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That’s Raaacist: Adventism & Music

I avoid sermons about music, they often drive me to scream in anguish & have the ability to make me want to rip the garments from my back, pull my hair out & roll around in some dirt/ash/mud in front of some city gates somewhere. My issue with these sermons is that they often mix facts with fiction or tell half-truths, in both cases the sermon is compromised and ends up being a lie. And as representatives of God, who is entirely truth, it is wrong for preachers to continually preaching lies, is it not? Let me give a little context to the situation:

  • A lot of the slaves brought over during the transatlantic slave trade also brought with them their culture and religions, included in that was music. Music is a heavy component to (most) worship settings & Africans were no different, they used drums, dancing & various chants to worship their gods.
  • During the 1840s around the same time the Adventism was starting up, a movement within Adventism, ‘The Holy Flesh’, movement was also emerging. As majority of the members were Africans and originated from religiously pagan backgrounds, they brought their pagan styles of worship into their new-found churches which included drums, shouts, and certain dance styles.
  • Generally, the Seventh Day Adventist church is against drums because (I think) Ellen White (our prophet & a founder of our church) says: “The things you have described as taking place in Indiana, the Lord has shown me would take place just before the close of probation. Every uncouth thing will be demonstrated. There will be shouting, with drums, music, and dancing. The senses of rational beings will become so confused that they cannot be trusted to make right decisions. And this is called the moving of the Holy Spirit.”

Frankly, that’s all the context that’s needed. Many have taken this quote out of context (again?) & have deduced that Ellen was saying that drums are wrong & evil. This is the quote in context & this is a commentary on the quote that puts things into a little perspective. In context it’s obvious that White is denouncing the use of “uncouth” drumming/shouting/music/dancing, the fact that she separates drumming, dancing & shouting from the other things mentioned in the letter is because these are the main things that those of HF movement brought with them. Also, if it were a blanket statement & she were saying that all drumming/dancing/shouting is wrong then she’d also be saying that all music is wrong, which would contradict her next the following statement “Music is acceptable to God only when the heart is sanctified and made soft and holy by its facilities.”* So it’s clear that there is music that is acceptable & unacceptable to God, in which case surely the same applies for the rest listed?

Anyway, that’s not what this post is about, no. I am here to talk about my gripe, no, my exasperation at the insinuations made about Black people and African culture in sermons about music. It’s no lie that African music has pagan influences, it’s no lie that the slaves brought that with them during the transatlantic slave trade, it is also true that upon conversion to Christianity these slaves (& ex-slaves) brought with them their pagan-influenced worship style. I can accept that. What I cannot accept is the disregard of Ancient Greek (PAGANS) influences on music. From the composition of the scale to hymns to harmonies, understand that these factors are what make music, no matter the instrument used, no matter the player – as long as they are in the West, they use this foundation, created by ancient Greeks. Ancient Rome did not, I repeat, did not, have their own musical theory & adopted that of the ancient Greeks. So when Constantine found God, guess what he did? That’s right, he brought all of his pagan styles of worship into the church with him.

The continual neglect of the European pagan influences on present Christian music & music in general, further perpetuates racism. By attributing the origin of all the negative aspects of Christian music to Africans, preachers (who preach this) demonize African culture and contribute to the ideology that Africa is a home to ‘savages’ and ‘evil’ and generally everything ‘immoral’. Simultaneously, they exalt Europe to be the place where ‘good’ originates from and is the place of ‘holiness’ and ‘morality’ etc. This whole idea that the East (everywhere that is not in Europe or America) is home to the ‘Other’, that is those who are over-indulgent in everything, & the West is a place of modesty;* which, of course, is a gross exaggeration & a lie, is (subconsciously?) taught from our pulpits.

I’ve heard a sermon where the preacher spoke about Renaissance music and it’s supposed holiness & mentioned that although this era introduced secular music into the mainstream it was still holy in it’s form, i.e. the foundation was holy and it sounded similar to the sacred music, and in the fact that the secular artists were the sacred artists. He makes no mention of the origins of the music. In the same sermon, he mentions the origins of the blues & rock’n’roll and its birth place, Africa – he speaks on this for about ten minutes, before taking a literal minute out to say that paganism & its influences are worldwide. The issue here, as always, is the imbalance. You can’t spend ten minutes demonising something, and a group of people, then only spend a minute trying to redeem yourself. The fact that he states that paganism is worldwide is more reason for him to have spoken about the European/Native American/Asian pagan influences on  music.

Notes(*):

  1. White, E. The Musical Performers in Music: Its Role, Qualities, and Influences.
  2. Said, E. Orientalism is an amazing & absolutely critical read for those interested in race relations, stereotypes, etc.  
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One thought on “That’s Raaacist: Adventism & Music

  1. Speaking as a fellow black Adventist, much of my heart beats in sympathy with much of what you have said. In our church, sermons on music are usually a disgrace. This is a subjective statement, but written by someone who is professionally involved with music ministry education which has spanned multiple denominations…

    The thing is: the cocktail/s of fact/fiction/half-truths are not limited to speakers with wrong information. If I am horrified at the ignorance and technical limitations of many speakers, then I would have completely abandoned the SDA church when I see the standard of dialogue that the members serve up time after time after time. It is literally beyond contempt.

    There are some major issues that come up in this post. And also some serious mistakes! I think the time has come to address this matter more comprehensively. Thank you for taking the time to write this – it is more significant than you may know.

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