Pop singing star Carrie Underwood made headlines this past Sunday night at the Academy of Country Music Awards (ACM) Show, performing a medley of beloved Christian hymns, including “Amazing Grace” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”
American gospel singer CeCe Winans then joined Underwood for a duet of “The Old Rugged Cross” and “How Great Thou Art.”
The segments drew unanimous praise.
“Carrie Underwood Blesses the 2021 ACM Awards With Her Voice and Style,” reported E!
People Magazine referred to the singing as “powerful,” and CMT News described the spiritual renditions as “profound.”
It’s a rare but wonderful thing when mainstream press applauds anything related to the Christian faith. But I wonder if, in light of the current “cancel culture” running roughshod across society, anybody realized they were, at least indirectly, hailing the art of a reformed slave trader.
As most Christians will recall from church history, John Newton, the 18th century cleric and author of “Amazing Grace,” was once the captain of a slave ship.
Although born into a Christian home, Newton’s young life began its somewhat slow descent into darkness following the death of his mother. Spending time aboard merchant ships, John fell into the wrong crowd and resisted the discipline of England’s Royal Navy.
“I sinned with a high hand,” he once reflected, “and I made it my study to tempt and seduce others.”
Struggling to survive, Newton accepted a job working for a slave trader named Clow, an individual who operated off the coast of West Africa. Newton was treated poorly and was living in poverty. During a violent storm at sea, and having just read Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, the future cleric made a personal confession.
Yet, John Newton continued working in the slave trade. Perhaps believing its inevitably, he justified his continued actions by claiming his presence on the ships was “promoting the life of God in the soul” of those being trafficked and those engaging in the trafficking.
Newton’s journey from slave trading to abolitionist took years, during which time he penned the famous hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Given his checkered and uneven background, the piece was somewhat autobiographical:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
In time, Newton came to refer to slave trading as “a business at which my heart now shudders” – a stinging rebuke of his old career and original source of income.
John Newton lived long enough to confess and ask for forgiveness, and even redeem the remaining years of his life. The men and women of his era didn’t “cancel” him for his sins then – and nor should today’s culture cancel him now.
The treatment and rehabilitation of John Newton provides us with a model to follow. All of us are sinners, and none of us are single acts. Instead of setting out to destroy and cancel individuals for past mistakes and poor judgment, God’s “amazing grace” is well enough to cover a multitude of confessed sin.
As the world continues to spin in chaos and confusion, it’s the Christian who can stand tall with great confidence and enthusiasm, both singing and believing in the poignant words penned by John Newton in 1772:
The Lord hath promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.
Photo from HARRISON MCCLARY/REUTERS