Can a Hymn’s Truth be Canceled?

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Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine

These lyrics from the hymn “You Are Mine” are meant to be the voice of Jesus to its singers and hearers. The authority of its message has made it a favorite of all who mourn—including families selecting hymns for the funerals of their loved-ones. The source of that authority is the mind of God, not the messenger who attached music and other pretty garnishments to it.

That’s what I told myself and my family after discovering that the author of this hymn has been accused of sexual abuse by women who’ve attended his music ministry over the years. Our family selected this very hymn as the recessional for the funeral of my wife’s brother before knowing that fact. Would knowing that have changed our choice?

I’d like to think it wouldn’t have. Ascribing its message to this author of hymns rather than to the author of life would give the former too much authority. The song’s publisher did a webcast pondering, How do we prevent somebody from accumulating so much star power that it allows them to sway people’s minds?” The webcast’s panelists suggested that putting anyone on a pedestal—clergy included—creates conditions that permit abuse.   

This Sunday’s Feast of the Lord’s Transfiguration documents the Prophet Daniel’s vision of the coming of the one to whom we all belong as he receives authority from the author of life (Dn 7:9-10, 13-14).

The one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.

Next, Peter helps us differentiate between “cleverly devised myths” and true authority (2 Pt 1:16-19). He was eyewitness to his Master’s transfiguration, and earwitness to what it meant:

“This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

You will do well to be attentive to that message, Peter tells us, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, “until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Now, the Morning Star described in scripture, like the music stars we like to put on pedestals, has its light and dark sides. Peter considered his master the “morning star,” but the Prophet Isaiah gave Satan that name, and his prophecy of Satan’s fall sounds like the fall of our false idols from their pedestals (Isaiah 14:12):

“How you have fallen from the heavens, O Morning Star, son of the dawn! How you have been cut down to the earth, you who conquered nations!”

But Matthew’s gospel (Mt 17:1-9), in documenting the authoritative vision and voice Peter experienced at the transfiguration, explains how the fear of the unknown it inspires in us will turn to awe of the One we know intimately as our Lord:

Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

Jesus alone has the authority to say “You are mine.” He said it to twelve of the least worthy people he could find. The fallen 21st century earthbound star who transfigured those words into a hymn for our time did so by the inspiration of that same authority—not by his own power.  We shouldn’t be afraid to be canceled for singing the truth of that transfiguration.

–Tom Andel

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