‘Radical truth teller’

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Singer-songwriter Derek Webb, formerly a member of the contemporary Christian band Caedmon’s Call, won rave reviews for his 2005 solo album, “Mockingbird,” which dealt with themes of war, politics and social justice.

The following are excerpts from an interview with Mr. Webb, whose most recent release is “The Ringing Bell”:

Question: What is your relationship with Sojourners, an organization that expresses Christian commentary on faith, politics and culture?

Answer:Sojourners seems to be about people who think spiritually and yet socially. They see the implications of spiritual ideas in terms of social action. I definitely make those connections as an artist. There is a natural connection that has happened between us over the years.

Q: What are the tattoos on your arm?

A: It’s 16th-century church history. I didn’t go to college, but I’ve studied a bit of church history over the years. It’s kind of fascinating to me. It was a remarkable point in the history of the church … being called back to standing on the Bible as its rule of faith.

Q: Where do you think the church is now?

A: The world is in such a remarkable moment in terms of wealth, technology and poverty and all these things colliding. In the West, we have a luxury of taking time to respond to our neighbors. There are people whose lives we are tied to in a lot of senses.

The church should be the first in line to go and act and speak on behalf of the world’s poor. The church is the only institution on the planet that has the moral imperative, the actual command, to go and love the poor. That this is how we show what we believe to people. And yet the church has been very slow to act. It’s been kind of in the back of the line in terms of Africa. It’s taken an Irish rock star to rally the church to really want to do anything.

I’m a follower of Jesus and yet when you look at what He said … there are all these laws and commandments. You keep them or don’t keep them. You are either right or wrong. [But] when asked point-blank what are the most important things we are supposed to do, Jesus said: to love God and to love your neighbor.

When asked, “Who are my neighbors?” He tells a story that basically makes it into the same command as loving your enemies. Love the people who hate you, who oppose you, who seek to do you harm. Love those people. Take care of those people. Also your neighbors as well.

People are worried about alcohol and dancing and cursing and smoking and all these moral outward things. Jesus would say there are two commands that are the context through which you do everything else you’re going to do.

I think the church is slowly, but steadily, coming to life, in terms of what her role is in the global conversation, in terms of wealth and poverty, war and peace. The church has things to say about these topics. She has been very silent for a long time, and she is starting to speak.

Q; What role does your music play in bringing social justice?

A: I feel like it’s my job to write as honestly as I can. Just really trust my instincts and artistically spill my guts. Whoever resonates with what happens are the people who come to shows. Who those people are isn’t really my concern. My music is purely instinctive. Whatever I am compelled by, these are the things I write music about. It is the way I communicate. I have a certain kind of spirit. I have always been kind of a rebellious kid. Growing up, I was a real trouble case. It has been a process to learn, “What are the right things to rebel against?”

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