Criticism: the documentary “Jesus Music” denounces the virtues and sins of Christian rock

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FILE – In this file photo from June 23, 2019, Kirk Franklin makes a gesture as he performs at the BET Awards in Los Angeles. He is featured in the documentary “Jesus Music”. (Photo by Chris Pizzello / Invision / AP, on file)

Photo: Chris Pizzello / Associated press

Christian America likes to play the persecution card, as if the country’s most dominant religion, with nearly 400,000 churches in the country, struggles to be recognized as a driving force of culture in the United States. It’s an easy thing to laugh at, 65% of America claiming to be the minority. But when it comes to Christian music, they could be right.

The latest count from the Gospel Music Association reports that 53 million Americans listen to Christian and / or gospel music “several times a week.” Yet ask an average music lover to name a contemporary Christian music number and chances are you will have a blank stare.

Despite sold-out arenas, tens of thousands of people at music festivals, and the movement of enough records to convince Billboard to have a genre-specific rating, Christian music is being ignored as a premier force. plan in the sphere of pop culture.

This is why “The Jesus Music” is the most important musical documentary of the year.

Go ahead and roll your eyes. Of course, “The Sparks Brothers” has the hipster appeal of music snobs and “Summer of Soul” has the quality and vibe we look for in a great musical doc. But “Jesus Music”, which spans the lifeline of contemporary Christian music from its genesis in the hippie Christ-fearing sect of Southern California in the 1970s to the praise and worship tunes that launch the hashtags of Today’s TikTok prayer, does what few rock docs can claim: It fills a knowledge gap on something that has been gravely under-documented.

“The Music of Jesus”

Rated PG-13: for some materials on drugs, thematic elements

Duration of operation: 109 minutes

Or: Opens October 1 throughout Houston.

**** (out of 5)

And unlike most fans who raise their hands of the genre, this film isn’t afraid to point out the flaws and weaknesses of Christian music.

The film begins in Costa Mesa, California, during the hippie era, when the Evangelical Chapel of Calvary dares to welcome people who wear jeans and avoid shoes. This acceptance of “otherness” spilled over into music, when Love Song, a group of young members of the congregation, was invited to play a youth function at church.

And this is where the documentary proves its relevance. It could have given us flattering testimonies that reek of the revisionist history of nostalgia. But “Jesus Music” wisely delves into how controversial this variety of music was in the 1970s.

Context is not only important, it is essential. One of the reasons Christian pop culture is so easily rejected by the general American public is that it is so often presented with sterile approval of being “family” or “clean.” But, as Jesus Music reminds us, Christian music is often created with the same anguish, confusion and passion as secular music. And his fans have the same unrealistic expectations as rock or country sidekicks.

This point is emphasized as the doc enters the ’80s, watching Stryper’s metal hair devotions and Amy Grant’s arrival as the perfect girl next door singing safe, family-friendly songs that kids really want to hear. Grant is the linchpin of this film (she is also an executive producer), the perfect example of the genre as a talented and charismatic musician who wowed Sunday Service crowds as well as mainstream music fans. Her story is more compelling when fans turn to Grant after her divorce from Gary Chapman and eventual marriage to country star Vince Gill.

And as “Jesus Music” moves into the ’90s and early 2000s, when the genre was so much more popular than most people realized, it examines an even more damning trait of contemporary Christian music: its sound. lack of diversity.

It’s a daring but rewarding move. The easy game would have been to focus more on the crossover success of groups like Jars of Clay or DC Talk, and the film does. But it lends more weight to Kirk Franklin’s experience as a black Christian musician who must have become popular in secular America before the largely white genre accepted him.

If there’s one flaw with the film, it’s that the current state of the genre, which seems as bland as its critics of yesteryear thought, isn’t scrutinized enough.

Maybe that’s where a sequel comes in. And, this movie and genre deserve a follow-up. Because if we have dozens of docs on punk rock, Christian music could use at least a handful of documentaries – as long as they’re as honest and self-critical as this one.

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