“How do I know where the Christian musicians I listen to stand on LGBTQ people in the church?”
This is one of the most common questions we receive. Inspired by some recent events (cough, Bethel), we decided to pull together a list of 20 artists from Billboard’s Top (Contemporary) Christian Artists from 2018 and list all the evidence we could find on their policy positions. We have contacted each artist to give them a chance to “clear the record,” and so far none have responded in time for the publication of this informal report.
Many of the artists are on staff at churches, and so in this report we provide the standard Church Clarity scores of the churches that employ them. But for artists who aren’t directly affiliated with a church, we will simply provide online evidence as to where they stand, if we can find any. We are not scoring each artist for how ‘clear’ they are because, as of now, we do not hold musicians or artists to the same standard of clarity that we hold churches. So why are we doing this?
Our primary goal at Church Clarity is to hold churches accountable to a reasonable standard of clarity for LGBTQ and Women in Leadership policies. That’s why each church gets a score of Clear, Unclear, etc. Our secondary goal, which is distinct but related to our primary one, is to provide people with the information so they know which churches might align with their values. That’s why, in addition to Clear vs Unclear, we often add a tag to indicate what policies the church has: Are they Clear Affirming or Clear Non-Affirming? This report falls in line with our secondary goal of values-alignment. So let’s get to it.
Here are the top 20 Christian Artists in 2018 compiled by Billboard, starting with the most popular artist...
Label: Centricity Music
Famous for her songs, “You Say” and “Trust in You,” Lauren Daigle was at the top of Billboard’s charts last year. She appeared on Ellen: The Ellen DeGeneres Show in late October 2018 to perform her single, “Still Rolling Stones.” Her appearance on the show, hosted by an openly gay woman, spurred a conservative backlash. When asked by a radio host whether homosexuality was sinful, Daigle said:
I can’t honestly answer on that. In a sense, I have too many people that I love that they are homosexual. I don’t know. I actually had a conversation with someone last night about it. I can’t say one way or the other. I’m not God.
(Source: “Lauren Daigle & The Lost Art of Discernment,” Jonathan Merritt, The Atlantic).
Daigle’s response would merit the “Actively Discerning” score we provide churches; read more about that score here.
Label: Fair Trade Services
MercyMe is an establishment within the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) industry, known for their songs such as “Word of God Speak” and “I Can Only Imagine.” The band does not seem to have a direct church affiliation. In a 2014 interview, Bart Millard, the singer, songwriter, and leader of the band MercyMe, said this about gay marriage:
People have asked me 'What do you think of gay marriage?' I wish there was a loophole that says it was ok because that would make life easier for all of us, but I can't find it. I try not to go there because that shuts the door so fast to having the ability to show grace.
His statement indicates a non-affirming position--we do not know if his position has changed since then. We do not have evidence about what the other band members believe on gay marriage or any other LGBT issue.
3. Hillsong Worship
We’ve written about Hillsong too many times. Hillsong Worship is the worship band of Hillsong Church, headquartered in Australia but with branches all around the world including Los Angeles, New York City, and London. They have released hit songs such as “What a Beautiful Name” and “Who You Say I Am,” not to mention classics such as “Shout to the Lord,” “Mighty to Save,” and “Hosanna.”
We have scored Hillsong Church as Unclear Non-Affirming because the main evidence of its policy is not found in its Beliefs or Policies section, but in the Media Releases section. Read more here.
4. Cory Asbury
Label: Bethel Music
The singer behind “Reckless Love,” Cory Asbury is the lead worship pastor at Radiant Church in Richland, Michigan; he is also part of the Bethel Music Collective (see #18). Radiant Church’s beliefs statement on marriage, which can easily be found, reads:
Marriage is a covenant relationship between a man and a woman, established by God as the foundation of family and human society reflecting the nature of Christ’s sacrificial love and devotion for His bride, the Church.
We have scored this church as Clear Non-Affirming.
In 2013, Cory Asbury tweeted,
“However, I still don’t believe God sees said ‘civil unions’ as marriage, therefore, when said gay people has sex, it’s still a sin.”
We do not know if his position has changed since then.
5. Elevation Worship
Label: Elevation Worship
Ranking #5 on this list, Elevation Worship is the in-house band of Elevation Church, headquartered in North Carolina with locations in Florida and Virginia. They’ve produced hits such as “O Come to the Altar” and “Do It Again.”
We have scored Elevation Church as Unclear Non-Affirming due to its affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention, which enforces a non-affirming policy. Elevation Church also had a marriage application which stated that marriage is “an institution created by God for a man and a woman.” The application has since been removed from its website but can still be found in web archives. We have also published a story by Nathanial Totten, a gay man and former music director at Elevation Church, on how the church’s ambiguity has harmed him.
TobyMac, or Toby McKeehan, is a Christian hiphop artist and former member of DC Talk. He does not seem to be directly affiliated with a church.
When asked by Billboard what his thoughts on SCOTUS’ ruling on gay marriage in 2015, he said:
I've always felt my music is for everybody. It's music about loving people right where they are and counting on a faithful God. I want my music in every home falling on open ears listening to the beautiful story of grace.
His response is evasive at best -- if we had to score it, we would go for “Undisclosed,” which is the score we provide for church websites that do not provide conclusive evidence about their actively enforced policies.
7. For King & Country
This Christian pop duo of Australian brothers, Joel & Luke Smallbone, based in Nashville have released hits such as “Burn the Ships” and “Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong.” The band does not seem to have a direct church affiliation. We could not find any information about their policy positions on LGBTQ people in the church.
8. Zach Williams
Label: Essential Records
Dubbed a “rocker with religion,” Zach Williams’ debut single was “Chain Breaker,” which he wrote while serving as worship leader for the Refuge Campus of Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Central Baptist Church is a Southern Baptist Church with a clear policy on marriage, sexuality, and gender found in its Beliefs section:
Any form of sexual immorality, such as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, pornography or any attempt to change one’s sex, or disagreement with one’s biological sex, is sinful and offensive to God.
In order to preserve the function and integrity of the church as the local Body of Christ and to provide a Biblical role model to church members and the community, all persons employed by the church in any capacity, or who serve as volunteers, shall abide by and agree to this Statement on Marriage and Sexuality and conduct themselves accordingly.... Because Biblical marriage is between one man and one woman, marriages outside those parameters will not be performed by church ministers or on church property.
We have scored this church as Clear Non-Affirming.
9. Hillsong United
See #3: Hillsong Worship. Hillsong United is part of Hillsong Music, along with Hillsong Worship. Hillsong United is a more externally-geared band and is the powerhouse behind the hit songs, "Oceans (Where Feet My Fail)," "From the Inside Out," and "The Stand."
10. Chris Tomlin
Ranked #10 on this list for 2018, Chris Tomlin is a fixture of the CCM industry. His songs, such as “How Great is Our God” and “Our God,” are regularly sung in churches. We could not find any evidence as to where Tomlin personally stands on LGBTQ people in the church, but we do know that he started, along with Louie Giglio, Passion City Church in Atlanta around 2008 where he served as a worship leader.
We have scored Passion City Church as Undisclosed, but we have formerly scored it as “Unclear Non-Affirming” when we found evidence of a leadership covenant application which asked applicants to commit to abstaining from “homosexual relationships.” That application has since been scrubbed from its website.
11. Casting Crowns
Label: Provident Label Group
Casting Crowns is a band famous for its songs such as “Who am I,” “East from the West,” and “Until the Whole World Hears.” It is led by Mark Hall, who is a Student Pastor at Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church, where other band members of Casting Crowns also minister.
Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church, located in McDonough, Georgia, is a Southern Baptist Church. Because the church does not state its SBC affiliation on its website, or any statement on sexuality or gender, we have scored this church as Unclear Non-Affirming.
Additionally, in 2014 Casting Crowns published a Facebook post in response to a decision made by World Vision saying:
“We've never agreed with same-sex marriage; but we've chosen rather than shouting out against life choices, that we would shout out that Jesus is better. Disagreeing with someone's lifestyle is not hate. We simply believe that God has a better way.”
This post indicates a non-affirming position; we do not know if Casting Crowns’ position has changed since then.
Label: Atlantic Records
A Christian rock band known for songs such as “Awake” and “Unleashed,” as well as recent hit “Victorious,” Skillet is a band composed of John & Korey Cooper, along with Jen Ledger and Seth Morrison. The band does not seem to have a direct church affiliation. We could not find any information about where the band, or any individuals within the band, stands regarding LGBTQ people in the church.
13. Tauren Wells
Label: Provident Label
The former frontman for the Christian pop rock band Royal Tailor, Tauren Wells is known for his songs, “Love is Action,” “Known,” and “Hills and Valleys.” He regularly leads worship at Elevation Church and Lakewood Church. He is on staff at Lakewood Church, home of Joel Osteen, and his biography is featured on Lakewood Church’s website.
Label: Six Step Records
David Wallace Crowder, known by his stage name Crowder, is known for his big beard and songs such as “Come As You Are,” “Red Letters” and “I Am.” Formerly with the David Crowder Band, he has also collaborated with Tauren Wells on “All My Hope.”
We could not find any evidence as to where Crowder personally stands on LGBTQ people in the church. He is not employed or directly affiliated with any church. That said, his label, Six Step Records, is affiliated with Passion City Church (see #10). Crowder was a founding member of University Baptist Church in Waco Texas, which has recently become fully affirming. Crowder has also performed on Franklin Graham’s Decision American tour; Graham has issued many anti-LGBT comments, of which there are too many to cite.
15. Rend Collective
Rend Collective is an Irish Christian band whose members met at Bangor Elim Church in Northern Ireland, with which they still have a relationship. Their current lineup consists of Gareth Gilkeson, Chris Llewellyn, Ali Gilkeson, Patrick Thompson and Steve Mitchell.
We have scored Bangor Elim Church as Unclear Non-Affirming.
We could not find any definitive online evidence of what the members of Rend Collective believe regarding LGBTQ people in the church. That said, the band has discussed LGBTQ issues on Twitter, particularly after people asked them why they performed with Franklin Graham (see entry above) in September 2018. The band responded through their Twitter account:
2b honest in an attempt to foster unity we try not to be selective in who we partner with under the banner of the gospel. But make no mistake - our participation is not a blanket endorsement of his [Franklin Graham’s] opinions. We are not homophobic - the gospel is for all.”
When a person tweeted at them to say, “surprised to hear you are supporting homophobic and anti-Islamic preaching,” referencing their performance with Graham, the band responded:
Don’t mistake willingness to stand on the same stage as agreement his whole worldview. We’re bringing the same good news for all humanity that we always do. Unity requires that we share space with those with whom we disagree. But we get your surprise! ... a gospel that is not for absolutely everyone is not Good News and it isn’t Jesus’ message
When a person asked Rend Collective on Twitter to clarify what they meant when they tweeted that the church should be a “welcoming family,” asking if that welcome included openly gay people, Rend Collective did not directly answer the question. The Rend Collective has been described by BillyGraham.org as “friends of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for years.”
Label: Atlantic Records
This Christian rock band starring Bear & Bo Rinehart, Seth Bolt and Josh Lovelace, is known for its hits such as “Brother (with Gavin DeGraw)” and “Keep Your Eyes Open.” We could not find any evidence as to where the band, or any band member, personally stands on LGBTQ people in the church.
Label: Reach Records
Lecrae, a Christian hip hop artist, is known for his albums, “Anomaly,” “Church Clothes,” and “Let This Trap Say Amen.” In this YouTube clip featuring Lecrae speaking at Resurgence Conference, he said (listen starting 10:38):
I live in the conservative South and there’s homosexuality rampant. There’s crime, and all types of things going on around me. I take my kids to the park and there’s two men kissing, and there’s people selling drugs, and I’m grateful to be there. I’m not trying to escape that, I want to be in the midst of that because I need to be there. The reason why the church typically doesn’t engage culture is because we’re scared of it.
This statement, dated in 2012, indicates a non-affirming position; we do not know if his position has changed since then.
18. Bethel Music
Label: Bethel Music
Known for its worship songs such as “You Make Me Brave,” “It is Well,” “No Longer Slaves,” and “Still,” Bethel Music is the worship band of Bethel Church in Redding, California. We have scored this church as Clear Non-Affirming; it recently launched a marketing campaign to promote an ex-gay ministry, Changed.
19. Micah Tyler
Label: Fair Trade Services
Micah Tyler is a former youth pastor and Christian pop musician known for his songs, “Even Then” and “Never Been a Moment.” We could not find any online evidence about his stance on LGBTQ people in the church.
20. Matthew West
Label: Provident Label
Matthew West is a well-known CCM artist whose songs “More,” “You Are Everything,” and “Hello, My Name Is” have topped Christian music charts. We could not find any definitive online evidence about his stance on LGBTQ people in the church. That said, his interview response in an All Access article in 2010 hints at a non-affirming position.