Derek Webb on “What Matters More”

Well, singer song-writer Derek Webb has ruffled everyone’s feathers again with his new album Stockholm Syndrome, especially with what many have labeled as his controversial single “What Matters More.” You can check out the song here:

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological response sometimes seen in abducted hostages, in which the hostage shows signs of loyalty to the hostage-taker, regardless of the danger or risk in which they have been placed.

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological response sometimes seen in abducted hostages, in which the hostage shows signs of loyalty to the hostage-taker, regardless of the danger or risk in which they have been placed (courtesy of Wikipedia).

As I peruse the blogosphere, I have been surprised by what several labeled as the song’s major controversy; that is, Webb curses twice in the song. He uses the word “damn” once, and he also uses the term “shit.” The former he uses to describe how reckless people, Christians in particular, can be with their words. The latter he uses to describe the community’s (including himself) sin by not caring enough about those who are weak, hurting, and dying (to quote Webb, while we argue till we’re blue in the face about things, “we don’t give a shit about 50,000 people who are dying today”). However, I don’t think that Webb’s employment of what has traditionally been known as “curse words” is the topic on which he intended us to focus our conversational energies. However, if you are “stuck” here, may I turn you toward an ongoing and fruitful dialogue over at Tolle Lege! and to a helpful article by Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, “A Brief Word Study on: Skuvbalon.”

It seems that Webb would rather turn our attention to what he is saying about Christian interaction with the LGBT community. The song opens with the line,

“Say you always treat people like you like to be; I guess you love bein’ hated for your sexuality.”

Later in the second verse, he sings,

“If I can tell what’s in your heart by what comes outta your mouth, then it sure looks to me like bein’ straight is all it’s about.”

Before I go any further, let me stress the importance of actually listening to the song so that you hear these lines in context. I write them here only for reference not to replace what they communicate in their original setting.

Webb is vocal about his desire to stretch Christian music so that it touches the “other 98%” of life and things to which the Bible speaks. In two interviews I watched on youtube, Webb accuses the Christian music industry of speaking only to those transcendent moments of worship and leaving out the rest of what the Bible speaks to in life.

A dear friend informed me about this song. This friend expressed such wisdom as he opened up me and some others to a dialogue about it. In short, my friend said that he wanted to thank Webb for writing it but he still wonders how to deal with it and needs to dialogue about Webb’s particular lyrics. So, let me offer some questions and comments that will hopefully give us some direction for dialoguing.

First, does Webb violate Christian orthodoxy (what has been believed by all Christians everywhere for all time) in his lyrics?

Second, let’s discuss the doctrine of total depravity. Total depravity teaches that humans have inherited a disgustingly sinful nature from our father, Adam. We are both born in sin, and as a result we do sin. Anytime a debate arises about whether a same-sex orientation is the result of a person’s choice or something with which a person is born, a discussion of total depravity rarely enters into the dialogue. So here’s the next question: If a person claims to be “born with a same-sex preference” is that a legitimate statement in light of total depravity? I admit I am asking this question with the Biblical assumption that a same-sex orientation is sinful. It is my belief that Scripture teaches that any deviation from a covenanted, heterosexual relationship is a departure from God’s original design and intention. However, this belief does not cause me to hate those who are with me in the struggle against depravity – even if they don’t recognize or acknowledge the struggle.

Third, many Christians are unaware of the responses that the LGBT community offers to Bible passages frequently brought up by Christians (e.g., Genesis 19; Romans 1; 1 Corinthians 6). Of course, this is because we avoid one another – something to which Webb is speaking. I remember a conversation with a friend who had friendships with a couple men who were not of the heterosexual orientation, but they had sought him out for counsel. My friend shared with me some of the responses these men had to Bible passages that I would have gone to directly. I was a little surprised, humbled and unsettled. For example, the Greek terms used in 1 Corinthians 6:9 are malakos and arsenokoiths. In the Study New Testament for Lesbians, Gays, Bi, and Transgender, Dr. Ann Nyland informs the reader that these terms carried several senses in Classical Greek Literature, and from this observation, she concludes that we should not be to quick to narrow down the possible senses when Paul could be referring to prostitution and rape. However, Dr. Nyland perhaps emphasizes too much the Classical senses of the terms rather than seeking after Paul’s intended sense. The NET Bible translation and study notes are helpful here. May we be humble and well-learned in our dialogue.

Lastly, let’s return to Derek Webb: “Say you always treat people like you like to be; I guess you love bein’ hated for your sexuality”; “If I can tell what’s in your heart by what comes outta your mouth, then it sure looks to me like bein’ straight is all it’s about.” Webb is calling Christians out because we confess a gospel that is honest about sin and is entirely hopeful because of the accomplishments of Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection, but we hate others who are in the boat of depravity with us – stranded without the gospel.

Webb is challenging the Christian community because too often we are guilty of being void of kindness, love and grace toward others because of their sexual orientation. How many times is such a person the butt of some Christian’s joke? Does a gospel-centered life permit this? However, things get sticky when we get political and favorite party starts to dictate our attitude rather than our King. Is it “hate” if I vote against same-sex marriage? Is it violating Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy if I vote in favor of it or remain neutral? I would appreciate some clarification on what Webb means by “hate.” In what arena of life is he using the term? Furthermore, while I agree that “bein’ straight” is not what it is all about, God’s glory and his gospel is what it is all about, which means that at some point, we must submit to God in repentance and deal with our stuff – all of us. Some of you may be thinking that I am missing the point, but I would add and conclude that I think Webb should be more clear about what “it” is in the second quote. Does he mean life? politics? Christianity? etc.? What do you think?

  1. #1 by Bern on July 28, 2009 - 5:42 pm

    Hey Rex,

    Interesting post, I dealt with this issue in two of my posts ( and and in my thinking, I find that what seems to underlie most of the fear, anger, and disdain (all which add up to some kind of hate) comes down to 2 things:

    (A) the first is: (1) are you the sort of person who believes the US to be a Christian nation and therefore feels the need to hold unbelievers to the standards as believers, or (2) are you the sort of person who does not esteem the US a Christian nation and feels no need to hold unbelievers to the standards of believers?

    (b) the second is that homosexuality has become the poster-child for human independence from God right alongside atheism (whether rightly so or not). Thus, it has become the test case or the meeting place or proving ground where every shortcoming of the church comes out in its fullest.

    Again, why have we in the church reacted so negatively against the LGBT community? I think because they represent the secularization of America and their acceptance means the loss of a kingdom that was never truly ours.

    Anyhoo, sorry for plugging my blog on yours, but I say it better there then I could, would, or do here…

    • #2 by Bern on July 28, 2009 - 5:44 pm

      Also, sorry for the typos, stinks I can’t edit them…

  2. #3 by rexhowe on July 28, 2009 - 9:29 pm


    I miss and love you bro. Thanks for stopping by. I was actually reading your blog this morning. Good stuff. I plan to comment later.
    I think your first point is a good observation. Knowing what I know now about the founding of the US, I probably come down on side number two. We were founded as a deistic religious hodge-podge wearing a Christian t-shirt. Many Christians look back today and see the Christian t-shirt and believe that since they were wearing the shirt, then they must have been orthodox in their belief and practice.
    I need to think a little more about point number two. I’ll check out your blog entry on this topic as well. Thanks again for stopping by.

    • #4 by Bern on July 29, 2009 - 4:24 pm


      Great T-Shirt analogy. Have you read unChristian by Kinnaman and Lyons? According to their research they find the top 6 descriptions of the Church by 16-29 year olds from outside and INSIDE the church are: (1) Hypocritical, (2) Judgmental, (3) Sheltered, (4) Insincere (They call the chapter “Get Saved”), (5) Too Political, and (6) Anti-Homosexual. They don’t make the point, but I think that the first 5 are most visible when it comes to how we corporately, visibly treat homosexuals as a competing/enemy subculture.

      As for my blog, the comments are usually where things get hammered out – on most of my posts a good buddy from DTS (Ryan Carter) brings some really good points and challenges.

      I also love and miss you – and the rest of the Scofield bunch (give ’em a hug for me). I’m excited for the dubs – you gonna name one after me?

      • #5 by rexhowe on July 30, 2009 - 1:34 pm

        I have not read the book. I think you have brought up a great misnomer – does the church have a competing/enemy subculture?
        In regard to the twins, I think you’ll have to do some fancy talking with Aimee to get her to go with “Bern.” Although, we might go with Mike Willis’ suggestion of the first name “Know.” What do you think?

      • #6 by Bern on July 31, 2009 - 5:31 am

        Does the church have competing/enemy subcultures? Depends on how you want to parse things… I could go either way depending on my mood, knowhatimean? On the one hand there is clear opposition between many of us and other parties. But in the end, I’d say we’re foolish to think that the popular culture was ever legitimately ours.

        Just so you and Aimee know, Bernardo is the name of kings and nobles. It captures the strength and intelligence of the mighty bear. As for Willis, that’s cute, but there’s gotta be something worse… Maybe Ewoh Radar Howe? (Pronounced YOU-oh) Palindromes are HUGE in infant nomenclature these days…

  3. #7 by Rob Kashow on July 30, 2009 - 4:56 am

    Those responding to Webb’s song with ruffled feathers indeed make his point. Stuck in modernism, resulting in legalism, lacking in justice.

    • #8 by rexhowe on July 30, 2009 - 1:25 pm

      Thanks for stopping by Rob. I look forward to our Greek appointment this afternoon. In regard to your post, I think you’re right – “Those responding to Webb’s song with ruffled feathers indeed make his point.” However, I am not sure that being “stuck” in one philosophical mindset or another (such as PoMo) necessarily leads to legalism and to a lack in justice. I would rather attribute this to a misunderstanding or perhaps a fear of embracing the scope of the gospel (at least for the Christian). If we minimize the reconciliatory and redemptive power of the death and resurrection of Christ, then we find ourselves stuck in legalism and lacking in justice.
      Would you suggest that a post-modern way of thinking better handles this issue?

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