Last week, the entire world, and particularly the Christian space lit up with conversations about Lil Nas X’s latest hit, “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” and its accompanying “Satan Shoes” a pair of custom Air Max 97’S sold by MSCHF. This is the very same brand that created the squeaky “Jesus Shoes” accompanied by ounces of holy water inside the sneaker’s air bubble.
Since then, the controversy behind the marketing of the shoes and video has led to disruptive conversations on the Internet, plenty of Internet trolling from Lil Nas X, and a lawsuit from Nike against MSCHF.
Where many believers have taken this opportunity to make their point about the evils of the world, plenty, including a number of our own Christian rap artists, have elected to take a more nuanced approach. Some have chosen to observe the strength in Lil Nas X’s marketing, others have chosen to empathize with the “Old Town Road” creator, and Jackie Hill Perry decided to present a theological clap-back for the holier than thou crowd.
But of course, there are always Christians, well-intentioned or otherwise, who cannot help but make attempts to impose Kingdom principles on the world. Although their posture, in wanting to see souls saved and lives changed is noble, such radical changes in character rarely come from making comments on social media. Salvation itself is the product of divine revelation to the individual produced largely in communal relationships, and the Christian community has often failed to create safe spaces for nonbelievers and skeptics to sincerely seek the Lord.
Jesus in all His graciousness laid down His life that we might all come to know the Father who created us for dominion over the Earth. Jesus laid down a position of power choosing to suffer for Jew and Gentile alike, awarding us all a grace undeserved. But so many times we have failed to provide even a fraction of this grace to unbelievers. We have failed to recognize who we were before Christ and seek Him for restorative work in the lives of others. We have become known for our rage rather than our love.
So how do we respond to “MONTERO” and other cultural moments that do not align with Christian ethics?
First, we look at ourselves. We question why this is upsetting for us, and whether our kneejerk response is grace or wrath? Are we choosing to act, speak, and believe in a manner that is meant for the edification of the believer, the transformation of the nonbeliever, and the glory of God? Or, have we chosen a performative faith that portrays holiness but exhibits hypocrisy?
Matthew 7:1-5 (NIV)
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Then, we search for context. Lil Nas X has made it clear the inspiration for “MONTERO” comes, at least in part, from years of church hurt. If such is the case, what good will falling into the same patterns of condemnation do for his soul or that of his fanbase? This is not a call for a dilution of traditional Christian ethics, but an imploration for us to choose to view the world through the supreme ethic, love for God and neighbor. If we do not love Lil Nas X at this moment, nor his fans, we have lost our way, and fail to exhibit love for God Himself.
John 4:7-8 (ESV)
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
Finally, we go on living. We go on preaching the Gospel and living in accordance with the truth that has set us free. Then we create good works and award all glory to God. We choose to pursue excellence, we boast in our weakness, we love relentlessly, as our Savior loved us.
The artists in our space who have pointed out the potential for one to dissect the strength in Lil Nas X’s marketing are right to do so, he has created a huge conversation in a minuscule amount of time, but our obsession with the conversation runs the risk of taking us away from what God has appointed for us. The Church’s first responsibility is not the gatekeeper of morality unto the rest of the world, it is to serve and glorify our Lord.
And through all of it, we seek that very same Lord’s wisdom. We pray that we would see Lil Nas X and all whose hurtful experiences with the church have led them away from such a community with the same eyes that God sees them. We do not shrink away from the Word we believe in, but we do choose to understand the context we live in, and apply Biblical principles accordingly.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul provides principles that are especially fitting for our response at this moment. 1 Corinthians chapter five is primarily a condemnation of sexual immorality within the Corinthian church, and the closing of the chapter in verses 12 and 13 reads, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you” (ESV). In the chapter, Paul was commanding the Corinthians unto a standard of holiness, and establishing that standard was not the same one the world is to be held unto. Christian ethics are for Christians.
Then in Colossians, Paul calls the Church of Colossae to Christian maturity and points out ways this maturity is exemplified in a multitude of relationships. Colossians 4:5-6 applies specifically to nonbelievers, as Paul writes, “[w]alk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (ESV).
Are we certain our tweets, comments, and other posts responding to “MONTERO” are the best use of the time? Is our speech gracious? If not, then what are we doing here? If we truly believe we are living in an era where evil is being called good and good evil, why would we ever waste our time trying to be right instead of being all the more fervent in our calling? We can choose to keep fighting for the imposition of Kingdom principles in a secular world, or we can engage a secular world with those principles and trust that God’s glory will be revealed in His timing, through His will. May we choose to be vessels unto that glory rather than its obscurers.