The Rev. Marcus Murchinson of Tree of Life Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, California, is unapologetic. There is nothing wrong with a few expletives in church, he says, because he knows God can handle it. And he is standing his ground even though he’s been getting death threats for his belief.
“The truth is sometimes when I’m praying, my prayers are not ‘guide me o thy great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land.’ I’m not quoting from the 23rd Psalm. I’m not quoting from Philippians. Sometimes my prayers have explicit language in them. God I am bleep, bleep, bleep upset. And because of that, I learned that God can handle that,” Murchinson explained in an interview Monday.
His small church in Watts has been at the center of a viral video storm since one of his now fired drummers posted a recording of three young girls doing what he describes as an avant-garde performance of Jay-Z’s “The Story of OJ” from the rapper’s platinum album, 4:44, on Sunday, July 30.
“Jay z and Tasha cobs (sic) praise dance in church…What are your thoughts?????” the fired drummer Ben Thompson asked with a flush faced emoji.
In the recording that runs for about 90 seconds, Murchinson’s congregation appear to watch in silence as the girls step, twirl and throw faux cash in the air to represent “follies” like wasting money on strippers described by Jay-Z in the lyrics of the song replete with the N-word and other explicit language.
Said Jay-Z in part:
Light n*gga, dark n*gga, faux n*gga, real n*gga
Rich n*gga, poor n*gga, house n*gga, field n*gga
Still n*gga, still n*gga
Light n*gga, dark n*gga, faux n*gga, real nigga
Rich nigga, poor nigga, house nigga, field nigga
Still nigga, still nigga
You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit
You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it
Financial freedom my only hope
F**k livin’ rich and dyin’ broke
I bought some artwork for one million
Two years later, that s**t worth two million
Few years later, that s**t worth eight million
I can’t wait to give this s**t to my children
Y’all think it’s bougie, I’m like, it’s fine
But I’m tryin’ to give you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99
I turned that 2 to a 4, 4 to an 8
I turned my life into a nice first week release date…
“The one thing that’s apparent about language is that there’s a difference between cursing or using derogatory language and using colloquial language,” Murchinson said. “What Jay-Z was using in this particular presentation was not inflammatory or derogatory. He was making a point to just communicate in a colloquial dialect that people understand … Ain’t a word in that song that I don’t know myself, that my congregation doesn’t know and or have used. So why do we come into God’s house and act like we don’t know it?”
While the controversial post also included a dance performance by the young girls to Tasha Cobbs’ more traditional gospel song “Break Every Chain,” it is the performance set to the secular Jay-Z song that has received the most attention. The clip has received nearly 4 million views on Facebook alone as of Tuesday evening, four times the views of the performance set to “Break Every Chain.”
And most reactions to the clip do not share Murchison’s appreciation for colloquialism in the house of the Lord.
“Let me just say, I don’t know how this happened guys. I like to think of things from everybody’s point of view and try to understand the logic behind when things happen crazy in church. I don’t know the logic because generally the kids got to get this approved by somebody and I just don’t know who approved it,” he said.
“I don’t know where the people are that stop these things. The dance team? The parents, the pastors, the sound board, the motherboard? They threw money at the motherboard. They made it rain on Mother Gladys, she been in church 80 something years,” he quipped.
“The only logical thing I can think of is the church is hard of hearing, like literally they have hearing aids in and the kids jam the frequency ’cause I can’t fathom any other way that this got approved and actually happened in the church. It’s unedited. They make a clean version of this song. Not to say that this should be performed in church anyway, but they have a clean version of this song,” he added, expressing further shock about the Jay-Z selection.
Some people were so upset said Murchinson, who is a trained sociologist and military veteran, said that they threatened to kill him.
“We had death threats here at the church. Religious zealots just like the Pharisees and Sadducees wanted to kill Jesus. I don’t believe that they want to kill me, I just think that they want to scare me but here’s the problem, you’re dealing with someone who served in the United States military and served in two war tours. I committed myself to God that I will be what He was — committed unto death … We had about five or six that came across here,” he told CP.
The Navy veteran said the decision to include the Jay-Z song in his presentation two Sundays ago was due to a study his church conducted in Watts to find out why they did not attend neighborhood churches.
“Most of my congregants, and I’m not too sure if this is a cross-country problem or just specific to Watts, but I do know that in most of our predominantly black churches in the innercity … our parishioners do not live in the community that the church sits in. They’re often commuters. So what I wanted to do was try to find out why the community doesn’t come to the church,” he said.
“We found that a majority of the people didn’t come to church because they no longer related to the Judeo-Christian understanding that the prophet was no longer myself or some of our black pioneers Bishop Jakes, Bishop Jones … they no longer had the prophetic conscience of this community. But there was a different prophet that did … p-r-o-f-i-t.
“They looked at the black church only as being the profit entity and not prophetic. They no longer found them to be oracles of God but just institutions that were trying to make money. And so we asked them, who do you look up to? Who are the voices that speak prophetically to your generation, your issue? And they told me, Chance the Rapper, who I did not know. But I did go back and do my homework on him and found out that he donated $1 million of his own money to help right the wrong of Chicago and not one church is on record doing anything of that caliber,” Murchinson said.
“They told me that they listened to Jay-Z and that this song, ‘The Story of OJ,’ was so pertinent to some of the socio-economic dysfunction that they were seeing in Watts as we are watching Watts become regentrified, through its housing development. So what happened was, I then took that and revisited an argument from academia,” he explained.