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Kirby: When did God start liking rock 'n' roll?

Published March 7, 2013 9:11 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Up until a fellow ward member complained that she could hear the sound coming from my headphones, I sometimes listened to an MP3 player during church services.

The request to turn it off didn't offend me. I'm old. Even with headphones, I have to turn up the volume so high that it leaks out. And the woman was gracious enough to give me the benefit of the doubt.

Her: "Scriptures on tape?"

Me: "Scorpions."

Many people will find listening to rock 'n' roll instead of what's being said inappropriate in church. At the very least I should have been listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

But that doesn't work for me. I need a better hook to drag out the spirit. A high councilman's talk is always more enjoyable if I watch him lip synch it to ZZ Top's "La Grange." But that's just me. You might prefer country or hip-hop.

Music in church — at least from the LDS perspective — is required to be something reverent and even dirgelike. We don't sing as if the Lord triumphed over death. We sing as if he died yesterday.

I am not suggesting that we go the opposite direction and bring electric guitars and drums into the chapel. The only church music worse than spiritless hymns done softly is bad rock 'n' roll done loudly. To my lasting regret, I've heard it.

Personally, I don't believe churches should embrace rock 'n' roll at all. It's unnatural. I base my opinion on the little-known (and less-understood) theology that rock 'n' roll is actually the antidote for church.

It's true. If I come home miserable from three hours hearing about why I'm not going to the celestial kingdom, all I need is some Stevie Ray Vaughan and I'm good to go. Wherever.

I realize this is not the consensus at my LDS ward. Hence the headphones. But nobody gets to tell me what works best for bringing on the spirit. The first 30 seconds of "What Does It Take" by Junior Walker & the All Stars does it better than you.

But some killjoy invented Christian rock, a get-down way of getting with Jesus. It weakens the effect of the antidote. The idea was (I suppose) that the best worship tunes are those you can stomp your feet and wave your hands to.

Note: I would not take your top off or hold a lighter aloft during praise music in any church. That part of rock 'n' roll hasn't gone Christian yet.

Christian rock was once an oxymoron. Churches back then blathered on about rock being the sort of thing you'd expect to hear the choirs of hell singing. Rock 'n' roll was bad. No, it was evil. God hated it.

Then God changed his mind. Suddenly Elvis didn't have horns anymore (unless he was featured in a play at Herriman High School) and it was OK to invite him to church. He could even bring his guitar.

Mercifully, the various faiths haven't started squabbling about which kind of rock music the Lord likes best. But it may be only a matter of time before what constitutes "real" Christian music becomes an idiot debate.

I'm guessing that what passes for appropriate worship music is mostly a cultural thing. If your ancestors worshipped with a calliope and tuba, it doesn't mean you have to.

It's also an individual thing. That's why I still bring my MP3 player to church. Just in case I need to summon the spirit in a hurry.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.