Christian, Don’t Accept Every Invitation to Outrage

Christian, Don’t Accept Every Invitation to Outrage

Lil Nas X is again on the minds of many American evangelicals this week with the release of his new single, “J Christ,” which is part of a larger career move that he has dubbed his “Christian era.” 

The rapper, who is a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, teased that he would be releasing Christian music with an Instagram post in which he sang a song modeled as a prayer. 

Given the fact that he is the creator of “Satan Shoes” and released a music video in 2021 in which he performed an exotic dance for the devil, few took his claim seriously. In fact, a number of high profile Christians accused him of blasphemy. 

In response, Lil Nas X posted, “Y’all see everything I do as a gimmick when in reality I’m just an artist expressing myself in different ways. Whether I’m a cowboy, gay, satanic, or now Christian y’all find a problem! Y’all don’t police nobody else art like mine.”

“Making Christian music does not mean I can’t suck d*** no more,” he later said. “The two are not mutually exclusive. I am allowed to get on my knees for multiple reasons.”

Criticism intensified a few weeks later when Lil Nas X posted images of himself on a cross to promote his “J Christ” single, with many Christians in the comment section condemning him to hell. 

In response to the outrage, Lil Nas X then posted what appeared to be an acceptance letter from Liberty University, one of the nation’s largest and most conservative evangelical schools. 

“I know Twitter hates me right now but I want y’all to know I’m literally about to go to college for biblical studies in the fall. Not everything is a troll! Anyways I’M A STUDENT AGAIN! LETS GOOO,” he wrote.

The letter was obviously fake, as it was “signed” by Jerry Falwell Jr., who resigned as president from the school in 2020 amid a bevy of salacious, and even bizarre, rumors and allegations. 

In an unforeseen turn of events, Falwell Jr. nevertheless responded to Lil Nas X’s post, saying, “I know this is a joke but I wouldn’t have hesitated to sign that letter for you to enroll. Don’t believe all the lies that have been told the last 3 yrs! No judgment at LU, only grace!”

The nuance of Lil Nas X’s joke was probably lost on most outraged Christians, but it’s not for nothing that the rapper selected a school whose founder, Jerry Falwell Sr., famously blamed 9/11 on gay people and who first got into the education business as a way of fighting racial integration

Okay, but why am I hashing all this out? 

For one thing, I actually think Lil Nas X’s fake acceptance letter to Liberty University was pretty clever and mildly funny. But more importantly, I wanted to point out that we’d have to be pretty unserious people to take this controversy seriously. 

And yet, that’s what so many Christians have and continue to do. 

Yes, Lil Nas X is saying and doing any number of things that are not only offensive but also directly aimed at the values and beliefs of Christians. But what we have to understand is that he is an expert at going viral to increase the size of his platform.

This is what he has been doing since the beginning of his career. When he was 19, Lil Nas X catapulted himself into national fame with “Old Town Road,” a song he recorded in less than an hour after buying the beat for $30. Because he was such a student of viral content on TikTok, he was able to make the song a national sensation, launching not only a remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, but his entire music career. 

He’s been doing the same thing ever since. And he’s really good at it. 

What’s more is that Lil Nas X understands that creating faux outrage is an alarmingly effective way to go viral. And who has a more hair-trigger temper than the evangelical Christian community? In many ways, we’re an easy mark. 

In fact, the rapper has even created a website called “Save Nas X” as a clever way to get unsuspecting Christians to sign up for his email newsletter.  

And here’s the thing: On several occasions, Lil Nas X has invited the Christian community to be outraged about his choices, and the Christian community has never sent its regrets. As a result, more people than ever are talking about Lil Nas X, which is exactly what he wants. 

When we fall into this trap over and over again, I believe it hurts our credibility as Christians in two ways. 

First, and this may sound harsh, it makes us look as though we aren’t very smart when we apparently cannot tell that we are so obviously being trolled. And if we can be so easily manipulated by a 24-year-old rapper whom we’ve never met and whose music we don’t even listen to, what does that say about the intellectual defensibility of our belief system? 

To be sure, the Christian faith is eminently defensible. It’s just that we play into the stereotype that the gospel is only attractive to people unable to think critically when we are so easily and so constantly goaded. 

Second, when we react so viscerally, we also play into the stereotype that Christians are angry and judgmental, if not outright homophobic. Publicly commenting on a young man’s post with declarations that he is damned to hell, as many Christians have done, isn’t exactly a compelling testament to the radical love of Jesus Christ.

Our selective outrage about Lil Nas X’s sexuality also betrays a sense of hypocrisy when so many evangelicals offer little more than a yawn in response to every latest revelation of clergy sex abuse. 

But at a more fundamental level, we seem to be forgetting that hatred is sinful. In fact, whenever we pull up New Testament passages in which the Apostle Paul denounces sexual sin, what we seem to gloss over is that Paul also includes things like enmity, strife, and fits of anger—in the very same list of sins.

Further, he doesn’t seem to make a distinction with regard to severity of wrongness between sexual sins and sins of anger. 

It’s undeniable that the way in which Lil Nas X has chosen to promote his music in recent years is objectively and deeply offensive to Bible-believing Christians. But when we are treated with disdain, Jesus has never called us to return in kind. 

In fact, he told us to do quite the opposite. 

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39)

Too often, we see the application of Jesus’ words here as quaint, if not naïve. After all, we are losing the culture! This is no time to lay down our arms. 

But Jesus’ words are not quaint. Nor are they naïve. As someone who eventually endured torture and death at the hands of unjust and cruel men, he knew what following his own teachings would cost. 

We intuitively understand the same. And maybe that’s why we’ll find any excuse or justification to interpret Jesus as saying anything other than what he actually said. But his words have power, if we are willing to take them seriously. 

At the very least, that’d be a better use of our time than rage tweeting at Lil Nas X.