Last night on the telecast of the 50th GMA Dove Awards, a portion of Kirk Franklin’s award acceptance was edited and omitted part of his speech, to the chagrin of many in the gospel community. Namely, RCA Inspiration SVP and GM, Phil Thornton took issue with the omission and called out GMA and TBN in a series of tweets. The controversy comes on the heels of what was an otherwise iconic night of celebration.
The Gospel Music Association replied with an explanation that many speeches were cut in the interest of time and that there was no malice behind the omission of a portion of Franklin’s speech. They also hoped to air the speech in its entirety, soon.
“A young girl by the name of Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed in her home by a policeman and I am just asking that we send up prayers for her family and for his, and asking that we send up prayers for that 8-year-old little boy that saw that tragedy,”Kirk Franklin
As stated by Phil Thornton, the issue is not in the editing itself, rather it is the content chosen to be omitted. While it’s easy to be upset with the Gospel Music Association and the Trinity Broadcasting Network, there remains a more prevalent persistence that demands our attention and action. Black and white Christians have very different experiences in America. While many white Christians still enjoy the many, even unintentional benefits of white privilege, many blacks in America are still subject to the fact that America’s greatest sin is its unrepentant, native sin.
Because we are monotheistic but not monolithic, we suffer chasms within the faith community. We can seemingly all agree on certain political points the bible supports, or do we? Entitlement benefits, morality in the white house and international diplomacy are all issues believers invoke scripture to support or refute. Police brutality is an issue many evangelicals don’t seem to feel the need to address. For this reason, a deep divide has persisted within our communities. But the DOVE Awards is not apolitical, not in the least. One of the show’s sponsors this year is My Faith Votes, an association committed to galvanizing the faith community to take part in each election. So, if police brutality is a political issue, it’s not a political issue the GMA cares to engage its base to take action against.
I’m not sure what the culprit is, whether it’s racism, apathy or a trivialization of the pain that persists in our community. Blacks today at large still face systemic racism and the fight for equality and equity in shared spaces rages on, even within the church. Black and white communities in the Kingdom still exist separate and apart from each other; and with that issue seemingly at the heart of the cutting room omission, I decided to share this essay.
The cacophony of cognitive dissonance is drowning out the sound of racial harmony in the Gospel/Christian music community
We don’t get to “shut up and sing gospel music…” when something affects our community, we are expected to say something. In fact, it’s a good idea that when you see something, you say something, right? In most cases, this is true. While we’re working vehemently to interpret scripture and its meaning for all members of Christ’s family, some issues are clear cut, er…black and white.
When Kirk Franklin graces the stage at Lipscomb University to speak during the LIVE taping of the Dove Awards, you can prepare to be amused and challenged. Franklin has mastered the art of universal communication and whether using self-deprecating humor or scripture, he reaches the listening audience in a way that only he can.
Over the years, his time at the microphone has matched his heart, sharing his hopes for racial unity and even taking a moment to pray. This year, at the 50th GMA Dove Awards was no different and Franklin took time to share what was on his heart about the tragic killing of Atatiana Jefferson here in our hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.
Miss Jefferson died at the hands of a police officer, Aaron Dean who has since resigned from the force and is now facing charges. Franklin has openly shared his heart about the shooting on his social media channel and for those closely following him, the speech at the DOVE Awards came as no surprise.
What was surprising, disappointing and even disparaging was the omission of a portion of Franklin’s speech on the edited, televised version of the awards show- to the dismay of many in the gospel community. This omission was seen as more than a cutting room floor decision, but part of a greater problem faced when the gospel and Christian music communities converge.
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Instead of harmony and reconciliation, the cacophony of cognitive dissonance further widens the racial divide. When one side can’t see what is impacting the other side, we can never bond together and work to solve each other’s problems- together. In truth, the fact that there are other sides when we are supposedly on the same side (the Kingdom of God) is a problem, within itself. Franklin has called not only for racial unity, but for love to increase. Love from the law enforcement community that will reach citizens and love from citizens to reach and impact the law enforcement community. Because so much time is spent apart in their respective microcosms, many gospel and Christian music artists rarely interact apart from the DOVE Awards.
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But when issues are raised in our shared spaces, don’t we then have the onus of at least trying to help? This again begs the question raised in Luke 10:29, “who is my neighbor?” For many, the issue of distance is the source of the dissonance. We often find ourselves pleading for help ad nauseam because our brothers and sisters in the Kingdom can’t feel our pain. “I can’t hear you because that’s not my experience!” Perhaps the source of the dissonance is distance to those in need, “I know nothing about that issue and don’t know how to help!” Sadly, the most painful source of the dissonance is the neighbor you tell about your problem. Because they don’t see you as their neighbor, they ascribe no ownership of the problem, nor can they see any potential for their investment in the solution.
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But if it ails one, it ails all…this is our belief as Christians, isn’t it?! Isn’t this why we send money and missionaries to third world countries? Isn’t this why we setup ministries in impoverished communities? The question today isn’t about who our neighbor is, the question today is about who the neighbor we’re willing to help is. The issue of police brutality has suddenly become political, though for years, it has been an extension of the plight of black and brown people in America.
Blacks were infamously brutalized in the south during the Jim Crow era and though now decades removed from the horrors of Jim Crow laws and policy, blacks still face many of the derivatives of oppression in official capacity. This often materializes in police brutality in minority communities. What’s worse is that though citizens are brutalized in white communities as well, there’s not as much outrage. This blanket sentiment is applied when the black community, inclusive of its gospel music makers speak up to raise their voices. Victim blaming is acceptable and many have yet to see the problem minorities yet face with police in their community.
Why? You’d have to spend years peeling back the layers of society to even begin to try and understand this phenomenon. Blacks who speak out against police brutality are actually speaking out for a cause that benefits everyone in the room when spoken in mixed audiences. Political alignment has muted voices in what would otherwise be open and shut arguments for God’s idea of justice and as His children. It behooves us to re-consider the allegiances the don’t align with Kingdom principles.
As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.Galatians 6:10
Amid all the backlash, there have been calls to boycott the DOVE Awards, TBN and any other entity that sides with any effort to silence any voice speaking truth to power. Trouble is, this ideology is so pervasive that it’s much bigger than the Gospel Music Association, Trinity Broadcasting, evangelicals, Southern Baptists, and our other neighbors who are content to turn a blind eye to the plight of their family in Christ.