Inclusive Songs from the Heart of Gospel is out! The title of this new collection comes from our choice of gospel music tunes for most of our texts. This title is likewise appropriate for our songs set to other tunes because we draw from the meaning of the Greek New Testament word for “gospel,” euangelion, also translated as “good news.”
McKenzie Brown and I began this collection by reclaiming gospel tunes we love with inclusive lyrics to sound the good news of justice, peace, liberation, and abundant life for all people. Larry E. Schultz later joined us, writing new arrangements to some of our songs and creating lyrics and music for some new songs.
The original words of many gospel hymns glorify violence and death rather than the “abundant life” Jesus taught (John 10:10). Some of these hymns also support white supremacy through images of becoming “whiter than snow” through the blood of Jesus. For example, “There Is Power in the Blood” includes this line: “Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow? There’s power in the blood.” I reclaimed this upbeat tune with lyrics that celebrate “Power in Us All,” beginning with this stanza:
Wisdom within us is boundless and free;
there’s power in us all, power in us all;
She moves us forward to all we can be;
there’s life-giving power in us all.
The gospel hymns “Are You Washed in the Blood?” and “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood” gave me nightmares when I was a child, so it was healing for me to write new lyrics to these familiar tunes. Also, the image of “white as snow” in “Are You Washed in the Blood?” supports white supremacy. These and many other hymns that support patriarchy, as well as white supremacy, are still widely used in churches.
My commitment to including female divine names and images in songs led me to wonder how they would fit in others of my favorite gospel hymn tunes, such as “Old Rugged Cross.” I found that the Female Divine provided a counterpoint to the familiar substitutionary atonement words and enhanced reimagining a theology centering peace, love, and life. I reclaimed this tune in my song “The Power of Love,” including this stanza:
Wisdom’s pathways of peace, so despised by the world,
will save us from violence and death;
even though often mocked and rejected and scorned,
She keeps sending life-giving breath.
A gospel song in many current hymnals includes these lines: “Dark is the stain that we cannot hide, what can avail to wash it away? Look! there is flowing a crimson tide; whiter than snow you may be today.” Striving to contribute to the dismantling of white supremacy and patriarchy, I reclaimed this tune with a prayer to the biblical female divine Ruah (Hebrew word for “Spirit”) for power to confront the sins of injustice and join Her in bringing transformation to our world.
When We Are Struggling with Doubt and Fear
When we are struggling with doubt and fear,
come, Ruah Spirit, strengthen our souls;
fill us with courage to persevere,
working for freedom from stifling roles.
Now we see wisdom and truth denied,
honesty threatened, justice erased;
come to us, Ruah, to heal and guide;
bring Your amazing, transforming grace.
Come to us, Spirit of truth and life;
stir us with hope and visions anew,
dreams of a world where all people thrive,
joined in creating a peaceful view.
Come, come, Ruah; breathe in our spirits to set us free;
Come, come, Ruah; bring us Your power and liberty.
Words © 2020 Jann Aldredge-Clanton MOODY
A new book titled Taking on the Cross: Reimaging the Meaning of Jesus’ Life and Death (edited by Timothy Moore, Amy L. Mears, John Ballenger, Ben Sanders III, and Graham B. Walker, Jr.) includes three of my songs from Inclusive Songs from the Heart of Gospel.