When a Christian Drummer Tours With Lady Gaga
Consider this hypothetical scenario. You are a young Christian who is in school studying for a music major. You are also an aspiring musician and desire to be a drummer by profession. You’ve got some great skills, and some doors of opportunity have opened up for you to play with some pretty high-level bands. You are being recognized by some in the music industry as an up-and-comer with great potential, until one day you get a phone call. Lady Gaga’s manager is looking for a new drummer for her upcoming tour, and he’s offering you the job—barring a successful audition, of course.
What do you do?
This is the scenario that was put forth before me just the other day. It is a hypothetical one, mind you. I don’t know any Christian drummers playing for Lady Gaga. But I do have some students in my youth ministry who are moving towards “crossover” music, meaning they are Christians who aren’t necessarily hoping to play and perform only “Christian” music but also secular music as well. One is a drummer, and this imaginary circumstance came up as a topic of discussion.
Compromise or Opportunity?
As a Christian, any musician has a responsibility to uphold their faith with integrity and a clean conscience. They should not use their skills to sin against the Lord in any way, but must do all that they do to the glory of God (as any Christian ought). So how exactly would that work in a scenario like this one?
I know for certain that Christians would be divided in the responses. One might say that to drum for Lady Gaga would be supporting and even helping to proliferate her music and values, which most would regard as being completely antithetical to Christianity. Therefore, one could conclude, it would be a clear-cut case of compromise and participation in something that does not honour God.
Still someone else might argue that it is an opportunity to bring God’s light where it would otherwise not be present. To have the chance to meet Lady Gaga and others in the music industry who are in need of the message of the gospel would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It could be seen as God opening a door for you to bring his love to people who would probably never encounter it anywhere else.
These views and others were debated back and forth among myself and others who were mulling over this fanciful situation. I was definitely leaning on the side of thinking that it would be too much of a stretch to participate in a Lady Gaga show night after night and still feel like I was honouring God with my talents. That is, until someone in the room made a comment that caught me off guard.
“It’s just like Naaman,” he said.
Naaman the Compromiser?
I was confused. All of us were. Naaman? You mean the guy from the Old Testament who had leprosy? What does that have to do with this?
To my embarrassment, this man pointed out a detail in the story of Naaman that I had never caught before. In fact, I was so unsure of what he was saying that I had to look it up for myself. But, sure enough, there it was in 2 Kings 5. Naaman, an ungodly man and leper from another nation, came to Israel to see if Elisha the prophet could heal him. In a strange series of events, God does heal Naaman through Elisha and Naaman desires to give the prophet a gift of thanks, which Elisha refuses. Read what happens next and see if you spot the relevant point from the conversation:
“If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. 18 But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.” 19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said.
Do you see the parallel?
Naaman became a worshipper of God and refused to sacrifice to any other god but the Lord. However, he had a dilemma. His master back home still worshipped false gods. And, as an elderly man (or so it seems), Naaman must sometimes support his master’s arm while walking. This will inevitably put Naaman in an awkward situation, one where he must enter the temple of a false god and bow down so that his master too can bow in pagan worship. For this, Naaman asks the Lord’s blessing. And, in what may be somewhat of a surprise, Elisha grants it.
The Moral of the Story
What are we to make of this? I try to imagine myself in Elisha’s shoes. I am sure I would have responded quite differently than he. I probably would have said that to continue to help his master worship a false god would be a weakening of his new-found principles. I would have asked Naaman what kind of witness he felt he was leaving on those who saw him do this. I would have suggested that the best course of action would be for him to stand up to his master, refuse to support his pagan idolatry, share the true God with him, and suffer whatever the backlash would be. C’mon, Naaman…quit being a compromiser!
Yet, evidently, Elisha saw things differently. He did not see it as an act of compromise or something that was not permissible in the eyes of God. Why not? The answer, unfortunately, I simply do not know for sure. It could be that Naaman’s heart was not bowed in worship or in support of his masters idolatry, and therefore his actions were not held against him. Or it could be that we are not accountable for the actions of others despite the fact that our own actions may be somewhat intertwined with theirs. It is hard to say. I wish Scripture elaborated more on this, because it sure is an interesting story that says something about the way God sees our interaction with unbelievers. And how does this relate to the teachings of the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 8-10, where Christians are trying to figure out if they can eat meat that has been offered in sacrifice to idols? I will need further reflection and prayer on this one, but it did give me new perspective on things and a different angle to consider.
So, what of the Christian drummer? Ought he to play for Lady Gaga the way Naaman bowed in the temple, with a heart that does not support it but is there to serve nonetheless? Should a Christian drummer walk into a modern-day pagan temple (aka concert venue) and hold the hand (aka play the drums) for a non-Christian who is offering up a sacrifice of praise (aka performance) with no desire to glorify God at all?
It’s a tough question, and I don’t pretend to have the right answer. All I know is that the issue may not be nearly as black and white as many of us would suggest.