- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2007

Toby McKeehan, who grew up in the D.C. area, has gained fame in the world of contemporary Christian music as Toby Mac, one of the genre’s most successful recording artists and president of the Gotee Records label.

Since the days of his role in founding the pioneering Christian rap group DC Talk which sold 2 million copies of its 1995 album, “Jesus Freak” the theme of racial reconciliation has run through Mr. McKeehan’s music, including his 2004 solo album, “Welcome to Diverse City.”

Toby Mac, whose latest release is “Portable Sounds,” performs tomorrow during King’s Fest at Kings Dominion in Doswell, Va. The following are excerpts of an telephone interview with Mr. McKeehan, who lives in Franklin, Tenn., with his wife, Amanda, and their five children:

Question: How did growing up in the Metro region affect your outlook on life?

Answer: I grew up in Arlington, Annandale and Vienna. My classes were always diverse. My life was diverse. I started traveling the United States in the group DC Talk, and we were a biracial group, two Caucasians, one African-American. I began to see that that was a privileged upbringing. Not everybody had the privilege of being brought up like that with different cultures around them — Latino, Asian, African-American, Caucasian, Jewish. People weren’t around that kind of diversity the way I was. It began to be a little shocking.

Then, we were traveling in some places where we were called a few names here and there. I was called a few names for my best friend being black. He was called a few names for his best friend being white, which is Michael Tait, who actually grew up in D.C. Part of what we wanted to talk about and make people more aware of in our music was the fact that we think we’re more beautiful together than divided. It began to be a major part of the DC Talk music. It has just spread right into my music. Even when I was putting together my band, I personally sought out a diverse group of people, all different socioeconomic levels, from different parts of the U.S. and overseas, an obviously interracial group of people.

Q: Do you think the church is any different from the rest of the country when it comes to attitudes of racism?

A: The church I go to in Nashville is extremely diverse. … In general, I think the church is on par with the rest of the United States. I do think there are reasons for that. There are reasons for people clicking with their own cultures and races. If you break down where black churches are in America and what black gospel music means to America, it’s an amazing piece of history. It’s an amazing piece of the future.

I would hate to say, “Let’s all come together and homogenize our churches” and then get rid of the different cultures, like the culture that makes up black gospel, which is the black church in America. I would hate for that to go away. It’s an amazing heritage.

I’m not the master planner. I don’t have all the answers. I do think to come together and work together and serve together and at the same time honor the heritage that we’ve come up in together … would probably be the best way … but I feel like, are we going to lose some of that wonderful culture called black gospel? Are we going to lose where basically Christian music came from Southern gospel, a different form altogether? I don’t want to lose either one, but can we sit back and appreciate as we come together? That would be a beautiful thing.

The roots of the churches come from different places, just like the roots of the people come from different places. To bring them together without losing the beauty of the individual cultures is what I would love to see. Is that possible? I don’t know. I guess we’re going to live it.

Q: Do you think the AIDS epidemic in Africa highlights a form of racism?

A: The church has always reached out to other countries through missions. It has always been an important part of the church. Hopefully, if everything is in the right order, we are loving and feeding and serving before we are putting the Gospel in someone’s face. That is the proper order, to love and serve and feed and reach out to the poverty-stricken. You can’t really tell them about faith in God until you’ve first reached out in helpful ways and met physical needs.

I think lack of awareness in Africa is a major struggle for the United States. It’s a major struggle for me. I’m very aware. I’ve sat in a room with Bono. I’m very good friends with Jars of Clay and their Blood:Water Mission [to fight AIDS in Africa]. These are my friends, but it’s still very hard for me to imagine, as I live day in and day out in America.

I am concerned about it, but still day in and day out to raise your voice and raise your awareness is a difficult thing because you are inundated with so much culture in America. The normal America, the everyday Joe, is not as aware. Because of some voices that have spoken out in the darkness, we are way more aware of it than we were three years ago, even though the problem has existed for much longer than that. The church is working hard. It is maybe not as active as it could be, but without a doubt aware and moving in that direction.

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