Can of worms alert: if you’re not in the mood to get into something that might get uncomfortable, perhaps you’d better go here. Have a nice day.
My daughter’s favorite radio station is The Fish 104.7. It’s a nice-enough joint, I guess; I listen along sometimes. I will even play real, real nice and resist the incredible urge to do a riff on their tag line: “Safe for the Whole Family”. I won’t even ask the question, “is Jesus really safe?” Or, maybe I just did…but go write your own post; that’s not what this one is about. No, instead of opening that can of worms, I’m going to open a different one, brought on by The Fish’s promotion of Amy Grant, who’s in town at Family Christian Stores—resist, Byron, resist the urge to do a riff on how much is “Christian” about Family Christian Stores—OK, urge resisted, that can of worms left to be opened by somebody else.
Ah, Ms. Grant. A little history, here: when I went off to Bible college, I believe the first cassette (remember those?) I purchased was Ms. Grant’s first album, a self-titled offering that was what I think you’d call “Bubblegum Pop” as to its styling, a fun little thing with some songs that ranged from the silly (“There’s a grape, grape joy in Jesus, in the vineyard of the Lord”) to the more serious, I guess (“The Lord has a will, and I have a need, to follow that will…”). Funny…go looking for that album now, and you get the new, updated cover art (considerably more flattering than the original cover art—but I’ve reproduced the latter). At any rate, I loved Amy, scarfed up her stuff, overlooked some things that I didn’t care for so much. After all, Amy was my age (she turns 50 this year, two-and-a-half months after I hit that same milestone; I’m going out on a limb to say that she wears those nearly-50-years a little better than do I, though if I had her stylists and beauty consultants…never mind). To this day, if you asked me what albums I loved the most, of all I’ve ever owned, I’d have to put “Straight Ahead” and “Lead Me On” very, very high on that list.
At any rate, I stuck with Amy, even when she admitted that sometimes she was…well, let’s say she used a word that indicated she sometimes felt in a way that would indicate she’d like to have sex (shocking! Christians sometimes feel that way? My word…), and even when she said that she enjoyed a beer sometimes (what? A Christian? No!). I’ve seen her in concert on several occasions, and on the last occasion, at a Christmas concert sometime in the late 90’s, I actually got to go backstage and meet her, had my picture taken with her, etc. Yeah, there we are, me and Ame, smiling like old buds. We make quite the couple, eh? Golly, did I look like a goof…
OK, so holding all that history in mind, fast-forward to a few years ago. Amy and her husband of many years, Gary Chapman (saw ’em in concert, in Roanoke, when they toured together, prior to them being husband and wife; in keeping with the theme of “Amy is just a step behind Byron Harvey in life”, she and Gary were married the day after Karen and I), had had some marital struggles, fueled in part by some serious substance issues Gary was dealing with (and about which he has been candid, to his credit). We’re all sinners; we all struggle with stuff; Jesus loves us all in spite of, not because of, our junk. Gary and Amy are no different in that respect.
But Amy chose to divorce Gary. Now, in one very real sense, that’s just none of my business, or yours. None…in one sense. What goes on in their home doesn’t affect me, except that any time a professed Christian marriage fails, it’s a shame, and casts a negative light on the name and cause of Christ. Her rationale was the oft-repeated refrain of “irreconcilable differences”, and I’ll again use exemplary restraint with regard to my feelings on that term, except to say that in a marriage between Christians, there is no such thing. I say that granting immediately that it certainly “takes two to tango” when it comes to marriage, that there is such a thing as an “innocent party” (not a “perfect party”, of course, but in our parlance, an “innocent” one), that marriage is tough enough when two sinners are married to each other in Christ, and it’s gotta be just incredibly difficult under other circumstances. But back to the point of this paragraph: in one sense, the circumstances of their divorce is none of my business.
But in another sense, the circumstances of their divorce is very much my business, and the business of every Christian who does things like listen to The Fish 104.7, or who frequents Family Christian Stores, etc., and it is this: while Christians, sadly, get divorced all the time, the standard is higher for those who would profess to stand and sing—or teach—or preach—for Christ. Now, I’m open to the argument that the standard isn’t as high for someone such as, say, Ms. Grant as it is for me in that regard; I’m not sure I buy it, but I’m open to it. Fair enough. But what I’m not open to is the uncritical acceptance and promotion of any person—Amy Grant, Billy Graham, Byron Harvey, anybody—as a qualified and fitting promoter of Christian faith. And that’s where the rub comes in. But I’m still not ready to answer the question I raised in the post’s title, because I want to be perfectly, crystal clear before I do:
- I do not in any way, shape, or form sit in judgment upon Ms. Grant’s eternal soul. In fact, I accept her profession of Jesus as Savior. One might argue that there is evidence to the contrary, but there’s evidence to the contrary in every Christian’s life—mine included—and so this post is categorically not about calling her salvation into question.
- I do not claim to have detailed knowledge of her circumstances. What I have are questions, nothing more and nothing less, questions which have never, to the best of my understanding, ever been answered (and I have sought answers; that’s a different post). Questions which ought to be asked of Ms. Grant, yea, of anybody in this situation. I do not have answers—but the questions need to be asked, at least before uncritical allegiance is given.
- I do not make the claim that Ms. Grant’s subsequent remarriage to Vince Gill constitutes adultery. I’ll refer you to the previous bullet point. It might constitute adultery, but it’s possible that she had Biblical grounds to divorce Mr. Chapman; I simply don’t know. Do know this: if she didn’t have such grounds, then she is living in an adulterous situation. Once again, let me be clear: there are many, many professing Christians who are in this situation, and many, many professing Christians who have repented of that sin, and it is my counsel to them—and to Ms. Grant, if this is her situation—to remain now in that situation, because another divorce is not the answer. But my point is, I don’t know.
And that’s just the point: I don’t know. You don’t know. And some things about the situation, I don’t care to know, don’t deserve to know, shouldn’t know. But prior to encouraging my daughter to listen to Ms. Grant’s music; prior to buying her music myself (and I’m sure it’s beautiful, particularly given my educated hunch that she’s mellowed musically through the years, matching my mellowed tastes); prior to endorsing her in doing what she’s doing, there are some questions that, in my judgment, need to be answered. Indeed, the failure to ask such questions strikes me as a prime example of one of the most devastating plagues currently…plaguing…the evangelical movement in America: an appalling lack of discernment. Ironically, The Fish 104.7 was soliciting “Questions for Amy Grant” this morning.
So you know, I was a good boy…
But here are the questions I’d ask Amy Grant:
- Amy, did you have Biblical grounds to divorce Gary Chapman? I won’t go here into what those grounds are; those of you who are believers probably (hopefully) have some idea of what they might be, even if we might differ on certain particulars. Now obviously, if her answer were “yes”, most of the follow-up questions would be rendered moot. I’ll actually assume a “yes” answer for the next question, and a “no” answer for the rest.
- Amy, was your relationship with Vince Gill completely aboveboard during your marriage to Mr. Chapman, and would an independent, knowledgeable observer of it agree that it was? Again, I stress that I do not know the answer; these are questions, folks. I raise this one, though, because her former husband has suggested this not to be the case. He could be lying. He could be bitter. But isn’t the question worth asking?
- Assuming a “no” to the first question (as I will do from here on out), Amy, what kind of accountability to a local church—and its leadership—was in place in your life during the period that led up to, and included, your divorce—and did you submit yourselves fully to this authority? This question is critical, and ought to be critical for all believers: under whose authority—real, legitimate, Biblical authority with teeth in it—do you live? Are you part of a church, Christian, that is willing (if need be, perish the thought) to kick you out? If not, you have two legitimate options: one, demand of leadership that it changes its ways such that it becomes a church willing to kick people out, or two, leave that church and find a real one. Yes, you heard me.
- Amy, did a church work with you through the process of repentance, confession, and restoration—and then did that church pronounce you restored, and ready again to minister publicly? If so, what church is that? There is not a bone in my body that believes that a divorced person is forever disqualified from ministering, depending on the circumstances, of course (which again, we won’t get into here). But when a person sins so publicly, there must be real repentance and restoration; absent and until this, the person is disqualified from holding such a public position of Christian leadership (check that: delete “public”).
- Amy, particularly given your high profile, do you have an ongoing accountability relationship even now with a church/its leadership whereby you are held accountable? This question relates to the possibility that she’d fall again into the same sin—and to what would keep her from again tarnishing the reputation of Christ in this way (again, I’m only assuming a “no” to the first question, not making any judgment).
- One more question, Amy (and I ask this to any Christian radio station/publisher/bookseller that would promote her): if a young lady were facing the exact same circumstances as you did in your marriage to Gary, would you counsel her to take the same action you did—and can you justify this Biblically? This goes to questions of “hero worship”, and to her current fidelity to the Scriptures. If Ms. Grant is indeed ministering for the Lord, then she must be in line with clear Bible teaching. This question goes to that.
The deeper point isn’t really about Amy Grant at all; it’s rather about some other things:
- Our obsession as evangelicals with the bigger, the “better”, the more glamorous, the “we’re as hip and cool as the world”—and the way that causes us to gloss over and/or excuse failings in the lives of our “heroes”;
- The lack of accountability on the parts of so many of our “heroes”, our “Christian radio stations”, our publishing houses, our “Christian” booksellers;
- The glaring lack of discernment that is being fostered by some of the above, and complicit in this are a good percentage of churches and Christian leaders that just look the other way, at best;
- The woeful ecclesiology of many (dare I say, most?) Christians, such that the local church is effectively superfluous.
I tried once to address some of these issues with several different folks, including a church that was hosting her concert in the Pittsburgh area (I got what was, effectively, a pleasant brush-off). I tried to address them with the general manager of the Pittsburgh equivalent of The Fish 104.7; for my trouble, I got the nastiest email I’ve ever received in my life (and frankly, it’s not even close). I tried a couple of other routes—but everybody wants to sweep questions like these under the rug. It’s easier just to turn the music up and sing along, apparently…
I want to close with a few words directed toward Amy Grant (not that I believe she’s reading—though she oughta be, right? If so, hey Amy! Remember me?): first, I rejoice in the common salvation that I believe we share in Jesus Christ. I do not hesitate to call her “sister”. Second, I am thankful for how her music ministered to me for many, many years. “Grape, Grape Joy in Jesus” didn’t do much for me, but Michael Card’s “El Shaddai” played in my head over and over; “Sing Your Praise to the Lord” reminded me to do just that; about 2/3 of the Lead Me On album hit me from every which angle and both ministered to me and pummeled me around a little bit. And I could go on in that regard, though time has faded some of those songs from memory, and it’s been years since I’ve listened. Third, her gifts and talents can, and will, be used by God as they have been. God uses frail people such as us, warts and all. If He can use me… Fourth, these questions, if she’s never answered them (and I’m not aware that she has), need to be answered, and maybe some more. What a testimony of God’s grace could be wrought from “coming clean” on these issues. Finally, God’s grace is where it’s at; it’s what it’s all about. It’s available and lavish and undeserved and costly and free at the same time, and without it, we’re all sunk. With it, the words of “1974” ring again so true:
Purer than the sky,
Behind the rain.
Falling down all around us,
Calling out from a boundless love.
Love had lit a fire;
We were the flame.
Burning into the darkness,
Shining out from inside us.
Stay with me.
Make it ever new,
So time will not undo,
As the years go by,
How I need to see
That’s still me.