Ana, Mia, and the Oxymoronic "Christian Emo"

Image courtesy of Katie Halpin

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. - Philippians 4:7-8

It is after much prayer and seeking God that I write this...in response to a growing, disturbing trend I see among young women.

Question: When did developing an identity, based on wallowing in negative emotions and/or self-destructive behavior, become a virtue? Yes, I am talking about the proliferation of "how-to" sites and groups, dedicated to teaching young people how to become "better" anorexics or bulimics; how to cut; and how to develop an "emo" (dark emotional) personality. To make matters worse, more and more professing Christian teens and young adults are getting sucked into this morbid lifestyle.

Following a discussion of the unedifying, "victimization" lyrics of many popular Christian bands today, I found a site entitled "How to Be a Christian Emo" that confirmed what I'd begun to suspect: the attention-seeking "emo" label is now one that not only the world wears with pride; it has invaded the Church. (It even has a name - Urban Dictionary uses the term "chremo"). From the website:

Some may think that Christianity and Emo are incompatible, due to stereotypes in the scene like self-harm and intentional depression. In this article, you will learn to eschew these stereotypes, start an Emo fashion and still glorify God.

Right. So we're going to concentrate on cultivating an image of being dark, brooding, introspective and emotive...without actually being dark, brooding, introspective and emotive. Makes sense to me. (At least they conceded that self-harm does not actually glorify God). Exactly how does any of this - even building an artificial image or facade - glorify God? Does He not command us to "fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2) and "set our minds on things above, not on earthly things"( Colossians 3:2)?

The article continues:

Listen to Christian rock, especially artists signed to Tooth & Nail Records, Credential Recordings and Solid State Records, a metal and division of Tooth & Nail Records. Listen to bands such as Underoath, Norma Jean, POD As I Lay Dying, and Showbread and Flyleaf. and the band Skillet" and Anberlin.

What had gotten me started examining the connection between "emo" music, CCM, and all the teens I've been talking to recently who are cutting and/or purging was the discussion of how often these themes seem to be coming up on the lyrics of today's popular "Christian" bands. I said,

"I am CONVINCED, absolutely, that some of these teens and young adults are getting IDEAS (not necessarily from the artists themselves, but even from each other) and are starting these behaviors, which they see as somehow legitimate and heroic. Even the weepy music itself paints them as “victims”. Don’t get me wrong – abuse is evil and those who are abused are victims. I get that. But glorifying self-abusive behavior, in the name of victimization — even in a song supposedly intended to “raise awareness” of the behavior? NOT cool. Sorry, but these “Christian artists” should know that these songs are neither edifying nor Christ-exalting. You do not need a degree in biblical counseling to know that.

Speaking of the Bible, I cannot seem to get these girls to spend as much time reading it as they do listening to this type of “Christian music”. I am convinced it just makes them slide more deeply into self-pity.

When we take our eyes off of Christ and His finished work on the Cross and put it back on ourselves, (which IS what this genre of music is doing), we’re going to go further away from Him. Believe me, I stand in judgment of no one; I’ve done it myself (and still do). But somehow it feeds the fleshly desire for attention, validation, and vindication. When the Bible tells us to sing and make music in our hearts to God, somehow I don’t think this is what the holy Spirit was talking about. Someone battling emotional problems would do better to sing “How Great Thou Art”, “In Christ Alone”, “Lord of All” or “Blessed Be Your Name” than some of this stuff."

When I was a teen, eating disorders were common (perhaps even more so than now), but cloaked in secrecy and shame. We knew instinctively that starving to excess and purging was damaging to our bodies and nothing to be proud of. Those of us who developed true addictions to this behavior lived in dread of getting caught; fearful of seeking help. We had never even heard of"cutting" or other forms of self-mutilation. Nowadays, however, this behavior is commonplace and almost seems to be a badge of pride among the under-25 set.

Listen to some of the lyrics of Christian "emo" bands, and you can see why.

Do We Raise Awareness, or Raise Up the Cross?

I do not beleive all this "raising awareness" is having a positive net effect. Talking about these deeds of darkness, offering unconditional sympathy and "support" to those practicing EDs and cutting in place of compassionate, Christ-centered counsel, and glorifying the depressing, "dark nights of the soul" that are common to adolescence is neither edifying nor does it "spur one another on to love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24). Folks, the whole point of counseling is to effect change - first heart change (away from sin; re-orienting our hearts and minds towards Christ and His way, laid out in the Bible); and ultimately outward change (in our behavior, as we are re-made into the image of Christ).

I wish that you could see my heart as I type these words. I do not express this with a spirit of judgment, harshness, or "legalism". The burden I feel and frustration I experience as I see girl after girl deceived and entrapped by Satan and his lies is crushing, at times. I know how hard it is to walk out of that prison of self-pity and self-absorption, and it's made all the harder when we surround ourselves with messages and flesh-pleasing music that feeds into our morose attitude.

So many of the people who write to me don't really seem to want to change; they have gotten so used to where they are. Every suggestion I make is shot down; which is fine, but if a counselee refuses to read her Bible, it it truly counsel she wants, or just someone to feel sorry for her? Remember, the two main areas where Satan attacks us is through doubt and discipline. When we doubt, usually it is because we are not in the Word. Bible reading and prayer are spiritual disciplines, which means we must do them whether we feel like it or not. Once that goes out the window, Satan has us where he wants us: at the mercy of our emotions.

Does Jesus Care About our Emotions?

Of course He does! God loves each one of you personally, and cares deeply about everything that happens to or affects you. Recently, I was talking at length with a Christian friend about the role of the believer's emotions, and how God, while He does not exist strictly to meet our emotional needs, is Himself an emotional Being and as such, we are made in His image. (Shout out to Jen: read her great post on the matter here). The Gospels are full of accounts of Jesus responding with tremendous compassion to people....mere sinners like us. When the widow of Nain (Luke 7) wept over her dead son, Jesus' "heart went out to her, and He said, 'Don't cry' " (verse 13). When Mary and Martha, whom He loved, mourned the loss of their brother, He wept right along with them. In the Garden, we see the intensity of sorrow and emotion He was able to experience as a fully human Savior.

Additionally, we see great men of God weeping and, yes; falling into depression over the sin of Israel and rejection of God. Elijah, Jeremiah ("the weeping prophet") and the Apostle Paul anguished greatly over their countrymens' obstinacy and rejection of God. This is one reason I do not believe that depression, per se, is always a sin. There is such a thing as "godly sorrow", and it is right to be burdened for the lost and those stuck in sin. I often am driven to tears by the effects of sin and despair on the eating-disordered women I counsel.

However, the important thing to remember here is that God not only cares about our well-being, He wants to sanctify our emotions. Scripture tells us that the heart (lit. soul; our mind, will and emotions) are the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23) and the peace of God is to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7). By no means does God intend for us to stay in a depressive funk, wallowing around in emotions triggered by thoughts that are not from Him, hurting ourselves physically and seeking to draw the attention of others to our plight.

The Westminster Catechism articulates well what the chief end (purpose) of man is: "To glorify God and enjoy Him forever." Ask yourself this: are you glorifying God by cutting/purging/starving/attempting to appear "emo"? Are you able to serve Him while willfully remanining in that state? Are your eyes on Him (even when listening to "Christian" music that explores these themes), or are they fixed inward on self?

A Challenge to a "More Excellent Way'

I challenge you to bring these issues to the Wonderful Counselor for His perspective. I further challenge you to an experiment for one month: turn off your music, just 20 minutes a day. (I almost typed half an hour, but I don't want to scare anybody off). For just 20 minutes per day, for the next month, I want you to read your Bibles - the Gospel of John; the Book of Romans; and finally, the Epistle on Joy - Philippians. At the rate of 20 minutes per day spread out over a month, you should easily be able to digest those three New Testament books.

My purpose in offering you this assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to show you how reading, and believing, the Word of God over what the tapes in your head may be telling you will effect your emotions in a God-honoring way. Much of the reason we may be tempted toward "emo" has to do with a lack of gratitude - we forget how much God, the Creator of the universe, has done for us. The salvation He has freely given us through the death and resurrection of His Son is more than enough reason to rejoice forever - we are free from all bondage - but how easily we forget that. Forgiveness, acceptance in the beloved, eternal love, peace, hope and joy are all ours, but when we take our eyes off of Christ, we carelessly forget this.

Determine today to live a Christ-centered life - free from the trappings of self-harm and self-hatred. Check your motives and screen your music....is it truly Christ-exalting, or is it man-exalting?


  1. Berean Wife

    I'm thankful that the Lord is showing more and more people the truth of what the music, even the "Christian" music is doing with our children. Over two years ago I tried to point this stuff out and was thought of as crazy and judgmental. Christ is the answer for your pain whether external or even in your own mind.

    Berean Wife

  2. Berean Wife,

    Thank you! It's good to know there are others out there who see this as I do. I have seen many of your comments over on DefCon and I'll freely admit I take comfort in the fact that others also use discernment - I have come under a lot of attack even from fellow Christians in the last couple of months.

    One person, after recruiting me to help Christian ladies with eating disorders in an online forum, booted me off after seeing that I actually counsel biblically. Too harsh to handle the Truth, I guess.

    This with the music and the apparent effect it's having is relatively new to me -- I still think of CCM as being Michale W. Smith singing "Go West Young Man" and Steven Curtis Chapman belting out "For the Sake of the Call". Now I am dating myself, I realize....times definitely hhave changed! What it is similar to is the feel-good, overly-psychologized things that people WANT to hear - much like the writing put out by the Women of Faith group - that "validates" our pain and implicitly allows us to wallow around in it, rather than seeking change.

    Jesus asks us all the same question He asked the paralytic 2,000 years ago: "Do you want to be healed?" http://redeemedfromthepit.blogspot.com/2009/07/do-you-want-to-be-healed.html

    Staggeringly, many folks don't.

    Thank you for your comments.


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