By Mark Ellis
Her musical genius and showmanship attracts young fans around the world as she pushes past boundaries tested by Madonna. Dark influences from New York’s underground music scene and the performance art world, along with the trumpeting of gay rights and her own raw sexuality lead some to conclude she represents a threat to the moral fabric of society.
Yet one prominent youth ministry leader thinks parents should watch Lady Gaga with their teens.
“She mixes the sacred and the sexual, like Madonna,” observes Walt Mueller, the founder of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (CPYU). “Some in the church will say her music is from the pit of hell,” he notes. “Others will say it’s just music. I find more and more people in the latter group.”
Recently, a schoolteacher surveyed eighth grade students at a Christian school in a conservative area near Mueller’s headquarters in Pennsylvania. Overwhelmingly, she discovered the students’ favorite musical artist is currently Lady Gaga. The students said they loved her creativity and musicality and did not express concerns about her lyrics or the provocative images in her videos.
“None of the students were exercising any discernment about the lyrics and the message – which is typical,” Mueller notes. One of the Mueller’s goals is to move young people from “mindless consumption to a mindful critique,” he says.
For young children, Mueller recommends firm boundaries. “Our basic rule when children are young: we think for them,” he notes. “You can say no, Lady Gaga will not be a part of your musical taste and diet.”
But when children reach adolescence, he supports greater engagement. “We encourage parents and youth workers to continue to have borders and boundaries, but also begin to think with the kids.” The reality is that young people are hearing her music because it’s everywhere, or they rub elbows with friends who listen, Mueller notes.
“We say watch and talk about Lady Gaga, listen to her with them, process it with them, and think with them from a biblical standpoint,” he says. “Speak up and correct the errors that are there, but you can also affirm anything that would be right and honorable. There might be something positive in there.”
As an example, Mueller cites Lady Gaga’s song “Judas,” which was heavily criticized by some Christians as blasphemous. “No one had heard it and they spoke before they should have,” he says. Mueller viewed the video connected with the song and reached a different conclusion.
“She was singing about her struggle with her own sin nature,” he believes. “In the song, she asks ‘Do we follow Jesus or do we follow Judas? Do we believe or do we betray?’”
The lyrics in “Judas” contain a message about depravity that needs to be understood by young people, Mueller says. A song like this provides an opportunity for parents to nurture “discipleship of the mind and biblical thinking” in their teens.
“Our responsibility is to prepare young people for life as adults and if we don’t do that and we continue to think for them, we release them into the world with no ability to think Christianly for themselves.” He invites adolescents to process everything through a biblical framework.
Mueller sees plenty in Lady Gaga to raise concerns. “She is on a mission to change the world,” he notes, as evidenced by her song “Born this way,” the lead song from her album by the same name. The song, developed by Gaga when she was on the road with her Monster Ball Tour, promotes the viewpoint that homosexuals are born with their sexual orientation. The song reached the number one spot in 19 countries.
“She is trumpeting an agenda, a philosophy of life, an understanding of sexuality that is significant in terms of the impact it will have on the way people think,” he notes. “Her agenda is she wants equal rights for everybody. She believes that all sexual lifestyles are legitimate, and there’s nothing wrong with various sexual tendencies or desires.”
Mueller acknowledges certain risks to his “engagement” approach. “I tell youth workers to make sure you do this in groups so you have some accountability. Make sure you go prayerfully and bathe yourself in God’s Word.”
“Don’t go where you can’t go,” he adds. “Let’s say you find out a music video is borderline porn; if you are a person who struggles with porn don’t go there.”
“There is a difference between turning something on to be entertained versus turning something on to know the culture, and to pray and talk and grieve over it.”