Mark Tooley Radio Interview
Moody Broadcasting Network's Prime Time America
March 30, 2009
The following is a radio interview about the new United Methodist Hymnal Revision Committee with Mark Tooley, which aired on the March 30th, 2009, edition of the Moody Broadcasting Network's Prime Time America program.
America’s largest Christian tradition is ushering in radical changes to the way churches access the music they sing every Sunday. At the same time, another major church body appears headed for an internal struggle over radical changes to the content of the music they sing. Phil Fleischman explains.
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The radical changes to access come in the form of an online resource known as LifeWayWorship-dot-com.
“It’s a massive digital delivery system that includes audio tracks and orchestration and piano and vocal parts and all the stuff we make music with.”
LifeWayWorship-dot-com is a division of the Southern Baptist Convention. But director Mike Harland says the service is not limited to SBC churches. Rather, he says it’s been designed to be a powerful resource for any church and their music team.
“If you think about it, it has almost a thousand song titles that we had on the site at launch and every single title has forty different pieces of resources that are available. So there are 40,000 things like that on the site if you want to just think about the different types of resources that are there. Then for every one of those resources there are multiple files, audio files, print files associated with it, so it is somewhere around a million files that are deliverable through LifeWayWorship-dot-com.”
The radical new music access service launched last fall. A few months later, the first steps were taken in a process that could lead to radical content changes in the music of the United Methodist Church. A committee charged with developing a new hymnal for the nation’s third largest denomination held its first meeting in January.
“And troubling to those of us who were theologically orthodox there are a number of revisionists and open advocates of changing the church’s position on marriage and homosexuality who are members of that committee and we suspect and expect that they will attempt to insert their own agenda into the new hymnal.”
It’s not the first time a new Methodist hymnal has caused controversy, says Mark Tooley. Mark heads the United Methodist Program at the denominational watchdog group, the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
“Last time Methodists developed a new hymnal it actually became a large brouhaha back in the 1980’s because Reader’s Digest did a story about the committee working on that and their attempts to remove venerated old hymns like ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ and ‘The Battle Hymn Republic’ because they were ostensibly militaristic and efforts to neuterize and make the hymnal politically correct by removing references to God as Father and so forth and thanks to that Reader’s Digest and the widespread public objections most of those wonderful old hymns were preserved and what finally emerged twenty years ago was a fairly good hymnal that has served us well.”
This time around, says Mark, the content issues are a bit different.
“I suspect that many on the committee will be advocating inclusion of hymns that incorporate feminist theology, that portray a god who is not just neuter but who is actively a mother giving birth and so forth and hymns with pantheistic themes and I suspect some hymns with some sexual themes that will incorporate the themes of pro-gay advocacy groups.”
While no such content appears in the recently updated Baptist hymnal, the song book does contain the old and the new, the traditional and the contemporary. And every song is also available, says Mike Harland, at the LifeWayWorship-dot-com website.
“It’s called Baptist hymnal but we also released it in a secondary cover called The Worship Hymnal, many churches use or resources that aren’t Baptist and so we have the cover on it called The Worship Hymnal for those churches who would want to use the hard bound hymnal and it is I mean it is everything that church music has always been. It is the best of what we have always had, on one page you’ve got Fanny Crosby and on the next page you’ve got Chris Tomlin and on the next page you’ve got B.B. McKinney a great Baptist hymn writer from yesterday and then you’ve got Matt Redman right next to him and it’s the best of the new the best of the old, it’s great worship songs, it’s great hymns. It’s new hymns, writers like Stuart Townend and Keith and Kristen Geddy what we would call a modern hymn, all of that material in it and yet it has some wonderful great hymns of our faith that the church continues to sing.”
And many churches will continue to sing those songs straight from the pages of the bound, paper version of the hymnal. But many others, says Mike, will tap into the vast digital resources of LifeWayWorship-dot-com.
“There are cue buttons associated with every title where you could actually click a button and you could hear a little bit of the song and know if that is the one you meant to buy or not, you wouldn’t have to be reading music, you could hear a sample of it and then things are put in keys that work for congregations we were very strategic about what key we put things in, so that even the non-musician could trust that if they get this track it’s going to be in a key that a church could sing it in, we have kind of done that work for them, they wouldn’t have to figure that out on their own. And then its laid out for a person that doesn’t play an instrument they could still use this material to lead worship with it, because they could buy the track and it would help them, they could even get a split track and have voices on the track that would help them lead songs.”
Prices range from 99 cents to download a single song to about 15 dollars for the complete orchestration of a song. Other features of the service include a comprehensive worship planner and the ability to completely modify the arrangement of any song. The developers of LifeWayWorship-dot-com, says Mike, had several audiences in mind.
“One of those, I was picturing the person that has the small group that meets in their house, and there is nobody there that can play anything, there’s not a piano in the room, nobody can play the guitar and maybe this person is not even a singer but they want to have some music their group can sing with and worship with. We have built the tool to help that person but it also has so many layers musically that the person with the Master’s Degree in music and stands in front of an orchestra and a choir, there is material there for them as well.”
It’s the internet that makes LifeWayWorship-dot-com possible and it’s the Internet that Mark Tooley hopes will be used to preserve a traditional Methodist hymnal. He says the Institute on Religion and Democracy has launched an online petition as one way for conservative Methodists to make their opinions known.
“We don’t want to wait around until the problems crop up in the proposed new hymnal we want to nip it in the bud and we are encouraging lay people already to start contacting the hymnal revision committee and to strongly encourage them to stick with orthodox hymns and to shun the theologically revisionist hymns.”
The revised hymnal is scheduled to be ready for General Conference approval in 2012. Meanwhile, over at LifeWayWorship-dot-com, Mike Harland says that service is like a hymnal with no back cover because they will constantly be adding to it. The development of the Nashville-based resource, he says, involved hundreds and hundreds of people.
“We think it probably was the largest recording single project of its kind this city has ever seen. I can’t imagine anybody else would do it. I mean it was insanity but it was just something God put in our heart to do and He certainly gave us the grace to do it.”
For Prime Time America, I’m Phil Fleischman.
Link to Interview on Moody Broadcasting Network.
(Listen to Tooley approx. 20 minutes into the program)