It’s been just over 54 years since the Gospel Music Association (GMA) gathered at the Skyway Ballroom inside the famed Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tenn., for the first “Dove Awards” – the GMA’s equivalent of the Grammys.
Back in 1969, Bill Gaither was hailed as the Christian songwriter of the year, “Jesus is Coming Soon” by R.E. Winsett was designated song of the year – and The Imperials were feted and proclaimed group of the year.
The brainchild of Bob McConnell, art director of Benson Records, Bill Gaither, and Les Beesley of “The Florida Boys,” a Southern Gospel quartet, the festivities have evolved over the years – but few expected the outright heretical display at last week’s iteration in Nashville.
The spectacle was courtesy of Derek Webb and Matthew Blake, musicians with direct and indirect ties to the controversial song “Good Day” which topped the charts earlier this year. Blake, who goes by the name “Flamy Grant,” identifies as a “drag queen” and is the artist behind the music. The video of the hit song featured Webb, a singer with Caedmon’s Call, getting a drag-inspired makeover from Blake.
Some context may be helpful.
Matthew Blake, a.k.a. “Flamy Grant,” is a former worship leader who began identifying as same-sex attracted at the age of 24, and who began performing in drag at 37. The “Heathen Happy Hour” – a Blake YouTube creation with others – was a product of the pandemic.
“Flamy is how I free myself and, it’s turned out, how I connect with other people who need a little liberation,” Blake has said. “If my sexuality and identity hadn’t been so repressed by toxic religion, I’m sure I would have found drag earlier — but I have no regrets.”
Like Blake, Derek Webb, 49, is a former pastor and Christian songwriter who slowly and then all at once departed from biblical Christianity. After attending last week’s Dove Awards in a dress, the singer defended himself on social media:
“Why did I wear a dress to the Dove Awards?” Webb wrote. “As a cis, straight white man, I walk into a room like that, and any room, with an incredible amount of advantage and privilege.
“If I’m attending as an ally of friends and colleagues, I should do everything possible to surrender that privilege at the door. If the way you look at my loved ones isn’t the way you look at me, I’m not truly standing with them.”
“If you claim to be someone’s ally but aren’t getting hit by the stones thrown at them, you aren’t standing close enough.”
Following last week’s spectacle, a controversy which was fanned on social media, some critics took aim at the Dove Awards for tolerating men wearing dresses at a Christian forum. Frustration is understandable, but unless organizers implemented a dress code, it’s difficult to envision a workable way to avoid bad taste and poor judgment when it comes to a person’s attire.
The even greater issue at play here, though, is the distortion of compassion.
Webb believes he’s expressing love for his friend, which is commendable. But is it really loving to enable someone’s destructive behavior? It is not.
The sentiment expressed in this incident and the broader issue is not isolated. Lots of individuals, especially Christians, are grappling with how to truly express love for someone who is morally or theologically adrift. As believers, we’re to be empathetic – but not enabling.
When Jesus crossed paths with the woman caught up in adultery, He didn’t lash out or order her stoning, as many of the scribes and Pharisees seemed to be expecting. Instead, He refused to condemn her – but then urged her to “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11).
In the case of Blake and Webb, both individuals have departed from orthodox Christianity, but the lesson for the rest of us remains clear.
We don’t necessarily condemn – but we also don’t condone.
Ironically, the theme behind Blake’s “Good Day” song is the pain of isolation stemming from his sexual confusion. In reality, the alienation isn’t coming from man – but it’s the separation we experience from God when we sin.
Photo credit Big Idea Wiki