Often referred to as “controversial,” singer/songwriter Derek Webb has long been simultaneously the voice of the modern American church as well as the bane of its existence. His outspoken dedication to the missional and communal nature of the church, as evidenced by his music and interviews, is widely and often praised. In particular, Webb is usually considered the predominant public voice of younger Christians, especially those concerned about social justice issues and the role of the church in society at large. His vision seems to be a church that functions as a community of servants, living on faith, rather than a church that is essentially a political unit or a business, unless, that is, she is in the business of loving people deeply. Webb also has been outspoken in his belief that Christian artists must approach their work with much more courage and ferocity, without sugar coating their message or softening its potential impact.
Not surprisingly, Webb’s approach and way of delivering his message comes under fire from time to time. Just as many Christians consider him inspiring and forward thinking, other consider him abrasive and self absorbed. He’s certainly not one to shy away from tough issues and he stands firmly upon what he believes, even if he determines that harsh and/or critical words are necessary. Every now and then he’ll run into disagreements with individual churches, radio stations or Christian universities who disapprove either of his message or his approach.
But now he’s really done it. Webb’s record label, INO (a Christian label), is apparently unhappy with his supposedly forthcoming record, Stockholm Syndrome, originally due out at some point this month. In an email sent to fans today, Webb admits that he has apparently crossed “the line beyond which [his[ label can support” him:
i haven’t sent many personal emails to this email list but we’re in a situation that has gotten a little out of control and it’s time to fill you in. as some of you may know, i’ve been working for months on my new record, ‘stockholm syndrome’, which i’ve recently finished and turned in to the record label. they’ve been very supportive over the years, but this time we didn’t get the response we expected. it seems i’ve finally found the line beyond which my label can support me, and apparently i’ve crossed it.
i consider this my most important record and am adamant about all of you hearing it. we had originally hoped to have ‘stockholm syndrome’ out this month (next week even), but at this point we’re not sure when the record will come out and in what form. the majority of the controversy is surrounding one song, which i consider to be among the most important songs on the record. so we’ve decided it’s an appropriate time to break the rules.
but because of various legal/publishing issues we’re having to be rather careful with how we do what we’re going to do next. that’s really all i can say for now and i’ve probably said too much.
we have a plan and we’re moving ahead, but we’re not sure what kind of trouble we might be getting into. we’ll let you know as soon as we know our next move-
For what it’s worth, here is INO’s mission statement:
“We desire to work with artists who have a unique message, excellent artistry and spiritual maturity while serving them well through partnering. Our chief aim is to know God and make Him known through products that are spiritually significant, artistically excellent and culturally relevant. “
Certainly can’t help but wonder what Webb’s “plan” is. Perhaps, the album will be released in a digital format online, per his other recent ventures.
But more curious is the sudden controversy. Or rather, the sudden controversy that is so controversial that his longtime label won’t even publish it. Patrol Magazine has one idea and it may have something to do with a little four letter word that begins with “s” and ends with “t”. Patrol’s David Sessions links to Webb’s supposedly forthcoming “charity/activism” site with the domain name of giveashit.com!
As you can see if you follow the link, the site has yet to go live, but it appears to be legit.
Bob Smietana of Sojourners Magazine wrote recently that the site is meant to be a shocking call to action in an effort to build latrines for the poor around the world, especially in Africa. Smietana quotes Webb as saying, “…the twin towers fall every day in Africa for lack of clean drinking water—7,500 or 8,000 people dying every day and the church does not appear to give a shit.”
Webb goes on to say that “part of [his] job is to take language and redeem it and to use it for good. This is a great opportunity for [him] to use language creatively to stir people to action.”
I highly recommend reading the article in its entirety.
So there it is. If indeed INO prefers Webb not include the word “shit” in his album, as Patrol suggests, than they are making a similarly brave stand – they would likely lose some sort of profit without the pretty successful and rather popular Webb on their docket. Kudos to them, kudos to Webb.
Eventually this record will see the streets and we’ll listen and decide for ourselves whether the inclusion of such words is merited. And if that giveashit.com does launch, I for one hope it builds thousands of latrines worldwide.