Award-winning gospel artist Rebecca St. James says we need to put more of the Christian message into Christian music.
This article was originally featured on Beliefnet in 2006.
Who says Christian music has to be somber? Rebecca St. James has been making danceable Christian pop/rock for more than 16 years in the belief that a biblical message and a rockin' beat aren't mutually exclusive. The Australia native recently won the "Best Female Artist of 2006" Reader's Choice Award from ChristianityToday.com, co-hosted the Gospel Music Awards last year with gospel great Kirk Franklin, and was a spokesperson to the White House's National Day of Prayer. Currently, she's preparing to launch SHE events (Safe, Healthy, Empowered) in Australia and New Zealand, based on her books, which aim to empower women to live Christian lives according to biblical principles.
St. James recently spoke with Beliefnet about poverty in Africa, sexuality in mainstream music, what she wants to change about Christian music, and the importance of abstinence.
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You're a spokesperson for Compassion International and have spoken out about poverty in Africa. What do you think about the increased celebrity interest in Africa, with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and Madonna in the news?Is it is a sincere interest?
I can’t judge other people’s intentions or motives or [explain] why there’s this interest. I do think that celebrities adopting from places in Africa are helping to give the rest of the public an idea as to what’s going on over there. I love what Bono is doing and his passion for Africa and for the people who are hurting there. The end result is that people are finding out about the needs there, and I hope that will encourage people to reach out and bring hope to the hurting people in Africa.
I’ve worked with Compassion International for over 12 years now, and they are just so solid and so integrity-filled. I’ve been to Kenya and Rwanda, Ecuador, and India, and seen their ministry there--it’s just so effective. They’re [working] in the most poverty-stricken parts of the countries and are really changing the world. I met my sponsored child and did some videos over there, and hopefully [I] am helping people to get a glimpse into what is happening so that they can be a part of the helping.
What do you think is the most important thing that regular people can do to help the people of Africa?
We can do everything from sponsoring children, to supporting organizations like UNICEF, to going [to Africa] ourselves. I actually think it’s really key that we look for opportunities to go and touch these people personally with our hope and love.
There’s scripture in the Bible that talks about when we stand before God, he’s not going to applaud us or say, “Well done my good and faithful servant" for sending money off. He’s probably going to say, “Did you feed the poor? When you saw me hungry and thirsty, did you feed me, and did you give me something to drink, and did you give me clothes?”
I was really challenged by this book I recently read that talked about that scripture, and it encouraged me to be more hands on. It is very valuable to send support through other organizations, but coupling that with going ourselves is really key. Sometimes we won’t be able to go all the way to Africa, but [we could go on a] missionary trip to Mexico, or even somewhere in our hometown, where we could help. Hands-on help is so valuable and so important.
In your new single, “Take All Of Me,” you say, “All of my hope is in you." You've also said that though it’s easier to rely on other people, God calls us to put all of our hope in Him. How do you surrender all to God when the temptation to depend on others is so great?
Faith wouldn’t be faith without having to trust what is unseen. That’s difficult sometimes, and it’s almost easier to put our trust in what is tangible. But God wants us to put one foot in front of the other and just step out on faith.So I wrote a song on this album called “God Help Me,” because I think that’s how I often feel in my walk with Him-- I see Him working in my life in very active ways. But you’ve got to look for it. It’s not just going to pop up right in front of you in a 3-D figure.
You may be doing a guided journal with Beliefnet sometime in the future. What do you think are the spiritual benefits of journaling?
There’s something very clarifying about putting your thoughts on paper or on the computer. I also think it helps to be able to look back and see the things that you’ve learned and the progress you’ve made. I try to journal, especially when God’s taught me something profound, just so that I remember it.
You post devotionals online. How do you think this medium has helped your fans understand your music and message?
I think it’s a wonderful avenue for ministry because young people are so clued into the Internet as a way to keep in touch with friends and whatever they’re interested in. Young people can use the internet to find out about the Christian artists whose music they enjoy while also growing in their faith. I think it’s a wonderful tool.
But as Christians we also have got to be really wise about what we watch on the Internet, TV, movies, and everything else--because what goes into our hearts and our minds is going to come out in our lives.
What do you think of the predominance of sexuality in mainstream music today, particularly with young female artists?
Using sex to sell music is disrespectful to the artist because they could use their artistry and the quality of their music to sell their music instead of their bodies. And for all the young girls that are watching, it can be damaging too, because [these musicians are in the] position of being a role model, and they’re influencing young girls to act in a similar way. Dressing immodestly and using music that kind of encourages kids to be sexually active outside of marriage can also lead to all kinds of troubles, including pregnancy outside of marriage, STDs, and all kinds of emotional consequences.
I’m pretty passionate about wanting to encouraging young people to live God’s way, which is to practice abstinence.
Are you grateful to be away from all of that--since you're a Christian artist within a Christian music genre?
I am very grateful that I don’t have record company executives encouraging me to take off more clothes or things like that. That would be a very hard situation. And I think with a lot of these young female musicians, it’s like water dripping on a stone. They just have so many people telling them, “Hey, you have to be more sexy, show more skin.” And no matter how strong they could be at the start, eventually they get worn down.
How do you think Christian rock has evolved over the years?
I think there’s a lot more freedom today to explore different kinds of music, and people understand now that it’s not the devil’s music. Twenty years ago Christian artists like myself or [Christian rock bands] like the BarlowGirls would have been persecuted by members of the church because people felt like there was something essentially wrong in the drum beat.
I think people understand now that you can have all kinds of different styles of music, but it’s more the heart and the lyric that determines the messages that are being expressed. So, I’m very grateful to be in ministry at this time in Christian music.
Where do you think Christian rock is going, and why do you think it continues to have such an impact on youth?
I would like to see there being more Christian rock artists who are passionate about sharing a straight-up biblical Christian message in their rock music. I grew up on Christian rock--Petra, Stryper, and Whiteheart. That’s why I see Christian rock as being the essence of what I do. I think there’s a very natural fit between the rock in-your-face sound with the straight-up, in-your-face message of Jesus’ love and scripture.
I’ve written songs called “God” and “Go And Sin No More,” and these kind of songs are straight-up lyrically as well as in your face musically. I think that fits.
Many really successful Christian artists who have crossed over into the mainstream don't have that in-your-face biblical message. Their music is more metaphorical, and non-Christians can just enjoy the music or see the message if they're looking for it.
It’s like that with Switchfoot. I’m a big fan of them, but Switchfoot has always been what they are today: They have a message that Christians can see, but non-Christians [may not] understand that it’s a Christian message they’re hearing. Switchfoot have always been that. I have a problem [when artists] start out with Christian truth and then water it down just to cross over.
It sends mixed messages, not only to Christians but to people who aren’t, because they then think, “Oh, are they compromising who they are, or are they hiding something just to be in with us?” The Christian message is what sets Christian music apart. We’ve got hope, and we’ve got to be upfront about that hope. Otherwise we’re just like any other mainstream music.
How do you think your own music has evolved through the years?
My first album was pop, my second album was very rock, and then the albums following have had kind of a mix of both. And then [my album] "Transform" had a bit more of a dance-Euro feel. Now it’s kind of a collage of all of those genres. I like keeping myself and my audience guessing a little bit musically, but the message is always going to be very biblical and hopefully something that draws them to God.
Do you think today’s teens are more conscious of being abstinent, or is it just Christian teens?
I think it’s teens in general [are more conscious of abstinence]. There’s been actually quite a lot of media [coverage] about this move towards abstinence. I think it’s come largely from the Church--it actually started out in music 12 or 13 years ago. The “True Love Waits” movement was huge, and churches are still having yearly “True Love Waits” rallies or events about committing to purity. Also there’s a wising up that’s happening--that waiting is just the smart way to go. You avoid STDs, AIDS, and pregnancy outside of marriage for girls.
This past May you went to the White House as a spokesperson for the National Day of Prayer. Why do you think prayer is so important?
It tunes us into the voice of God because, when we pray, we’re still and we’re quiet, and we can more hear from Him. And [when] we’re in the real spirit of prayer, we’re listening as well, and that’s key. Prayer is also a humbling process. It’s saying, “God, I need you, and I can’t do this thing called ‘life’ without you.”I do believe prayer changes things, too, and I’ve seen that in my life.
You recorded a theme song for this year’s National Day of Prayer, “America, Honor God.”Do you think this country doesn’t honor God as much as it should?
I don’t think anybody honors God as much as they should. I don’t think this is unique to our generation or our time, or to any place in the world. Jesus is the only man who ever really honored God as he could and should.
What has made this country so great is that it has a history of honoring God and looking to Him. But there are morals and values that are under attack today, and the breakdown of the family is very evident. But at the same time, those biblical principles are what this country was founded on and helped make it great. There's been a lot of peace in this countrybecause of [its biblical principles]. I would love to uphold and encourage the honoring of God with my life and my ministry.
What do you typically pray for?
I pray for help. I try and pray before everything that I am doing ministry-wise, whether it’s an interview, or a concert, or writing a song, or going on stage. Prayer is a huge part of my life in that way--for friends who are going through hard times or have asked me for prayer, I pray that I’ll be sensitive to His will. My big prayer is that I want to make sure that I’m walking in His will, and that He’ll speak to me.
Do you have a favorite prayer?
It would probably be a prayer of surrender. My newest single, “Take All of Me,” really is a prayer of surrender, and that’s probably the one that resonates with me the most.