Magazine article The Christian Century

Hip-Hop Embraced as an Evangelistic Tool

Magazine article The Christian Century

Hip-Hop Embraced as an Evangelistic Tool

Article excerpt

It's hard to get young people into the pews on a Sunday morning, but several seminaries think they have found a way to grab the next generation: hip-hop.

"If we're going to take young people seriously, we have no choice," said Alton B. Pollard III, dean of the Howard University School of Divinity. "When we talk about what's happening in the lives of young people, that's a subterranean culture that some of us just don't know how to get with."

Howard's recent annual convocation featured the rocking beat of Christian hip-hop artists Da' T.R.U.T.H. and Sean Simmonds, and professors are using the spoken word--poetry performed as social commentary--to examine the New Testament.

At Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee, several professors analyze hip-hop music in their classes as they study protest music. At Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, the 2005 book The Hip-Hop Church is used in courses on youth ministry.

"In order to be relevant, in order to do youth ministry, you can't do ministry without engaging hip-hop," said Maisha Handy, who has taught a course on hiphop and Christian education for two years at Atlanta's Interdenominational Theological Center.

Howard's Pollard concedes that seminaries "have come a little late to the dance," but says it's better to embrace hip-hop rather than be intimidated by it. And though some churchpeople might cringe at the genre's misogynistic, violent and drug-related undertones, churches had a similar reaction to jazz and the blues.

"Some artists do definitely exhibit egregious behavior and that behavior should never be condoned," said Joshua Wright, a sociologist at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, speaking at a hip-hop panel at Howard. "But this does not make all hip-hop artists devil worshipers."

Wright pointed to Christian hip-hop artists--self-described "misfits" who are caught between two worlds--as an example of how hip-hop can be harnessed for good.

Michael Eric Dyson, a Georgetown University scholar who teaches a class on hip-hop superstar Jay-Z, said religious critics of hip-hop need to look at their own leaders. …

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