Leading US Seminaries Using Hip-Hop to Prepare Church's Future Leaders?

Christian Community Torn Over Using 'Secular' Music to Reach the Youth

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By Katherine Weber, Christian Post Reporter
November 15, 2011|2:46 pm

America's seminaries have begun incorporating hip-hop into their religious teachings in an attempt to maintain the focus of Christian youth.

"It's one of the great challenges in the traditional church, how to attract and retain young people," said the Rev. Delores Carpenter, professor of religious education at the Howard University School of Divinity, in a recent press release from the university.

The hip-hop movement made its way into the church when youth groups began using the music, along with spoken word poetry, to express their thoughts and faith in a casual, communicable setting.

The fact that hip-hop has now permeated the stricter confines of seminaries serves as a testimony to its effectiveness on youth culture.

"There is evidence that young people are gravitating toward churches that are incorporating hip-hop into their services," according to Carpenter.

Christian leaders began using new methods to attract America's youth after church attendance levels dropped drastically.

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In the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey, people who defined themselves as Christians dropped from 86 percent in 1990 to 76 percent in 2008.

Churches began first with implementing youth rock bands, such as Jars of Clay, to lure teenage believers.

Then the gospel revival came with artists such as duo Mary Mary and Kirk Franklin, who combine contemporary "street talk" with traditional gospel music.

Now, the hip-hop movement is seeing substantial representation in the Christian community. The Gospel Music Association Dove Awards and the Stellar Awards have added hip-hop/rap categories to their Christian music awards shows.

At Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Tennessee, professors incorporate hip-hop music and protest music in their analysis of faith. Similarly, the Northern Seminary in Illinois uses the 2005 book "The Hip-Hop Church" as a course text book, according to the Religion News Service.

The Howard University School of Divinity held its 95th Annual Convocation in early November with the hip-hop theme "Religion and Culture: Connecting the Church and Hip Hop."

Howard's Carpenter hopes hip-hop will be the answer to reaching America's straying youth. She wants to use the controversial genre "as a tool to reach out to youth, to see it as an ally rather than an enemy of the church."

"Hip-hop can reach people on a level that typical preaching and worship may not be able to. People immersed in hip-hop cultures are much more likely to respond to this kind of contextualization of the gospel than maybe a more traditional approach," Youth Pastor Brandon Ward of the Oasis Christian Center previously told The Christian Post in a discussion about hip-hop and evangelism.

Some Christians are against the use of hip-hop in the church due to the recurring themes of sex, drugs and violence present in mainstream hip-hop lyrics.

“I think that God, however, is able to cross cultural boundaries and deal with people in any context--and I think that as witnesses of the Gospel, we must make every effort to reach people in their context, using their language, to be as effective as we can in sharing the love of God," Ward said.

In a telling sign of the times, hip-hop is gaining prominent footing in the Christian community, generating cyber appeal, such as the case with popular website "Holy Hip Hop."

Some popular Christian hip-hop artists include Pattern is Movement, Sean Simmonds, DJ TobyMac, LeCrae, and Da' T.R.U.T.H.

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