Yesterday I talked about Lift Every Voice and Sing, song 964 in the Lutheran Service Book.
So how does a song in which the gospel is not preached, which doesn't mention Christ, which gives nothing of the law, and is written by a self-described agnostic get into a Lutheran hymn and service book -- especially one published by an ostensibly conservative group like the Missouri Synod?
It's easy: Lift Every Voice is a favorite among one of the special interest groups which populate the LCMS. This particular group are the Black Ministry folks. Distinguished, of course, from Lutheran congregations which happen to have a majority of black congregants.
We note from yesterday's posting that Lift Every Voice experienced a revival of interest in the 1970s, and this probably explains even further how it got into LSB. Black pastors coming of age (or coming into the ministry) in the 1970s would have been exposed to it. And because the musical and cultural tastes of individuals are often set in stone in their late teens and 20s, these pastors grew to love Lift Every Voice. And when their particular special group got polled for "What songs would you like in the new book?," Lift Every Voice was a natural.
As a song, Lift is not all that bad. It's a bit generic, and it's starting to wear its 20th century quality a bit thin. But there's nothing wrong with it. It's fine to sing at a community function, or a school, or a rally. But it doesn't belong in a hymnal. Especially when certain folks who helped compile it are among those who regularly criticize other church bodies for their hymnody.
A few months back, I quoted a Primitive Baptist who said, "Hymns are small sermons." He was correct. Which means that as with all sermons, a hymn should preach a clear message, should properly distinguish law and gospel, should set forth Christ, and should bring us to the cross. Lift isn't the only hymn in LSB which fails to do these things. But it's an obvious example of one that got there in spite of its obvious faults.
Tomorrow: why Lift is a micrcosm of the problems in the LCMS.