At Black Seminaries, Hip Hop Makes the Grade

Educators say that respect for hip hop is essential for teaching a new generation of seminary students.

Posted: 11/11/2011 01:33 PM EST
African American Priest, black seminaries, hip hop

With most hip hop artists today rhyming about drugs, violence and life in the streets, not many would consider the genre holy. However, despite hip hop’s rough reputation in the Black church, educators at Black seminaries across the country are loosening their collars and embracing hip hop as a way to reach the next generation of clergy.

Alton B. Pollard III, dean of the Howard University School of Divinity, told Religion News Service that the decision to use hip hop is not a choice, but a necessity.

“If we’re going to take young people seriously, we have no choice,” Pollard said. “When we talk about what’s happening in the lives of young people, that’s a subterranean culture that some of us just don’t know how to get with.”

The Christian church’s acceptance of popular music has evolved over the decades, with the last large shift coming from popular gospel artists like Mary Mary and Kirk Franklin, who sing praise songs over contemporary R&B beats with lyrics that include the slang, culture and issues of the day.  Now, a style of music long known for its more negative aspects is being accepted in the halls of the holy and, in many instances, turned around to reflect Christian values.

For example, professors at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Tennessee analyze hip hop lyrics in their study of protest music and at Northern Seminary in Illinois, the book The Hip-Hop Church is used to teach students about effective strategies for youth ministry.

Students at Black seminaries are not only welcoming the acceptance of hip hop, but redefining the genre itself. Kayeen Thomas, a first-year student at Washington’s Wesley Theological Seminary and a hip hop performer, told RNS that, in some ways, the messages of the Christianity and the streets aren’t that different after all.

“The last time I performed, I did a Christian rap song and I did a song about Troy Davis,” Thomas said. “It [hip hop] does have the ability to be used not only to bring souls to Christ but to also change lives, to also inspire people to do better. For you to ignore a medium that has a potential to be so powerful is a huge, huge mistake on the part of the church.”

(Photo: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post/ Getty Images)