Joy FM pulls “Jesus and John Wayne”

As Joy FM DJ Daniel Britt explains in this post, his station has decided to pull the current Gaither Vocal Band single, “Jesus and John Wayne,” from airplay due to a number of listener complaints. [EDIT, 6/6/12: Broken link removed.] As one might imagine, this has sparked a flurry of posts across the Internet.

The controversy, of course, is over the song’s theme. The money line is at the end of the chorus: “I try to be more like you, Lord, but most days I know I ain’t / I’m somewhere between Jesus and John Wayne.” The songs’ supporters and opponents would probably both agree on what the line is about: It is about the tension between being more like the Lord versus giving in to our old sin nature.

I do understand why those who complain would complain, and I’m going to give a try to explaining why.

Here’s the thing: Many Southern Gospel fans just don’t “dig” subtlety. While CCM attracts more fans of subtle lyrics, for a song to catch on in Southern Gospel, the Gospel message has to be unmistakably clear.

The problem with “Jesus and John Wayne” has nothing to do with the topic addressed or the Hollywood reference. The problem is that the song isn’t that clear whether we are fighting or accepting the fact that most days we’re not as close to conquering our sin nature as we should be.

While the answer is obvious enough for any dedicated Christian that we just assume it refers to fighting our sin nature, it’s not quite clear enough for Southern Gospel radio. And therein likes the conflict.

Of course, what’s past is past. The song is cut and singled. I only post this as a reminder to Southern Gospel songwriter: Be clear. It’s what the genre requires.

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28 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. Growing up Independent Fundamental Baptist, I can say that a large majority of the people I ran with then would have a problem with ANY gospel music. That’s a whole other issue, but it goes to show that a standard that may be low to you can be high to someone else. We all come from different stripes.

    That being said – I thought it was a typical Gaither Vocal Band song that’s different than most other artist recordings. I never had a problem with it.

    Everybody should be able to see the comparison between being more like Christ, but constantly falling short and being somewhere in between what we were and what we want to be.

    The one thing I did notice was this. If you just listen vaguely and don’t pay close attention, I could see where some might have a problem with the end of the 2nd verse: “and maybe that’s the best that I can ever hope to be.” It almost seems like he’s content with falling short. However, listen to the rest of that verse and you can tell the writer is also comparing the Father in the song to John Wayne and the mother to Jesus. The writer was content in the hope that he could be like two good people, his parents.

  2. I think one of the biggest problems people had with this song was the fact that if one wasn’t listening carefully, one could think the writer was almost making a _comparison_ between Jesus and John Wayne.

    People don’t want Jesus and John Wayne (or any other Hollywood actor, for that matter) discussed in the same sentence.

    • Well it seems pretty clear that if Guy hadn’t been in the GVB lineup, they wouldn’t have cut the song! 🙂

      Personally I feel the difficulty is that conceptually the song is about – What John Wayne represents and what Jesus represents?

      So on one hand we have a [sinner] cowboy, and on the other an historic saint?

      There is where the problem lies! the gospel is not about the kind of live Jesus lived – any more than the kind of person John Wayne was! – it is about what the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is able to accomplish in me – now and eternally.

      The song does not get there!

      On a seperate note, it is quite scriptural to use “the cross” as a kind of shorthand for the work Jesus accomplished ON the Cross. Paul uses it in that sense (Gal 6v14) “God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross…”

      • That’s very good analysis, David.

  3. David, that line you mentioned on the second verse is what I have a problem with. The best we can ever hope to be is like Christ…and we are to strive for nothing less. Will we reach that goal 100%? No, we all fall short but we shouldn’t be content with that.

    I’m an IFB and I agree, way too many find fault with a lot of gospel music. It’s sad, even pathetic. However, it’s another topic.

  4. Excellent insight Daniel. I was just about to post very similar thoughts as to the somewhat vague and unclear message in the song, (especially to a casual listener) on Davids site yesterday when my browser failed on me….My first clue that it was “iffy” is when they prefaced singing the song @ NQC by saying, “We asked ____preacher if this song was ok…” I think most listeners to radio of any music style aren’t listening REAL closely on all songs, so certain phrases will jump out and say something that may or may not be the original message.
    I could never listen to CCM because I would always be thinking, now what WERE they trying to say in that song!!!??? 🙂

  5. Radio finally gets a somewhat catchy song and then folks complain about it. Guess we should go back to deadpan singing “it is joy unspeakable and full of glory”.

  6. OK, if we are going to get all nit picky about theology we had better ban”The Old Rugged Cross Made the Difference” since it is Jesus’ passion on the cross and the resurrection that made the differnce ; not the cross itself. I am absolutely baffled by the complaints about this song. I think it is beautiful and sends a clear message.

  7. I haven’t heard the song, and don’t want to bad enough myself to pay 99 cents, but I’m guessing that if you were to speak only in terms of sales, this one ought to jump up a little! That’s how this stuff works … for better or for worse.

    In fact, I think I’m going to check that guess. Right now on iTunes “When I Cry” is the song with highest popularity on that album, and this one is about equal to the others … maybe around 50%. Fourth on the list if you sort by popularity. I would have thought the fact that it was being singled and Guy was leaving would already have made it jump up, but I’ll be interested in seeing if it moves in the next week or two.

  8. I have never liked the song. Are we saying that John Wayne is the maximum sinner? I think that is what is implied. I don’t like it additionally because Bill G tries to brag it up and his chatter makes no sense.

  9. I wondered the same thing,Amy. Thanks for checking. Keep us posted.

  10. Amy, you don’t have to pay 99 cents just go to youtube and type in Jesus and John Wayne. You can listen to them sing it live from the Country and Bluegrass Homecoming dvd.

  11. You have a point, don’t you? I didn’t even think about that.

  12. This song is right in line with some of the Gaithers’ other songs that have used poetic license but still manage to cause me to raise my eyebrows.

    “When I Cry” basically restarts the old debate of whether there are tears in heaven or not. Does God cry? I don’t know. The Bible says God will wipe away our tears, but could God allow any thing or thought in heaven to bring himself tears of sorrow? I know what they mean, but it still is theologically questionable to me to say God cries.

    Then there is “The Really Good News.” It never mentions God or Jesus or the gospel. How can you sing a song as a gospel group talking about good news, yet not include the gospel? This one I understand, too, but still am not fond of because the gospel is good news and this song trying to be passed off as a gospel song just feels wrong to me.

    So “Jesus and John Wayne” is in this vein. It is one of those songs that I understand but still am not struck on. I totally get it, but I’m not sure I wanted it. LOL! I will say it has grown on me but I still find myself hitting the skip button or changing the station when it is on the radio.

  13. As a writer, I know first hand how hard it can be to accurately convey what you want to say about a particular subject in 3-4 minutes that should be able to stand alone without introduction. A lot of groups weed out songs based on whether or not they think the song will require a long explanation before they sing it. And believe me, I have constant struggles when I write, making sure I do my best to try to say exactly what it is I want to say.

    I think “Jesus and John Wayne is a clever concept. I get that we are all trying to be as much like Jesus as we can, but we will never be perfect here on earth, so to do our best and be somewhere between Jesus and John Wayne is, to the writer, the best he can do here.

    And if we were all honest with ourselves, I think most of us could agree the song is pretty accurate in describing us all. Most of us are somewhere in the middle.

  14. I listen to JoyFM and the only problem I had with the song when it was on the air was they played it way too much. It seemed as though everytime you turned on the radio that song was on. I don’t dislike the song but I got tired of hearing it after the multi 100th time it was played.

    JoyFM, I enjoy your broadcasts but this song was in overkill mode before you pulled it.

  15. I heard the song yesterday for the first time…I don’t dislike it, but it certainly is not on of my favorites. Certainly a very “country” sounding song.

  16. The problem I have is yes I know we will never be perfect like Christ; but we should strive to be as close as possible and not be content with where you currently are. Everyone has some area in their lives they can improve on….. IF they want to.

  17. Hmmm. I’m not sure what to say about this…so all I’ll say is I love the song! 🙂

  18. I’m a huge fan of the GVB, but not a big fan of this song, not because of the theology, but because I just don’t think it’s a very good song. Like Mark Lowry, I consider myself a “Recovering Fundamentalist” and there is a time when a song like this would have gotten my goat, but I really don’t care about that kind of junk anymore. I’m not perfect, there is only one that is or ever was, and I do the best that I can every minute of every day. Unlike many, I don’t believe it’s an unforgiveable sin to mention Jesus and John Wayne in the same sentence, but I do wish that the brethren would spend more time worrying about living a good life, setting a good example, and helping others, rather than focusing on stuff that really doesn’t matter. As another Gaither song says, “When the house is burning to the ground, there’s just no time to stand around, arranging all the pictures on the wall.”

  19. come on guys – its just a song – if it makes you stumble, we won’t bring it up – if it blesses you – super fantastic – if you don’t like the music, DON’T LISTEN TO IT – its clear to me Daniel – I LIKE IT MYSELF – OF COURSE – I GO TO A COWBOY CHURCH – from the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches -yeh I live in the south

  20. I liked the song , and understand very i only heard it one time , and i wanted my wife to hear it , then i ran across this ,kickback and i have not got got it to come up ,. I play southern and bluegrass gospel . May God Bless ,.

  21. I look on the date that this is posted. In ’09? Folks are still picky about stuff like that? What happened to one of the other lines in one of the Gaither/EHSS songs about learning to hear another’s point of view B/4 one jumps on the bandwagon. And comparing John Wayne to Jesus? John Wayne was probably closer to being Jesus in the Hollywood Circles than some of his peers. Whatever.

    • I think you’re referring to “I Then Shall Live.” Pretty lame excuse for poetry, if you ask me.

  22. This blows my mind……..I love the song. I am a Christian and preachers daughter and I find nothing wrong with the song at all………Why do people want to “pick apart” such a great song? I know alot of people that would not normally listen to gospel music that love the song. If this song reaches one person…it will be worth it! I would love to hear more great country gospel songs!

    • How would you define “reaches one person”? Salvation?

      • Yes!

      • Would you say that the song has a salvation message?