More Harriet, Less Beyonce

Pass the Salt Please.

Last Sunday’s Superbowl half-time performance Beyonce’ graced the stage and introduced the world to her song Formation. Film and culture critic, Anthony Weber, posed a great question: “Does the halftime show really need to point the world toward a song that includes the lyrics, “When he —- me good I take his — to Red Lobster, cause I slay”? Seriously, were there no other songs that might have been both entertaining and appropriate for a global market of all ages?”

I would add that this world rightly denounces the objectification of women while its superstars apply overt pressure for girls to objectify themselves. She writes a song that calls for a rising up of Black-America while perpetrating ideas like sexual immorality that have decimated black communities. The adoring public takes it in whole, scarcely noticing the sad irony. The power to influence generations of young men and women carry with it a responsibility.

The Responsibility of the Artist to Preserve Culture

Take a quick look around our world and you will see that everything is not as it should be. We find brokenness, corruption, and pain at every turn. The scriptures describe accurately what went wrong. God created the good; mankind-invested with the power of free will–threw it away. Christ came as a man to break the power of sin and death and bring redemption to every corner of the universe. He has empowered his church to be “salt and light” in this decaying and dark world. Salt is a preservative. It staves off decay. The arts can be used to encourage decay or inhibit it.

Because the Christian worldview is complete and coherent, our art can completely and coherently address the fallenness of this world and point it to a Redeemer. Francis Schaeffer addressed this when he wrote,

Christianity has a major and a minor theme. The minor is that men are lost and can never attain perfection in this life. The major dominant theme is that there is a purpose in life because God is there and man is made in his image…Real Christian art should show both the minor and major themes.[1]

Harriet Beecher Stowe lived on the free side of the Ohio River. Kentucky, a slave state, lay just across the water. Through personal encounters and relationships, she became aware of the horrors of slavery. Stowe was a gifted writer from a young age. She won an essay contest as a twelve-year-old with an entry entitled, Can the Immortality of the Soul be Proved by the Light of Nature? With the encouragement of her sister, she decided to use her gift and write something that would help people see the evils of slavery and turn their heart toward freedom for all. Stowe wrote the now famous book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.[2]

By basing her fictional account on individuals and families that she had encountered, Stowe poignantly portrayed the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse endured by the slaves of America.

Her artistic storytelling gripped the heart of a nation and helped turn the tide of public opinion against slavery. In this way, she used her gift as salt and light in a dark land. While both women were/are extraordinarily gifted, I think we could use more Harriets and less Beyonces.

[1] Francis Schaeffer, Art Norms, taped lecture, L’Abri Fellowship, Greatham, Hants, UK, Cited in Brand and Chaplin, Art and Soul; Signposts for the Christian in the Arts, (Intervarsity Press Academic, Downers Grove, Il, 2001), 52.

[2] Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)

3 thoughts on “More Harriet, Less Beyonce

  1. Harriet was my Great Aunt x 4! Hers was a remarkable family of world changers. Even as a single father, her dad raised Harriet and her eight siblings to be firmly grounded in their Christian faith, and to be clear communicators of it’s relevance within their culture. All seven brothers became Pastors, her sister Catherine started the first two women’s teaching colleges in the country. Harriet, educated by Catherine after their mother died, was her first “professor” at age 16. Catherine was considered America’s first Home Economist, and started a women’s magazine where she taught women to read floor plans and embrace practical home design (still taught in design schools today) to meet the challenges of a changing society. Their father, Lyman, and three of the eight siblings are mentioned in the Encyclopedia for their contributions to the development of America. Referencing her beautifully written book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and its profound impact on Northern Society view of slavery, Abraham Lincoln said to Harriet when he met her, “So this is the little lady who ended slavery in America!” Wow! She was just one woman – yet her talent was offered to God! And ultimately, through her work, countless lives were saved and America was changed for generations!

    Lord, will you give us a story, a song, (or a painting) that will end this new kind of slavery in America today! … that will end Abortion in America! … that will accomplish all that Your heart’s desire is for our talents, so that we will fulfill Your purpose for our lives – in our times!

  2. I’m not saying that “artists” don’t have responsibility for the content of their “art” but 1) many in our society don’t even consider themselves Christians anymore and that may well be true for many “artists”, 2) While the people who decided which “artists” to employ for the half-time show may not have known ahead of time what the exact lyrics would be, they surely must have known (or should have known) what the general tenor of the “artists” was before they decided who to hire. For this reason, I think the responsibility lies more with the people who decide who to select for half-time shows than with the “artists” themselves. Maybe it is easier to throw the blame on someone whose name we know than the faceless decision-makers behind the mega-games but if there are people who care more about this issue than I do, I suggest that they find out who those decision-makers are and work to have them given different responsibilities.

    1. I agree many don’t consider themselves Christians, but their gifts still came from God, and will be judged by him as well. I think your point regarding the decision makers is also valid, but they know what they’re getting. The artists don’t hide their worldviews. It comes out in their art.

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