“Marvin Gaye Christians” Need Our Love- But We Need Theirs Even More

I know that a lot of my Christian friends and loved ones feel like the church has been under attack for years.  Many feel like Christianity and the institution of the church has been marginalized in mainstream culture and that those who carry the torch are oftentimes singled out for unfair attack and scrutiny.  And while I reflexively reject that persecution complex, I have seen a few things recently that have made me think twice.  And although the social dynamics that I have taken note of do not reflect a threat to the survival of Christianity as a doctrine or even the Christian church as an institution, they are a threat and a direct attack on the cultural primacy that Christianity holds in American society.  That is where the battle lines are drawn.


And no it is not trivial matters like saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” in a nod to multi-culturalism in commerce.  It is the dialogue swirling around scandals like the disgusting spectacle of Bishop Eddie Long in recent years and the Catholic Church for years before that.  The on-going conversation that it sparked in social-media and even in mainstream media over the airwaves was disturbing.  I am not sure how anybody can conclude anything other than that this was a disturbed and delusional man- a legitimately tragic figure in the tradition of the Greek theater.  The media played nice with him in the end but speculation that he died of AIDS was rampant.  Irresponsible and mean, yes, but widespread conventional consensus nonetheless.


Years of homosexual activity- including gay sex with very young men that were in his congregation and under his mentorship was reportedly set forth in court records when the alleged victims sued him years later.  Of course nobody but those involved knows the details.  But if I were on a jury and he was being tried for being a creepy hypocritical pervert  he wouldn’t have a chance.  I’d vote to convict and wouldn’t leave the room until everybody else was voting to convict him too.

And that is part of the problem.  Because of men like Eddie Long, non-Christians or non-church-goers have developed a level of hostility toward the church and enthusiastic Christians that is both unfair and unhealthy for our culture.  Because Eddie Long was out there crusading aggressively against the rights of gay people while evidently living a private life that involved not just having gay sex, but grooming adolescent boys into young gay lovers, many folks outside the church were good and ready to stone him publicly and anyone who would speak in his defense.

And while I agree wholeheartedly with the condemnation, I can see clearly where it can go too far and undermine the value that the church still has and the role that it can still play in the lives of young people and for our society.  This is particularly true for black folks.  The church is in our DNA.  The Christian faith and the black church have been central to the black American experience in a way that it is hard to overstate.  So where is the answer to bridging the cultural divide that has some people reflexively criticizing religion and the church and others judging non-believers with scolding skepticism at every turn?  I think the answer is in the person of one of our greatest R&B artists from the Motown era.  Marvin Gaye lived this conflict and arguably died because of it.


Marvin Gay was a talented artist, a visionary social commentator and a troubled soul- which is to say that he was beautifully human.  Many of us know enough of his personal story to understand how complex and nuanced he was and how his experiences influenced his art.  His experience of growing up the son of a fiery Pentecostal minister gave him a foundation in the church that was about as influential as the sun is on earth- it was absolutely everything.

After Marvin became a star as a world famous crooner, balladeer and soul singer that religious foundation showed up full force in his groundbreaking album “What’s Going On?” where he openly cried out to God for guidance and mercy during the turbulent times in our nation and in his own life.  His expression of love of God and devotion to God was as unapologetic as it was soul stirring.  You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate the poignant messaging and the emotional delivery on that album.


At bottom, it was GREAT music that has stood the test of time.  The running time is 35 minutes and 38 seconds and it can forever change a hardened heart. The lesson in Marvin’s life and in this great work of art is that Marvin had become committed to a life of secularism as his star rose.  The pleasures of sex, alcohol and illicit drugs had become a core part of his identity- as any activity taken up on a daily basis inevitably will.  Marvin was living the “rock star” lifestyle of excess that has been celebrated and propagated despite the fact that it almost always seems to result in premature death, a stretch in prison, the loss of a hard earned fortune, or the loss of one’s very soul- or some combination of those sour realities.


So Marvin had become the guy that is so often mocked by non-church goers for hanging out in the club getting high all night long and then running to church in the morning to praise God.  That sharp critique has been floating around black social circles forever and happens to be the one area of clear consensus between church-goers and those that routinely pass on the praise every Sunday.

Many years ago I had the misfortune of attending a party with a friend where some twisted soul began to play an audio-tape he made of a woman participating in group sex with him and three other men.  The guys in the room took great pleasure in listening to the girl explaining her need for them to finish with her soon so she could be at choir practice.  The audio revealed the sickening sounds as she was being passed from one guy to the next to perform oral sex.


The men at the party laughed raucously but the whole thing made me sick to my stomach.  I am not a moralistic crusader and my church experience has been lighter than most.  But the idea of taking any pleasure in this young woman’s internal conflict was sickening to me and the visibly heightened pleasure of those men enjoying her moment of personal crisis and debauchery left a scar on my psyche and all I did was heard the damned tape.

But while these men were reveling in this young woman’s fall in the moment, it was easy to lose track of the larger and more significant point:  Despite how low she was in that moment, somewhere inside of her she STILL wanted to go to praise God.  She STILL wanted to continue her journey to be closer to God. She STILL wanted to TRY. As messed up and confused as she had to have been on that day and in that hour, she was not giving up on having a relationship with God and evidently she was still praying that He would not give up on her.  She wanted to finish her moment of whoring so she could go and sing for God.  That is not to be mocked or laughed at by a person of elevated insight.


Just like Marvin Gaye, her dramatic descent into flesh worship could not kill that connection- a connection so strong that her spirit could lead her to go and kneel before God mere hours after she had knelt before a group of men who were committed to her debasement.  That is a measure of devotion that is hard to fully quantify.

In my view, the Marvin Gaye Christian should not be mocked or reviled by anyone- the committed church-goer or the committed secularist.  The fact that they are putting forth the effort to self-actualize on their spiritual journey should be respected and emulated.  The Marvin Gaye Christian probably represents a greater number of people than either committed church-goers or committed secularists realize.  These people believe deeply in God, have some foundational exposure to organized religion, yet are “in the world” and live their lives walking the line between the two.

If we can take a break from vilifying people who see the world differently than we do, we might see that the world is beginning to evolve toward balancing the elements of our being that are beautifully human with a deliberate march toward our Creator.


Consider this: Pope John Francis is reportedly on the verge of allowing Catholic Priests to marry- reversing centuries of religious law and practice that forced healthy men to live lives committed to celibacy.  That is entirely unnatural and hasn’t worked out well at all. Evidently, the new Pope understands that human beings have needs that cannot and should not be filled as an element of service to God.  A wife can do things for a Priest that rosary beads, ritual rites and crucifixes simply cannot.  Perhaps if this reality had been recognized centuries ago, they would not have had the scourge of sexual abuse stain their institution and ruin countless lives.

So at bottom, embracing the Marvin Gaye Christian is about being real about the complexity of our humanity and celebrating the continuing effort to reach our highest selves in spite of ourselves. And nothing could be more productive, constructive and God-like than that.

Rest In Peace, Marvin.

∞ Thanks 4 checking in-  Do your thing 2day & I’ll see you 2morrow  π

5 thoughts on ““Marvin Gaye Christians” Need Our Love- But We Need Theirs Even More

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  1. Awesome piece. You really did nail this one. This says it all….” So at bottom, embracing the Marvin Gaye Christian is about being real about the complexity of our humanity and celebrating the continuing effort to reach our highest selves in spite of ourselves. And nothing could be more productive, constructive and God-like than that”. The closer we get to truth, the closer we get to ourselves and the closer we get to our Creator.



    Whose traditions are taught and practiced in the contemporary Christian denominations?

    The first century Christians practiced the traditions of the apostles. (Acts 2:42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine…NKJV)

    Colossians 2:8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.(NKJV)

    2 Thessalonians 2:15 Therefore brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (NKJV)

    Galatians 1:11-12 But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.(NKJV)

    The apostles doctrine came directly from Jesus or through the Holy Spirit.


    1. Indulgences.

    2. Absolution by a priest.

    3. Christmas trees in the church building.

    4. Teaching that water baptism was not essential for salvation.

    5. Lent.

    6. Holy Water.

    7. Teaching that God has selected certain individuals for salvation and that all others will burn in hell.

    8. Making the Sign of The Cross.

    9. Praying the Rosary.

    10. Teaching that sprinkling and pouring was baptism.

    11. Maundy Thursday.

    12. The Assumption of Mary.

    13. Teaching that Jesus was one of many ways to heaven.

    14. Praying to the Virgin Mary and dead Popes.

    15. Teaching that a single elder, preacher, or priest should be the authority in each church congregation.

    16. Teaching that once a person was saved they could never be lost.

    17. Teaching that the building where church members meet is a holy place.

    18. Teaching that all unrepentant denominations who teach different ways to become saved should work in unity.

    19. Teaching that the Scriptures have errors.

    20. Teaching that God is not smart enough to produce an accurate translation of His word.

    21. Teaching that Christians need to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

    22. Teaching that men can be saved like the thief on the cross.

    23. Teaching that man-made creed books are equal to Scripture.

    24. Teaching that saying a “Sinners Prayer” is for salvation.

    How many of the, 24, are the traditions of the apostles? Answer, not one. How many are written in the Bible? Answer, none.

    The Bible and the Bible alone contains the absolute truth of the traditions of the apostles.

    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG>> steve-finnell.blogspot.com


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