Lady Gaga will be a no-show in Indonesia. The country’s highest Muslim authority had warned that her June 3 concert was “intended to destroy the nation’s morality.” Conservative Muslims stated that her costumes and dance moves are “haram,” an Arabic term that means “forbidden by Islamic law.” Now Jakarta police have refused to issue her sold-out show a permit due to security concerns.
By contrast, Christian groups in South Korea met to pray before her concert there last April. They organized the “Civilians Network against the Lady Gaga Concert” movement, which collected 5,000 supporters on Facebook. Their concerns led the Korea Media Rating Board to ban those under the age of 18 from attending her show.
What can we learn about changing the culture from Muslims in Indonesia and Christians in South Korea?
I’m grateful for religious leaders who address moral issues. Moses warned the Jewish people before they entered Canaan, “Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices” (Exodus 23:24). In a culture where people were told to “hate your enemy,” Jesus taught his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). People deserve to know what God says about the issues of our day.
While we should engage culture boldly, we should do so with grace. Some Muslims in Indonesia argued that Lady Gaga should be allowed to perform, but should be encouraged to respect their cultural norms. However, others threatened to stop her at the Jakarta airport or attack her stadium concert. Christians in South Korea who prayed and voiced their concerns respectfully are an excellent model for cultural engagement in America.
Morality requires humility. Years ago, when I was a seminary professor, a speaker in chapel began his message by citing a local pastor whose recent moral failure had made national headlines. The speaker then pointed his finger at us and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, there but for the grace of God go you.” Then pointing at himself, he said, “And there but for the grace of God go I.”
When we speak biblical truth with humble grace, God’s word never returns empty (Isaiah 55:11). Martin Luther said that the Bible is a lion–it does not need to be defended but let loose and it will defend itself. John Milton advised us: “Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do ingloriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple: who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”