Derek Webb, that irascible warrior poet and musical prophet, has released a new song entitled, “What Matters More.” In it, he takes the church to task for its myopia on the issue of homosexuality, accusing the church of focusing on sexual ethics to the exclusion of the problem of poverty. In typical fashion, Webb uses his sharp tongue to really stick it to the church. Here are the lyrics:
You say always treat people like you’d like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality
You love when people put words in your mouth
About what you believe
Make you sound like a freak
‘Cause if you really believed
What you say you believe
You wouldn’t be so damned reckless
With the words you speak
You wouldn’t silently consent
When the liars speak
Denying all the dying of the remedy
Tell me, brother what matters more to you
Tell me, sister what matters more to you
If I can see what’s in your heart
By what comes out of your mouth
Then it sure looks to me like being straight
Is all it’s about
It looks like being hated
For all the wrong things
Like chasing the wind
While the pendulum swings
‘Cause we can talk and debate
Till we’re blue in the face
About the language and tradition
That He’s coming to save
And meanwhile we sit
Just like we don’t have give a shit about
Fifty thousand people who are dying today
The “fifty thousand” assumedly refers to a claim by the charitable organization MakePovertyHistory that says 50,000 people die of poverty-related causes every day. And so, in light of this sad statistic, Webb charges the church with apathy to the plight of the poor. Actually, no, apathy is too weak a word–he says the church doesn’t “give a shit about fifty thousand people who are dying today” in favor of having arcane arguments about the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality (“’cause we can talk and debate/till we’re blue in the face/about the language and tradition”). Those are strong words. Fighting words, some might say. So, I think it is fair to ask: Is Derek Webb right?
First, let me say that any abuse, prejudice, or physical, emotional, or spiritual harm brought upon homosexuals by Christians in the name of Christ is evil and pernicious. Christ calls us to transform sinners through godly love, not satanic hate. That is the clear message throughout the Bible, and that is the message of the gospel.
If Webb was making this point, and this point alone, then I could agree unequivocally with his message and his methods. But this is not what Webb is saying. He is claiming the church doesn’t “give a shit” about the poor while favoring disputes about non-important issues.
I think Webb is wrong. From my personal experience over many years as a churchman in a variety of denominations, I cannot think of a single person who didn’t “give a shit” about the plight of the poor. Additionally, after a simple Google search, I just learned that 80% of practicing religious people in the U.S. donate two-thirds of all charitable dollars in the country, with charitable giving by religious people declining just .1% during the recession years of 2007-2010. Contrast this information to the general decline of giving in America by 11%. According to the report by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Christian charities to the poor have seen donations either stay the same or go up during 2007-2010. Charities that have seen donations grow or stay static include World Vision, Compassion International, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities USA, Lutheran Services in America, Christian Appalachian Project, St. Mary’s Food Bank, Covenant House, and the Union Rescue Mission, just to name a few (a few, incidentally, that represent some of the largest charities–including non-religious–in the U.S.). In my academic studies, I’ve read or skimmed such books as American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, by David Campbell (Notre Dame) and Robert D. Putnam (Harvard), where I learned that faithful practitioners of religion give four times as much as their secular brethren, even though religious people are generally less affluent than secular people. It seems to me that the far majority of Christians really do “give a shit” about the poor.
I understand Webb is trying to push the church into giving even more; to focus on those issues central to the gospel and discard those that are incidental. There is real truth in that message. But Webb’s presentation of that message is suitable more for the idealistic college freshman trying to escape the midnight debates of the dormroom. For those in the church who work for a living, and yet still give away their hard-earned money, Webb’s message misses the mark. So much so, in fact, that I would ask Derek:
Please have a care.