Marcus Mumford: ‘I wouldn’t call myself a Christian’ Now what?

Josh Larsen

Steven Sukkau
March 13, 2013

I mean the culture of Christianity isn't always pretty, it's something most Christians have tried to distance themselves from at one time or another. Yet, I think if an artist is given the Christian stamp of approval we tend to turn off any sort of filter or become less critical, which isn't helpful. We always need to be critical of the media we consume, Christian or not. We need to be discerning at all times, taking in the good and throwing out the bad, maybe maybe more so when it comes from a "Christian" source.

John Joseph Thompson
March 13, 2013

I've heard that comment before. Personally it doesn't surprise me. There are loads of people who feel the need to distance themselves from the word "Christian" and from the "Christian subculture" based on abuses they have seen or experienced. But I don't think that means they are not Christ followers or Christ seekers, or that the way their pursuit of God informs their art is somehow invalid. "Christian" is a word, and as such it is subject to interpretation and misunderstanding. While I personally wish thoughtful Christians would cling to the name and re-claim it from the Pharisees and politicians who have tainted it, I can understand if someone decides that is not their battle.

I'm much more interested in how an artist responds to the person and work of Jesus and the wisdom of The Word in their work than I am in whether or not they accept a specific label. M&S's music moves me and makes think think and feel about very Christian things, whether they accept the tag or not. I'll leave the particulars of how Marcus or anyone else lives that out to them, God, their pastors and their own spiritual community. I hope that the abuses and deformities of the Christian community they have experienced hasn't so wounded them that they have rejected the offer of Grace that is available to them. I hope that they don't allow the enemy of our souls to devour them or even to rob them of the joy of true Gospel community. But I will not pass judgment on the validity of their art or the integrity of their spirituality because they reject a particular label.

We think, as fans and outside observers, that we can know so much about the artists we love, but we really can't. Whether someone calls himself a Christian or not, we are on the outside of that in their lives. It's rude, arrogant, presumptuous and naive to think that we can, or cannot, trust the integrity of someone's testimony or ministry (service) by anything other than the fruit of their lives, and even that is subject to rot.

We Christians are often so culturally enamored with the vapors of celebrity that we eagerly set aside discernment in exchange for labels. Let the media or Christian radio do the heavy lifting of discernment so we can just consume passively and feel good about the world noticing "one of our own." That's not Biblical. That's consumerism.

We've seen plenty of branded "Christians" fail miserably in the war of life, and we've seen plenty of un-labelled believers and seekers make a real difference for the better. I hope M&S is of the latter, but in the meantime no Rolling Stone article is going to change the relevance of their music in my life. If and when an artist turns out to be "untrue" I can't appreciate their art any longer. That is not, however, the same as preferring not to be labeled one way or another.

I hope that people who know me can tell that there's something different about me without me slapping a sticker on my chest that says "Christian." But by the same token, woe is me if when asked directly whether or not I am a follower of Jesus I chicken out and deny it. Even if (when) I do, though, I am comforted by the fact that Peter did the same and Jesus restored him.

I've had a number of profound conversations here at SXSW that have involved a serious unpacking of the truth of the Gospel with people who would absolutely NOT have had a discussion with me if I had been wearing a Christian label on my shirt. My faith came through my words, my listening and my grace (thank God, because that all comes from him!)

Maybe Marcus is trying to do the same thing in Rolling Stone that I'm doing right now in Austin. God protect and guide us both!

March 13, 2013

As Christians, are we not able to acknowledge talent, skill and artistry as well as proclaim the truths of God. For instance, I have no clue as to the faith of Meryl Streep, but I do know that she is superb at her craft. I can acknowledge her brilliance in her field of work and still discuss the value of her work or the content of the work. Why are Christians afraid to acknowledge that everyone Saved and Lost have gifts?

March 13, 2013

This seems to make everything pretty nebulous. Many of the Galatians would have told you that they thought Jesus was awesome, yet the apostle Paul said that they had severed themselves from this awesome Jesus. If Marcus can't express his faith in more concrete terms than this, I'll just let him walk out whatever journey he's on without me by his side.

Micah Murray
March 14, 2013

I've struggled with this myself because, like Mumford, I've felt that the word has so much baggage. I think I've come to the conclusion though that I can't really get away from the word, because it describes my faith.

I wrote today about Mumford, myself, and all of us who find the label "Christian" stamped on our foreheads.


Micah Murray
March 14, 2013

Also, I think it's silly if this soundbyte from Mumfort actually affects the relationship any of his fans have with his music. I think we can enjoy the work of artists that resonate, regardless of the affiliation they claim.

John Van Sloten
March 14, 2013

Part of me doesn't worry at all if he's a Christian. God speaks through all kinds of people from all different places on the 'faith continuum'. In my mind, the authority of God's words through Mumford & Sons is not contingent on the strength of their faith. I count on this fact every Sunday (and especially this weekend as I preach on the band)!

Rich Kirkpatrick
March 14, 2013

Terrific post! There is surely is a shift in the culture of creatives who are Christians. The Christian sub-culture has trained its following to accept shallow art and contrived narrative for too long that the truly gifted artists need to distance themselves. I think most of their fans will applaud, not be driven further. I fear we have tried to distance ourselves from "religion" while not explaining what we are in this conversation. This leaves more confusion for those who are not believers while making us feel better about ourselves. But, that is another discussion altogether.

Idle Chatter
March 15, 2013

In the 80s, the first written statement I ever saw about U2 called them a Christian band, so at least some of us have been down this road before.

Also, many popular 80s Christian artists desired cross-over, so were they ditching their faith when they tried to shake the Christian label?

What I was left with (as an adolescent) is that labels like Christian artist are usually marketing more than ministry and they lock people into what may have been a unique period in their life path and career.

When we choose only to speak to others our own persuasion (which is inherent to an artist who embraces the Christian label), are we fulfilling God's broadest hope for us? Or are we simply staying in the safe and relatively simplistic fold?

When artists shake off the Christian label, they're engaging in the larger world. Their conclusions are no longer foregone, their subject matter is more varied.

We ask creative people to pigeonhole themselves in the appearance of unwavering faith and celebration for our own security. It seems unfair to ask them to embody continuously steadfast faith (which even the disciples could not manage).

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
March 15, 2013

Thanks for bringing up U2. I've always found the band - and Bono in particular - to be refreshingly mysterious about matters of Christian faith. Granted, I haven't dug too deeply to see if any of them have ever made explicit faith statements, but that's part of my point here. As a music fan, I don't see myself in the position of judge, declaring which artists are Christian, which are not and which aren't quite Christian enough. Somewhat like John Van Sloten above, I allow the music to speak for itself, God to sometimes speak to me through the music and the artists to grow in relationship with God on their own time, in their own way.

March 15, 2013

What will it mean for their Christian fans? Not much in the long run. Sooner or later we'll find another music group or actor or best-selling author who tickles our faith-fancies. And there'll be another after that.


March 15, 2013

Good point, John. Perhaps another expression of this idea is in 2 Corinthians 12: (God's) strength is made perfect in weakness. The strength of someone's faith is not necessarily a measure of God's ability to speak through them.

James Gilmore
March 15, 2013

Marcus Mumford, as a rock star, is undoubtedly familiar with the phenomenon where if he mentions a specific town while on stage, people who happen to be from that town cheer at the mention of their hometown's name for no other reason than that this rock-star just mentioned their hometown. "He mentioned Cleveland! That's where I'm from! woooooooooooo!"

Maybe it's just me, but I'm sensing a parallel there in the extent of many Christians' reflexive desire to have Marcus Mumford (or other mainstream-successful musical artists) explicitly self-identify as Christian. "He mentioned Christians! That's my religion! woooooooooooo!"

Amanda Cleary Eastep
March 15, 2013

There is something that works through this band, and whether or not they know it or acknowledge it doesn't change how I’m affected personally by the music. Standing in a crowd of 15,000 at the Dixon, IL, concert last summer, my husband, daughter, and I could strongly sense the presence of the Holy Spirit. It didn’t matter that I could smell weed on the evening breeze or that a young man next to me was sloshed. He sang his sad soul out along with us. God will move through whatever he sees fit. Christian music, music performed by people separated from the "Christian culture", or Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” We loved Mumford and Sons' music before we knew anything about Marcus's faith tradition. The music speaks for itself and to us. Thanks for prompting a great discussion about great music, Josh.

Vincent Bacote
March 15, 2013

Two questions come to my mind when I think about the number of people who "like Jesus, but not the church" or who are skittish because of negative associations with Christianity:

First, I recall some time ago (perhaps more than a year ago) that Nicholas Kristof wrote in NY Times editorial indicating that the great majority of those who are dedicating their lives to addressing the great problems of poverty, sex trafficking and other developing world concerns are conservative Protestants and Catholics. I find myself wondering about when people will think about these sacrificial actions as characteristic of the term "Christian" rather than the associations with being haters, nationalists, etc.

Second, I wonder about the second greatest commandment that we love our neighbors as ourselves. Chances are a lot of the people who are turned off by the term "Christian" or who have legitimately hurtful experiences in church are also people who hope that people are willing to give them multiple second chances for their flaws and errors as they head down the road of life. I wonder if the church (full of people with great gifts and great brokenness who often make their way to the kingdom while walking backwards) will be given the same second chances as well. Surely there is reason for great disappointment, but it is equally sure that the gospel is greater news that should prompt us all to give grace to those who aren't quite perfect within the church and without.

Brent Brewster
March 17, 2013

This is not new. Any artist wishing their music to be heard by the world and not just the KLove listeners has always come out with this kind of stance. Guess what-the world doesn't like Christians-and even moreso in movies, tv and music.
If you are old enough-U2 already paved this road.
If they tell the secular press they are 100% full blown republican baptist right wing gun carrying no smokin no drinkin no dancin christians-they just cut themselves off from the world they are currently reaching-and hoping to reach more.
Jesus did not accept the invitation to be exclusive to the church either. He saw they has some serious problems. In fact-He challenged the "church" of His day alot.
This is nothing to even talk about anymore.
How many segments of the One church Jesus called us to be part of are there?
Mumford would have isolated himself from most of this group even if he says he is this or that. Let alone anyone who thinks all christians are republicans and on and on.
It is called wisdom.
Bono dropped some F Bombs and always kept a arms length from "the church" so the world could hear the message.
Now he can lead the church and the rest of the world in bringing healing to places we have neglected.
How about we stop looking for reasons to excommunicate everyone and get excited when someone is taking a light in dark places.
Yeah-they may not be perfect according to your standards, but we all aren't-depending on who is holding court.
Bottom line-they are impacting millions with the gospel-shouldn't that be enough to give them at least your prayers and a little grace?

James Gilmore
March 18, 2013

--"I find myself wondering about when people will think about these sacrificial actions as characteristic of the term "Christian" rather than the associations with being haters, nationalists, etc."--

It would help if the haters, nationalists, etc. weren't the loudest and most prominent of the bunch, and if those in their own churches who don't want to be known as haters, nationalists, etc. would stand up to them and say, "What you are saying is not in Christ, and it hurts our witness." So far, it's the liberal and incarnational Christians who are standing pretty much alone in proclaiming hate and nationalism antithetical to Christ. If our non-hateful conservative brothers and sisters don't stand with us against the haters in their midst, the voice against those people is only going to be coming from outside.

--"I wonder if the church (full of people with great gifts and great brokenness who often make their way to the kingdom while walking backwards) will be given the same second chances as well."--

In order for people to give abusive churches forgiveness, the churches must humbly and honestly apologize for the pain they caused, repent in working to make whole what they have broken (including reparative justice), and ask for people's forgiveness. If the church is muttering under its breath the whole time "but I was still right," that's not good enough.

Those who sincerely want forgiveness and a second chance must repent and humble themselves; those who expect to be forgiven without repentance are denying the honest grievances of those they hurt. That is no less true for churches than it is for individuals.

Ron Vanderwell
March 19, 2013

Seems like this discussion boils down to the question of why we listen to an artists--because they make us think or because the save us from having to think? M & S clearly makes us think, regardless of where Marcus might be in the process of coming to terms with the faith of his parents. Would I rely on him as a theologian? Probably not. Does he help me probe the mysteries of living in a broken world? Absolutely.

Idle Chatter
March 19, 2013

Well put.

Christian Life08
March 27, 2013

An interesting topic. Especially because i myself have become a fan of theirs. Very entertaining music, and well talented.

In me personally, for my passions given to me by the Lord are apologetics and theology, a point of contention thus far would be Mr. Mumfords comment of his personal views of the person Jesus. Which he then leads into an example of a muslim stating their view of our Lord. Granted, he doesn't seem to go deep into explanation. However, a comparison or statement such as he made causes me for some concern. It reminds me of what C.S. Lewis said when dealing with subjective views of Christ:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Should he "need" a stamp of approval? Of course not. However, all the while, if he later on begins to claim the Lord as HIS Lord and Savior then I would hope for a more clear and distinct statement. Being a public figure.

Christian Life08
March 27, 2013

Amen. Indeed it does. Growing up in the RCC, I certainly had reservations of any term. However, once I came to know the Lord I joyfully embraced the term. For it describes and reveals not a religion, but a relationship with a personal, loving Creator.

Kimberly Westrope
April 12, 2013

Only God can truly know a man's heart, but I can say that both Mumford & Sons and U2 inspire and uplift me. Especially after reading "Walk On:The Spiritual Journey of U2" Those guys don't mess around. They are the real deal...they walk the talk. That book was one of the most inspiring things I've ever read.

Many so-called Christians may disagree with some of the tactics of both bands, but I think anyone who inspires us to be a better, more loving and caring person, is someone we can look up to and respect.

None of us are perfect. As a follower of Christ, I am constantly struggling...with myself, the world, my faith. It's encouraging to know someone like Marcus or Bono, who appears to "have it all", struggles with the same things I do on a daily basis.

Kimberly Westrope
April 12, 2013

I totally agree with you and John. Only God truly knows the hearts of men, and anyone who starts pointing fingers and judging another man's faith should not be doing so.

U2 never really labeled themselves as a "Christian" band, but they are all (Adam did finally get saved)very strong in their faith and have been since they were very young. One of the most inspirational books I've ever read is "Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2". It made my Christian walk pale in comparison. They may not talk about it much, but it's definitely there in their actions.

Marcus is obviously writing/singing about some very personal issues, spiritual and otherwise. I admire him for being brave enough and honest enough to share his struggles. I'm sure many have been blessed by his music, whether he intends it or not.

The best thing we can do for him and his band mates is pray that they will know God and allow Him to work in their lives.

Add your comment to join the discussion!