It happened last minute: the King’s Singers were backstage just two hours before their scheduled performance at Pensacola Christian College (PCC) when they were informed that their appearance had been canceled. In all their years of performing, the group had never been canceled for anything other than bad weather or war, or more recently, COVID. What had happened in this case? The group was being canceled over concerns with the “lifestyle” of one of the members.1 I came across the story while perusing a classical music site and it quickly grabbed my attention. I was pretty sure “lifestyle” was a euphemism for homosexuality, but I clicked to make sure. Sure enough. I’m a fan of the King’s Singers—I’ve been to two of their concerts and own several of their recordings. But you could also say I owe my existence to PCC—my parents met there as students. So this colliding of worlds is quite intriguing to me.
Quite predictably, the media was flooded with stories about this “backwards, homophobic college.” For some conservative Christians, though, this was a principled move of bravery. Most likely, a story like this produces a visceral reaction for many of you as readers—and your reactions are probably mixed! So I want to dig into the story a bit and think through some of the implications of what has happened.
Making sense out of the cancellation
On their Twitter feed, PCC posted the following statement:
Pensacola Christian College is a religious liberal arts institution founded upon and guided by the Bible, as reflected in our Articles of Faith. The college cannot knowingly give an implied or direct endorsement of anything that violates the Holy Scripture, the foundation for our sincerely held beliefs. At the same time, the college also recognizes everyone is created in the image of God and should be afforded the dignity of kindness.
PCC canceled a concert with The King’s Singers upon learning that one of the artists openly maintained a lifestyle that contradicts Scripture. The highly talented musicians were treated with dignity and respect when informed of the cancellation. The artists stated their understanding and acceptance of the change and were given full remuneration.2
So the reasoning is both vague and broad. While it’s easy to guess what “lifestyle” means here, surely there are many lifestyles that contradict Scripture. Does PCC prefer to only invite Christian performers to its campus? A quick look at their website makes it clear they regularly feature secular groups. Visiting artists this school year include the Canadian Brass, Dover Quartet, and Brooklyn Duo.3 And there is no indication that the college makes sure its secular groups all maintain a biblical standard of sexual behavior. So their objection to the King’s Singers is specifically the homosexuality of one of the members.4
For a bit of background on the King’s Singers, they are a six member all male vocal ensemble, founded in 1968 by six scholars of the acclaimed King’s College, Cambridge. They’re a classical group with a wide repertoire, ranging from Renaissance music to crossover arrangements of modern pop. They’re widely recognized as one of the world’s best small vocal ensembles—if you want a model example of an a cappella vocal group singing perfectly in tune and together, they should be your first stop. And no, this is not a group that has made it its mission to promote homosexuality, or anything like that. They are a premier vocal ensemble focused on continuing their tradition of great music-making.
So the objection to the concert can’t be pinned on anything in the presentation itself. It is simply because of the knowledge that one of the singers is gay. Surely if secular performers are at the college regularly, this would not be the first time a musician with a non-biblical sexual ethic has been there! So the charge of inconsistency is rather hard to avoid here. If a college wants to keep its performances to groups that follow certain biblical standards, that should be clear up front. This will practically prohibit almost all non-Christian groups—and probably some Christians groups as well!
Principles or politics?
Is it reasonable for a college to pick homosexuality as the sin that warrants cancellation while knowingly allowing musicians who fail to live by biblical sexual standards in other ways? One could argue that homosexuality is a sin worthy of a more stringent response, which is clearly the position of the parents and staff who pushed for the cancellation. But at best, this seems an arbitrary line to draw, and certainly not one that can be justified by the broad statement the college made. As a private institution they could choose to keep visitors to those fully matching Christian values, but they don’t.
Because there is no clear principle PCC is following, their decision seems more political than moral. Many Christians are vocal about the left destroying standards of morality, particularly when it comes to LGBTQ issues. In the meantime, some of these same Christians turn a blind eye to flagrant immorality in people they think are on their side. We see this in the evangelical support for Donald Trump but also in the U.S. Representative for PCC’s district: Matt Gaetz. As some of PCC’s critics have gleefully pointed out, the school apparently didn’t have qualms about inviting the U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz, a contrarian, Trump-loving Republican who, well, imitates Trump in a few ways beyond policy.5 Shortly after the King’s Singers cancellation, a federal investigation into Gaetz ended without bringing charges against him, but his licentious lifestyle with multiple women, drugs, and suspicious money dealings is, at best, barely legal.6 We hope PCC wasn’t aware of Gaetz’s questionable morals when they invited him to speak. But Gaetz was re-elected in 2022 by a large margin in a conservative district, even while he was still facing charges of abuse!7 Certainly this is also a “lifestyle that contradicts Scripture”—and much more egregiously!
To non-Christians, this is quite unflattering—and unprincipled. It smacks of playing into the current culture wars, making arbitrary cancellations while simultaneously complaining about cancel culture on the left—all while holding their “side” to a different standard.
Should we be concerned about questionable lifestyles in the arts?
Outside of the issue of consistency, should we be trying to keep ourselves away from artists who have immoral lifestyles? I’ve written about this before, as part of my series on music, where I argue that we should look at the music itself, not the performer, to make our judgments.8 When we interact with music—or other of the arts—it would be impossibly exhausting to determine the moral character of all of the artists if we thought that a precondition for being able to enjoy their work. Honestly, if anyone thinks that art can only be rightfully enjoyed if produced by fully commendable people, they pretty much need to rule out all of the arts. Well, you might say, can’t you only listen to music from Christian artists? Perhaps, but where did they get their inspiration? No style or genre anywhere exists independent of influence from artists who aren’t Christian. And it’s just weird to me to think that a Christian could play a certain pattern of notes and have it be a good thing, only to mystically turn bad when played by someone with a questionable lifestyle.
Of course discretion is in order. When we enjoy a musician’s art, we might want to imitate them. This can be dangerous if it leads to being less concerned about sin as a result. But this is more of a comment on the danger of idolizing people in general. Mature people are able to engage with the works of others—including outside of the arts—while recognizing that parts of the producer are fallen and should not be imitated. And yes, this holds true even for art produced by Christians!
Is avoidance of sinful people a wise or biblical strategy?
I think the Apostle Paul gives us some clear hints about this. When he wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, he scolded them for not dealing with the sexual sin of one of their members. He told them they shouldn’t even be eating with this man and instructed them to cast him out of the church. But then he says something quite telling:
When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people. (1 Corinthians 5:9-11 NLT)
The responsibility of the church, then, is to see that biblical standards are maintained within the church, not to avoid sinful people without. In fairness to PCC, certainly we can be okay with brushing shoulders with unsaved people while still having certain events where their presence isn’t appropriate. But as we’ve clearly seen, their performance series doesn’t feature exclusively Christian artists. Now perhaps there’s a concern that a performance by a homosexual would bring confusion to the students: how can such a nice person and fine musician be guilty of breaking a clear biblical command? But over-protective sheltering will only leave young people more vulnerable to confusion. Few things are more confusing for young people than inconsistency in applying biblical standards. And young adults need to be facing the inconvenient reality that many who violate biblical principles still show admirable traits in their lives. Isn’t part of maturing recognizing this while still holding to biblical truth?
As a parting note, though, I do want to acknowledge that these are thorny issues, and while I disagree with PCC’s decision, I certainly recognize such questions are complicated and I hope they acted with good motives. My point is not that we should be upset at PCC but rather that we should be thinking through these types of scenarios in case they strike even closer to home—and they most certainly will!
I’m able to enjoy the artistry of the King’s Singers, not because I condone their private lives, but because they are fantastic musicians. In a perfect world, all great art would be produced by people of outstanding moral integrity. But we live in a fallen world, and the reminder that beauty exists even in the midst of brokenness is a good thing. It’s also imperative that we hold our standards consistently and avoid politicizing moral issues.
- Two members of the six member ensemble are gay, but the memo only mentions one.
4 thoughts on “PCC, the King’s Singers, and the Culture Wars”
Very well said.
Thanks for sharing. Something that I have watched with curiosity is the way these “standards” upheld to make a statement, slowly erode over time to finally reach the place where the standard becomes anything about 50 years behind modern times, rather than God’s Word as it is relevant to today. For example, PCC may have, hypothetically speaking, banned someone for divorce 50 years ago, but today such a position would no longer be tenable for the greater professing Christian community they want to be a part of. Would be interesting to hear thoughts on how this idea may be affecting our Anabaptist communities.
Thanks, Leon. You raise some good questions here. The first thing I’d say is that we need to distinguish between standards upheld in the Christian community and what we expect from those outside the church. If we don’t try to hold those outside of the church to biblical standards in the first place—and I don’t think we should!—then these things aren’t a matter of compromise. The issue in Anabaptist communities, of course, is that the standards within many churches have shifted. But even here, I think we need to fight against the idea that refusing to relate with people who disagree with us shows stronger commitment to our beliefs. At the same time, we all draw lines. Allowing homosexuality in the church, for instance, goes so strongly against Scripture that it makes sense to bar fellowship with those who take the opposing view. Drawing these lines too quickly in areas that are less important can backfire, though. Anabaptists can be guilty of slippery slope thinking, such as thinking that fellowshipping with a church that doesn’t wear the veiling will take a predictable journey that leads to rampant divorce and ends with lesbian pastors. In the end, these hardline stances often need to be retracted and reduces the weight of what we have to say when it comes to issues that are more important.
You raise some very good points and Elijah and I are hoping to record a podcast specifically in response to your comment—stay tuned.
Thanks, Drew. This is helpful and timely.