Religion & Culture | Chozenn's ‘Bawl Out’, a bridge too far
When I heard about the controversy regarding Chozenn's version of the song Bawl Out, I decided to do some research. I found a video of Chozenn explaining his thought process in writing his version of the song on the television programme On Stage with Winford Williams.
I was impressed with Chozenn's passion to get the gospel out by every means necessary, and he needs to be commended. I am grateful that God has called and appointed him for such a time as this, and we need to keep him in our prayers.
That said, I am having trouble with what he has done because this is a bridge too far for me.
Studying hymnology and church-music history, we find that in the past many Christian musicians have taken secular songs and put Christian lyrics to them. A few examples: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God' Search Me, O God, and At the Cross.
What makes what Chozenn has done different from what other Christian musicians of the past did in their efforts to redeem secular music for the Kingdom?
In answering this question, please allow me to ask a few additional questions. Are there secular songs Christians should not be listening to? If yes, which songs are suitable for Christian consumption and which ones are not?
Not all secular songs are bad. There are many great non-Christian secular songs, love songs, songs about freedom, and just good songs in general. Most of Bob Marley's songs are great examples of this. There's nothing wrong with those songs. But would Jesus approve of Christians listening to the secular version of Bawl Out and watching the official video by Dovey Magnum?
The answer is no.
A Christian should not be listening to Bawl Out, and that's the difference between what Chozenn has done and what other musicians of the past did. There are two significant points to be made here.
First, when Martin Luther set A Mighty Fortress to a secular melody, it was well known by the average citizen of the day. It was what some would call a song of the people. A modern-day equivalent might be Happy Birthday or Jingle Bells.
Second, if the secular songs Luther and others utilised for their sacred purposes were occasionally bawdy, the sexuality was veiled in innuendo and not explicit, to the extent that they could be sung by innocents who wouldn't pick up on the double meanings.
Contrast that with what Chozenn has done. First, in my opinion as a musician, he not only listened to Bawl Out but also took time to meditate on and digest the song, putting it on repeat in order to learn it sufficiently. It took many listens for him to be able to duplicate the song and release his version.
Second, Bawl Out is as raunchy as it gets (with a video that should be rated X), featuring lyrics that don't coyly hint at inappropriate sexuality but, rather, flaunt it.
Why would a Christian artiste take a song like this and put Christian lyrics to it?
God said He is going to lead us in our spirit, and after hearing the secular version my spirit got very troubled. Was Chozenn's spirit troubled by this? I started to watch the video by Dovey and had to turn it off.
There are secular stations that won't play the original version of this song. If it's not good for public consumption according to some secular stations, how could it be good for Christian consumption? Every time the Christian version is played, I can't see people who know the secular version thinking of Jesus. I can see them squirming, wondering what is going on.
The lines of demarcation separating Christian from non-Christian, holy from unholy, profane from the non-profane have been blurred. There has to be a separation.
Williams put it to Chozenn this way in the interview:
"You take a song that is speaking into sexuality, bedroom sexual actions. The melody and the rhythm are the same (even though) you put your own words to it, and you think this would change sinners to follow Christ when they listen to it? The secular receivers of the song, wouldn't they be reminded by your song of that flesh thing you talked about because of the melody and the rhythm?"
Chozenn did not give a good response to this question, but Kymono Mullins, an unsaved person, wrote this on Facebook: "I believe it's a mockery and should be banned. I'm not a Christian but that's just how I feel." This is very interesting coming from a person who tells us she is a non-Christian.
Even Dovey Magnum, the composer of the original song, said Chozenn should have used a different song. She recommended her song Prayer Me Use and Win, saying it would have been a better song based on appropriate lyrics and flow.
Chozenn has said, "The Lord deposited this song, like a bird float in my spirit." He goes on to say the Spirit of the Lord convicted him, reminding him of his worldly days, and told him to go back and impact the culture with his message.
He is right. We need to invade and impact the culture, but I am really struggling here. I am not saying God never spoke to him. What I find interesting is Chozenn did not tell us the Lord convicted him about listening to a song God would not approve of. God would never tell a person to watch a porn movie over and over again so he could help those struggling with porn. We are commanded to reach the unsaved, but this is not the way to do it.
There is a song we all learned in Sunday School that's appropriate here: "Watch your eyes, what they see. Watch your ears, what they hear. Watch your feet, where they go." We need to live by this song.
Will God accept contaminated offerings if we are sincere, with the right heart? No. Sincerity, though important, is not the primary thing God is looking for in worship.
Fellow musicians, singers, worship leaders, pastors and all those in ministry: Heaven's music bank is open. As we seek to bless God (vertical worship) and minister to the world around us (horizontal worship), all we need to do is get into God's presence through true worship and prayer, asking God to give us the melodies of heaven.
We don't need to imitate the world when doing so runs the risk, at best, of causing a brother or sister to stumble, or, at worst, of offending a holy God. There are enough God-ideas in heaven to last us a lifetime.
- The Rev Huntley Brown is an international concert pianist and an artist in residence at Judson University, Elgin, Illinois. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org