“‘I grew up in the Catholic Church, I grew up with two gay uncles and a gay godfather, and I grew up in the hip hop community. So the Catholic Church and hip hop community are known as being very homophobic communities in a lot of ways.’”
These are the words of Macklemore, an independent hip hop artist from Washington State, who topped music charts last week with his song, “Can’t Hold Us.” Macklemore has also been speaking out for LGBT equality through his music and his growing fame. He has topped musical pop charts in the US and abroad with his music that includes deep social critiques, reaching number one with the song “Thrift Shop” that glorifies shopping for second-hand goods.
On the same album,The Heist, released in 2012, Macklemore also included a song titled “Same Love” as his entrance into the debate on marriage equality, specifically Referendum 74 in Washington State. Inherent to the artist’s pro-equality music is his Catholic upbringing, which Macklemore speaks about frequently in media appearances. He compares the Church to the hip hop community, which both contain homophobic cultures internally. On his website, the artist writes:
“Growing up in the Catholic Church, I saw first-hand how easily religion became a platform for hate and prejudice. Those who ‘believed’ were excused from their own judgments, bypassing the stark issue of basic civil rights…
“[In both the Church and hip hop] The consequence and impact of what we say, and the culture of shame and abuse it creates, has very real, sometimes deadly impacts upon LGBTQ young people looking for acceptance and belonging.”
“Same Love,” video available above and lyrics here, is laced with critiques against anti-LGBT religious institutions and with an unequivocal endorsement of God’s love for all and our common call to inclusion. These include:
“America the brave still fears what we don’t know//And God loves all his children, is somehow forgotten…
“When I was at church they taught me something else//If you preach hate at the service those words aren’t anointed//That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned…”
Macklemore no longer adheres to an organized religion, but his justice-infused music and spiritual side linger as partial remnants of his Catholic upbringing. In his harsh critique of injustices, Macklemore is bringing together the worlds of church, pop culture, and independent music as he calls each institution to live justly.
Macklemore’s fans pick up on his religious and spiritual messages. One student at Augustana College in North Dakota writes about a Macklemore concert as an experience of “church.“
He has even gained positive reviews from conservative opponents who value his nuanced approach. One blogger at Patheos calls Macklemore’s music “brave,” writing:
“…Macklemore tackles the issues with a degree of subtlety and nuance that we as Christians could learn a lot from. He understands the line between criticizing the Church and recognizing who the true God is. He understands the different between politics and people. He also gets that as important as laws and governance are, true change can only come from the individual…
“Because to Macklemore, it’s not only about a law. It’s about an attitude. It’s not about determining whether or not homosexuality is a sin–it’s the posture of our hearts toward our neighbors.”
Macklemore’s music is a reminder that cultural shifts entail much more than episcopal pronouncements and demonstrations. The success of the Catholic-tinged “Same Love,” even among conservative young adults, reveals that LGBT equality is as much a generational waiting game as a prescient legal and ecclesial struggle.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry