| November 01, 2019 12:41 PM
When Kirk Franklin accepted his honor as best gospel artist at the Dove Awards last month, he took the opportunity to discuss racial tension in America.
Franklin, who grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, asked the audience to pray for Atatiana Jefferson, a black woman who had been fatally shot by a white police officer in Fort Worth just days before. “I’m just asking that we send up prayers for her family and for his,” he said.
When his speech later aired on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, his comments on the tragedy had been edited out.
This wasn’t the first time the Christian network censored him. In 2016, when Franklin’s acceptance speech for the same award included a mention of the death of Philando Castile and others, as well as the five white police officers killed by a black man, TBN edited out that part of his speech.
Franklin said he expressed his concerns to both TBN and the Dove Awards, which he explains are “the Christian Grammys.” The Dove Awards committee promised it wouldn’t happen again.
But, Franklin explained in a video posted to his Instagram this week, “in 2019, history repeated itself.”
After TBN again edited his speech, Franklin pledged to boycott the network and the Dove Awards. He explained:
“So now after meeting with the Dove Awards committee and representatives of TBN, I’ve made the decision after prayer, consultation with my team, and my pastor, Dr. Tony Evans, to not attend any events affiliated with the Dove Awards, Gospel Music Association [which hosts the Dove Awards], or TBN until tangible plans are put in place to protect and champion diversity, especially where people of color have contributed their gifts, talents, and finances to help build the viability of these institutions.”
While secular artists seem to be getting ever more political, many Christians in the entertainment industry are still afraid of rocking the boat.
When asked recently about President Trump, singer Tauren Wells merely told CNN that he “would never oppose a president because I believe in what scripture says about giving honor to authority.”
Franklin, however, is unafraid of speaking his mind. “Not only did they edit my speech,” he said of TBN, “they edited the African American experience.”
“I’m not asking my friends in the gospel community to follow my decision,” he continued. “No, this is my personal choice to take a stand and hold responsible those in positions of power to acknowledge the issues in our separate communities that have existed from colonialism to Jim Crow.”
He may not have asked others to join his boycott, but some did anyway. Rapper Lecrae stood in solidarity with Franklin, commenting on his video, “You know I’m out.” Author Priscilla Shirer, who starred in the Christian film War Room, also expressed support. Singer Natalie Grant wrote, “Thank you for using your platform to speak truth in love, and always with a spirit of humility.”
The Dove Awards responded to the ordeal by claiming that the honorees’ speeches had to be cut down in the interest of time. “Although completely unintentional, we understand it caused great harm and deeply wounded many in the African American and Gospel community,” the GMA president said in a statement. TBN has since made the full speech available on its website.
Franklin will likely continue to receive support over the coming weeks, and the Dove Awards and TBN will have to rethink their marketing strategy going forward. Are they so desperate not to alienate viewers that they’ll censor an artist asking people to pray for victims of tragedy? How long will they be able to pretend that some current issues are not worth discussing?
It seems like a very weak sort of Christianity that can’t handle a little controversy, especially when a singer’s message comes not with political overtones, but a call for prayer.
Christians often express outrage over celebrities’ political statements, but if they don’t want to hear even from their own leaders, they’ll get their pop culture political discourse exclusively from Hollywood. As entertainment grows more politically saturated, it would make sense for Christian groups to encourage musicians to discuss current events from a biblical lens. If they can’t do it, where else will listeners hear a countercultural perspective?
Franklin got it right. “In the end,” he said, “we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”