From the moment I first heard “Amen,” I knew that a minister would eventually use the song to organize a boycott against Meek Mill. That minister turned out to be Rev. Jomo K. Johnson, a pastor of a nondenominational church on Germantown Avenue in North Philadelphia. He is apparently no stranger to controversy having written a book about the connection between Lil Wayne and violence in the African American community that also received media attention. One look at the list of books that he has written makes it clear that he is a man who enjoys taking on complex issues. (His book Call Tyrone, which encourages black church women to remain single has been universally panned by many blogs including Clutch Magazine, Madam Noire, and the Souls of Black Women.)
At this point, I am still sorting out how I feel about Pastor Johnson’s ministry. He and I are a lot alike. We both feel called to reach out to this younger generation that is typically hard to reach in traditional churches. We both are in pastoral roles in churches that we helped to form (though he is the Senior Pastor of his congregation while I am an assistant in mine.) We both see social media as being integral to ministry in today’s society. Indeed, I related strongly to his zeal that has led him to release so many e-books and gospel albums. (Truth be told, I have been throwing around a few book ideas myself and don’t even get me started about my musical aspirations.) I definitely admire his approach and on paper he seems like somebody that could easily be a friend of mine.
Nonetheless, I still have my reservations. I agree with the theory behind the boycott. If we as Christian consumers stop purchasing music from artists whose views we find blasphemous, then artists will be forced to change their content. It’s nothing more than the law of supply and demand. The record industry would have to adjust in order to stay alive. However, theories do not always pan out in practice. I am concerned that this boycott has the potential to bring a lot of unmerited negative press Pastor Johnson’s way just like many critics pretty much destroyed Call Tyrone for its premise alone.
Critics of the boycott are already pointing out that Meek Mill is not the only rapper out there who has ever said anything problematic about the church in his lyrics. (One listen to just about any track from Jay-Z and Kanye’s “Watch the Throne” or many songs in their individual catalogs should make that clear.) People also pointed out that there were plenty of rappers out there whose lyrics were just as violent as Lil Wayne’s were at the time of Johnson’s book about him. As an academic, I understand that it is impossible to take on all facets of a particular issue at once. That’s why academics typically have full sections of our papers and books that address all of our methodological weaknesses and potential criticisms. We take away the ability for critics to embarrass us because we do our best to admit the flaws in our arguments.
Unfortunately, it appears to me that Pastor Johnson is still in the process of mastering the art of strengthening controversial arguments by acknowledging their weaknesses from the onset. (It’s also possible that media outlets are only paying attention to the more controversial aspects of his arguments for the purpose of getting more viewers, listeners, and readers.) I am confident that he is well-versed enough with hip hop to know that Meek Mill is just a small part of the overall problem. He is just intelligently jumping on this Meek Mill issue while people are still talking about it. It may seem rather opportunistic, but the reality is that in the battle for bringing about a positive change in this society, such opportunities are too valuable to be missed.
For now, I will be sure to keep Pastor Johnson and his church in prayer. After all, it’s never easy to be the catalyst for a movement toward social change.
For more information on Pastor Jomo K. Johnson, check out Philly Open Air Church.
Check out the article that inspired this post from Philly.com.