepted by churches both black and white. I think as time goes on that churches will be more responsive to the music and the artists. In the beginning it wasn’t totally accepted.
Nuzzo: Why do you think it’s important for religion to reach youth in this way?
Moody: If you read scripture, Jesus used several different routes and vehicles to reach people. From talking on the hill side to illustrate his point and this music is no different. Is it any different from going to a contemporary church where the pastor wears blue jeans or when there’s a more traditional style of service where the pastors wears traditional garb in a pulpit. The message is being delivered but, the main point is who is your audience?
At the end of this interview he introduced the Christian hip-hop group called DC Talk, who are growing in popularity. Their music has the common hip-hop beat that traditional hip-hop has, but there is stronger moral values attached to it. This music doesn’t glorify drug use or objectify women. Instead it does put the guidance of God into the youth of today.