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The Harlem Shake: 'Unholy' dance draws rebuke

A popular, secular dance craze --known as the Harlem Shake-- is making its way into the hallowed sanctuaries of some churches. In videos posted on YouTube, adult men and women, teenagers and children are seen in the church gyrating and dancing wildly to weird techno-pop music. The videos are shocking. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was hard for me to tell if the videos were a prank or for real. Maybe you can figure it out ( YouTube Video 1, YouTube Video 2, YouTube Video 3, YouTube Video 4 ) I couldn't; I was too appalled by what I saw on the screen. Without a doubt, these videos of presumed church-goers behaving unseemly have sparked a heated controversy in religious circles because of the disturbing picture they paint of the modern day Church.

The Harlem Shake is the latest method to turn God’s house into a circus.
Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

You would expect that no self-respecting, God honoring, Christ-centered church would condone or allow its members to engage in such disgraceful acts in the House of God, but you'd be wrong. Believe it or not, there a few church leaders who see nothing wrong with bringing a bit of the world into their church services. Pastor John Wyatt of Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida is one of them. Wyatt says the video of his congregants dancing the Harlem Shake during a church service is "harmless fun" and a useful evangelistic tool.

The Harlem Shake was a fun element for our Sub30 service that night. In that context, we believe fun elements in our services help us reach people for Christ, which is always our primary goal. -- Pastor Wyatt

I wonder if simply sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ would have been a better choice as an evangelistic tool rather than making the Harlem Shake video and posting it on YouTube for all the world to see? Surely the gospel has been around a lot longer than the Harlem Shake and has a proven track record of bringing millions to Christ. How could anybody in the Church believe that the Harlem Shake, which first gained popularity among Hip Hop circles, could ever have any religious application or transforming value? Scott Brown, director, National Center for Family-Integrated Churches agrees:

When a Christian institution participates in these types of things, they are simply writing Ichabod on their door for all the world to see: "the glory of the Lord has departed." The true people of God do not emulate worldly movements and personalities. The Bible says, ‘Do not learn the ways of the heathen. --Scott Brown

To make matters worse, the Harlem Shake phenomenon has infiltrated several well-known Christian colleges and church youth groups, who have posted their own copycat Harlem Shake videos. This is not the first instance of the Church appropriating a secular commodity and giving it a Christian veneer. It's done all the time with secular music --- by simply changing the lyric from secular to sacred. Likewise, adding a Christian soundtrack as you dance to the Cuban Shuffle or the Electric Slide doesn't make it holy (I've done this). Adding the word "Christian" in front of something that's clearly secular doesn't sanitize or sanctify it. God's Word isn't subject to compromise. It means exactly what it says.

How much do we really know about the origins of these secular samplings, such as who created or wrote them and in what "spirit?" Take the Harlem Shake, for instance, it's reported to have been invented by an alcoholic who performed it while drunk to the delight of onlookers. Tragically, he died at the age of 43. The Harlem Shake music track was composed by a techno-music producer named Baauer. Surprised at it's huge success, Baauer talks about the inspiration for the music:

I just had the idea of taking a Dutch house squeaky-high synth and putting it over a hip-hop track. And then I tried to just make it the most stand-out, flashy track that would get anyone’s attention, so put as many sounds and weird shit in there as I could. The dude in the beginning I got somewhere off the Internet, I don’t even know where, and the lion roar just makes no sense. --Baauer, Harlem Shake composer

Knowing the story behind the dance, the music, and the video craze makes a difference. I wonder if youth pastors and church leaders would still consider the Harlem Shake harmless fun if they knew the truth? By the way, it also contains a shout out at the beginning to terrorism --- "Con los terroristas!" Clearly, not every church or denomination is involved in perpetuating the Harlem Shake. However, those that are need to rethink their involvement and repent. Take down the videos. Far from being innocent or harmless, the Harlem Shake sets a dangerous precedent. Can the Harlem Shake be any more unholy or un-Christian? Can the Church be any closer to the edge of apostasy? At what point in time did the Church's mission change from saving sinners to imitating them?

Your flip and callous arrogance in these things bothers me. You pass it off as a small thing, but it’s anything but that. Yeast, too, is a “small thing,” but it works its way through a whole batch of bread dough pretty fast. So get rid of this “yeast.” --1 Corinthians 5:6 MSG

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