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Is religious rap music appropriate in a house of worship?

A trip to YouTube will allow listeners to hear the music of religious rappers such as Lecrae, who sings about Jesus; observant Jew and reggae singer Matisyahu; and Mo Sabri, who raps about the Muslim faith. These are just a few who have found a home on the Internet. But can congregations make room for them and their music in synagogues, mosques and churches? This week's clergy discuss this genre of religious music.


Rabbi Helayne Shalhevet, Temple Beth Emeth of Mount Sinai:

First and foremost, the important thing to remember is that we're always struggling to preserve tradition while allowing innovation. Rap music definitely falls under the heading of innovation.

But, we have to have different points of entry, different ways to connect with people religiously. While some may not be able to relate to religious rap, others may have a very deep connection to it. If it gets some people in the door, it is something we need to consider. On the other hand, if it alienates some, we have to also consider that. This process is something we struggle with continually.

It also depends on the message of the music. It might be appropriate for a teen event, but not for a solemn worship. And I would never play any music that I hadn't previewed. I think of Jewish rapper Matisyahu, who performs both rap and reggae. He raps both inspirational messages and prayers.

There is nothing inherently wrong with rap music. As a leader of a Reform temple, it may be out of my comfort zone, but that is not a good reason not to allow it.


Pastor Mike Troiano, Church of the Harvest, Riverhead:

Although I don't particularly care for rap music, if it is in the right setting and the person is rapping with the right thought in his heart and has the right lyrics, it could be acceptable. It really depends on the manner in which the person is using it. I don't think the style of music is as important as the heart and the intent. I would not include it during a Sunday morning service, but if we were having a program for teens, a program where it fits, maybe.

You also have to consider the people who are attending the service or program. Just because I don't prefer it doesn't mean it is wrong or doesn't have a place. There are many things that were not in the Bible but can still have a place in the service, in worship. There are a lot of things that weren't in the Bible because they weren't available at the time that are perfectly legitimate, that are acceptable. And, while I may not care for it, I am glad to see there are people who are seeking after and finding God in their own way.


Pastor Daniel Olson, Grace of God Lutheran Church, Dix Hills:

By doctrine, we are free to worship with whatever type of music we wish to play and sing. The Bible doesn't say what kind of music or instruments we are to use. There are instruments mentioned in the Bible, but no commandment about them.

On the other hand, we have to realize our worship is not about entertaining ourselves. It is not a rock concert. That is not why we go to worship. The purpose No. 1 is to praise God and proclaim his word. The message is important. And the way you proclaim that message is important. You also need to realize that we have to have a reverence and respect for our God as well.

I think, personally, if we tried to include rap music in our service, it would offend a lot of people, and make me feel uncomfortable. During our worship service, we want to show the reverence we have for God. I just don't know that rap music would show that reverence, not in this setting. You really have to go back to the purpose of the particular service.

There is a distinction between worship service and things outside the worship service. At a teen event or a public worship outside the church, possibly it would be OK. For our public Sunday worship inside the church, it would not be appropriate, both for the people who would be offended and because we want to give God the proper reverence and respect.

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