Tuning In to the Voice of God
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.
Listen to Music from "If I Had One Chance to Tell You Something"
"Take All of Me"
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.