The pop icon’s music and commentary are centered in ‘The Gospel According to Taylor Swift’
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — A weekly infusion of Taylor Swift music has proven memorable and meaningful at Brentwood Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles.
Planned since April as a six-week series, “The Gospel According to Taylor Swift” began just after the hugely popular singer/songwriter completed six performances of her “Eras” tour at nearby SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. BPC pastor the Rev. Dave. Carpenter and the Rev. Lora East, BPC’s associate pastor, both attended Swift’s performance.
“I have been a fan of hers for many years. Pastor Dave came to it more through his children,” East explained. “The timing of her concert tour and us launching the series on Aug. 27 — it felt serendipitous. It has been a fun way to think about these topics on everyone’s minds and how we do that with a Christian lens. What is the Christian perspective on patriarchy, mental health, feeling left out and LGBTQ equality?”
Carpenter led off the series with his sermon, “The Man: Would the Apostle Paul be a Swiftie?” using Swift’s “The Man,” a song that speaks to patriarchy. The next Sunday, East used Jonah 2 and Swift’s “Anti-Hero” to talk about mental health in her sermon, “Jonah the Anti-Hero.” This past Sunday, Carpenter’s sermon, “Shake It Off: Fearfully and Wonderfully Weird” was based both on Psalm 139:1-17 and Swift’s “Shake It Off.” The services can be seen here on the church’s website. The three remaining services in the series can be viewed here.
“Are you at least a little bit weird? This gospel we preach, study and claim allegiance to is a call to a radical, revolutionary countercultural movement,” Carpenter says in his sermon on Sept. 10. “Or, as Taylor would say, with the liars and the dirty cheats of this world.”
On Sept. 17, LGBTQ equality will be theme. Swift’s contribution will be the video for her song, “You Need to Calm Down.” East will preach on fear and anxiety on Sept. 24 with help from Swift’s “Fearless.” The series concludes Oct. 1 with a sermon on how unique we all are with the help of Swift’s “ME!” That’s a song Swift performs with Brendon Urie.
In four years serving Brentwood Presbyterian Church, East has worked to boost membership in the young adult group. “One thing that’s hard about Los Angeles across the board for people is making friends and building community … The church is such a good place for that,” East said. Young adults at BPC are active in the church, serving as ruling elders and on church committees, and as deacons and worship leaders.
“We have a younger demographic coming since the series started,” East said. “Some of the folks in the older generation have said, ‘I get what you’re doing. I see young people coming in and that’s important.’ I love the graciousness people have. This isn’t necessarily for them, but they appreciate and value that Dave and I and the worship team are reaching out to the different demographic and generation that this really does speak to. It speaks to me personally, too.”
East and others marvel at the way Swift has, as a young professional woman, “crafted her career in such a way to sustain so many different phases. Obviously, there is something about her being able to stay relevant in an industry that is so challenging for young people who break out into stardom, which she did as a teenager. To sustain a career and keep pivoting and focusing on her artistry and her craft, to keep growing as an artist and to maintain relevance — and to grow a fan base through all that as well is a part of what makes her so fascinating as a pop icon.”
Swift generated even more headlines when she paid $55 million in bonuses to Eras crew and collaborators as the tour ended. To East, it was an acknowledgement “that she couldn’t do it alone, that she needs a team of people to make her music when she is out in the world. I think that’s valuable to acknowledge. Using this moment she is having across different generations — even our older folks are saying, ‘I never listened to her music before, but I have learned more about Taylor Swift in this series than I ever knew before. That’s really fun!’”
“It seemed like a fun, interesting, creative way to share the gospel, to approach scripture with fresh eyes, to tell the story of Jesus through this popular cultural icon right now,” East said.
After the Taylor Swift series started, it occurred to East that she and Carpenter could have used “Barbie” or “Ted Lasso” to speak to the gospel. “How can the church use popular culture to address the good news of Jesus Christ in the world?” East asked. “We are people in the world trying to navigate the ins and outs of life and be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.”
“This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s OK,” East said. “It’s OK to be uncomfortable in church sometimes. As preachers, we often ask, ‘At what point are we being pastoral and at what point are we being prophetic?’ … It might be a bit of a stretch to see someone so popular in secular pop culture through the lens of Christianity. The lyrics might be a little risqué, and that’s OK.”
“We keep talking about what makes the church relevant. Is it still relevant? This is one way BPC is saying we are relevant, the church is relevant, the gospel of Jesus Christ is relevant, and here is a way to see that,” East said. “Let’s try this approach and have some fun and get a Taylor Swift song stuck in your head along the way.”
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