Opinion

A tale of two soundtracks

U2 on stage during the opening concert of thier global The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on May 12, 2017. Photo by Nick Nidlick/Reuters

A “Make America Great Again” hat in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 19, 2017. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/James McNellis

(RNS) The Trump administration held an Independence Day rally at the Kennedy Center, recently in which the choir from First Baptist Church Dallas sang a newly composed work for the occasion: “Make America Great Again.”


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Yes, the campaign slogan was set to music and offered as a paean from the evangelical community to their favorite American son, President Donald Trump.

It is no secret white evangelicals support the president. Trump is, to many, an answer to prayer. The choir’s appearance is, in this way, unremarkable. Except that “Make America Great Again” has now received the Christian Copyright Licensing International seal of approval.

Yes, Christian nationalism has its first anthem and it’s licensed on the most mainstream of worship music sites.

Progressive Christian bloggers are going bonkers.

“The mere existence of a song like ‘Make America Great Again’ in a database of so-called ‘worship’ songs highlights the degree to which American Christianity has sold its soul to a gospel of power and self-interest,” wrote Jonathan Aigner.

Even the satirical Babylon Bee could not pass up a jab at the song and the implicit marriage of nationalism and Christianity: “After an hour-long service commemorating Independence Day at First Baptist Church in Dallas, a beaming Pastor Robert Jeffress reported that ‘dozens and dozens’ in attendance accepted the United States of America as their lord and savior.”

Throughout its history, American Christianity has made room for patriotic songs from the national anthem to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in its hymnals. The present-day political rancor, however, has cast a different light on this new anthem.

It seems Christian nationalism has a new soundtrack. Of course, that’s not the only music that we’re hearing these days. Christian globalism, too, has a soundtrack.

U2 is on tour, a revival of sorts, celebrating the 30th anniversary of their album, “The Joshua Tree.”

U2 has been a vocal progressive political voice for decades.

U2 on stage during the opening concert of their global “The Joshua Tree” 2017 tour in Vancouver, British Columbia, on May 12, 2017. Photo by Nick Nidlick/Reuters

The new tour has focused on various topics of global concern such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic, poverty, and women’s issues. The election of Donald Trump has not escaped the band’s harsh critique either.

As their popularity has increased over the years, members of the group have been more comfortable talking about the explicitly Christian content of their work. Bono, especially, has been in the limelight as a Christian artist.

These two musical events bear comparing because they serve as a musical microcosm of the divide among Christians between Christian nationalism and Christian globalism. There are competing versions of public religiosity at work.

One sees the prominence of national identity as paramount and the other sees the global identity of Christianity as paramount.

Both camps use the language of justice and power. They both depend on a kind of social cohesion to fulfill their religious vision. We may paint these with liberal or conservative brushstrokes, but it is all about communal identity and what is considered blessed or gifted with divine fiat.

During the 20th century, American Christianity, especially American evangelicalism, suffered through what has been called “the worship wars.” Communities split over the issue of musical style or genre. Organs were torn out of sanctuaries. Electric guitars in worship were derided as “too secular.”

Until recently, I would have told you that this “war” was something from the recent past.

The worship wars, however, are ramping back up. But this time it’s not the organ or the guitar that are at issue.

Politics and the heart of American Christianity are on the battlefield.

(Tripp Hudgins is a musician and scholar based in Berkeley, Calif. Follow him on Twitter @tripphudgins)

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Tripp Hudgins

27 Comments

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  • I have all of their music up to 1992 and I didn’t peg them as religious via their music.

  • Gloria and 40 are explicitly religious. As a kid in the 80’s I was oblivious to the references, too. To me, that’s one of the great strengths of their work.

  • “Christian nationalism and Christian globalism” I haven’t heard of this divide described this way but I think it’s a pretty good discription. It’s much better than the left vs right or a liberal vs conservative view, I don’t know if many people outside of this faith understand this. Thank you for this article.

  • If Jeffress indeed declared “that dozens and dozens”…”accepted the United States of America as their lord and savior,” then he needs to seriously reframe his theology, or those dozens do.

  • Early on they were fairly unambiguous about it with:
    “I Will Follow”
    “Gloria”

    But after Bono’s brief but obnoxious stint with Evangelical Christianity started to rub other members the wrong way and nearly broke up the band, it was tempered a bit. Leaving things a bit less certain such as:

    “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”

    My interest waned severely after Achtung Baby. I went from major fan to passing one after that album.

  • My interest waned severely after Achtung Baby

    Do you think it was Bono’s obnoxious evangelicality that fueled his earlier, more interesting, work?

  • Oh definitely. But then again, my favorite U2 album was the one after Bono mellowed out a bit, The Joshua Tree.

  • The often-cited statistic 81% of evangelical Christian voters voted for Trump shows when there’s a choice between love and hate, they chose hate deliberately.

  • Only “Progressive Christian bloggers are going bonkers”, brother Tripp Hudgins? Your standard-issue, biased thinking there but not true. Check out my Biblical Christian sister, Heather Clark’s Christian News Network – the likes of whom have been demoted by megachurchman Robert Jeffress to the rank of, and I quote him, “Nibbling Evangelical Gnats”! I’m “proud and grand” (a phrase from Gary Moore’s idolatrous hymn) of that title, thank you very much. That said, let me now go “Nibbling Evangelical Gnat” at your pro-Bono (pun, maybe) commentary:

    What – U2’s “‘The Joshua Tree’ 2017 tour” does “serve as a musical microcosm of … Christian globalism” as a “public religiosity” for it “sees the global identity of Christianity as paramount”? How do you come up with these flowery myth-making words all on your own? Bono would be the 1st one to strike you down for putting those words in his mouth, then just as quickly “cud”-ding them out. Do you even know how shallow and random his “public religiosity” really is? Listen to this:

    “The most powerful idea that’s entered the world in the last few thousand years—the idea of grace—(is) why I am a Christian. … In my case grace is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff—when I think of the cross, I just see mine, and everyone else’s s*** up there.” (Source: Michka Assayas, Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas, Riverhead, 2005, pages 226-228)

    By the way, The Gospel Coalition puts out a pro-Bono (pun again) review of “The Joshua Tree” turning 30. They’re conservative Evangelicals, so there goes your hypothesis of “the divide among Christians between Christian nationalism and Christian globalism.” Ridiculous theory, that.

  • And as Tripp Hudgins’ reliable source, to boot. Like I said, one ridiculous theorist, he is. Proper research, dude, unless you’re Tripp-in’.

  • When I came to that conclusion too, I stopped being a U2 fan for their lyrics originally.

  • Good point. Upon realizing lots were duped unintentionally, Bono must’ve tried to show them he’s as lost as they are. He’s not out to deceive anyone, at least. But that honesty cost his Jesus Christ Superstar-dom. Now he’s just Spong rocking rolling. Take it or leave it. I left it.

  • Understand? Mystified, more like. Fairy tale struck, most likely even. What’s to understand when it’s all just that. Bono. Wonder Woman. The list goes on. Someone’s not reading his bible.

  • The United States was a much better country before Christianity became a political pArty.

  • Not quite sure what you’re trying to say here, but I think the proper reply to “someone’s not reading his bible” would be, “I’m not influenced by you reading your bible at me”. Who are the people doing this? Some conservative evangelicals, some Catholics, some liberal mainliners, even some atheists on this site want to quote their bible at me, their understanding of their bible. Give me “Bono’s shallow public religiosity” that is, his proper understanding of grace, and I’ll work out my faith from there.

  • This one’s on the house, G J – enjoy. Knock yourself with it as you “work out (your) faith from there.”

    At a U2 concert back in 2005, “about five songs into their set, Bono stopped the show and strapped on a headband with writing on it. … COEXIST. … The ‘C’ in ‘coexist’ was the Islamic crescent moon, the ‘X’ was the Star of David, and the ‘T’ was the cross of Christ. He pointed at the symbols on his headband-first to the cross, then to the star, then to the crescent moon – and he began to repeat: ‘Jesus, Jew, Mohammed – all true. Jesus, Jew, Mohammed – all true.’ He repeated the words like a mantra, and some people even began to repeat it with him. (Then) all the people (were) standing and chanting with him … (as though partaking a) one world religion … universalism”! (Source: Tara Leigh Coble, 850 Words Of Relevant, 2005)

  • I believe in Christ raised. I believe in the God of Abraham. I believe in the angle of the lord who visited and sustained Haggar and her son Ishmael in the desert as she sat about a bow shot away because she could not bear to see him die.
    That is what I’m working out, today.
    What part of what you believe can not compete with Bono’s chant? Or said another way. What do you base your fear on?

  • Ahhh…I missed that. I’ve visited The Babylon Bee on occasion because it was referenced by a friend, but it’s not to my taste. While I’m not devoid of an appreciation for humor, satire, and parody…I find their efforts unappealing and ineffective as a means of communicating a proper Christian message.

  • Perhaps not the same but have heard it described as the choice between Kingdom of Empire versus Kingdom of Heaven – a choice that began to emerge in the third century. The article I read Ion that found quite fascinating.

  • “What do you base your fear on?” you’re asking me, G J.

    I FEAR GOD.

    Thank You for that, Christ Jesus!

  • I knew they were political but didn’t think they were religious – an assumption on my part based on stereotypes.

  • Fear God with all your heart mind and soul?
    Fear your neighbor as yourself?
    Fear your enemy?

    “Thank you for that, Christ Jesus”!

    No thank you, HpO.

  • Historians of the future will mark 45’s administration as the beginning of the demise of freedom & democracy in the US and its ultimate disintegration.

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