Sufjan Stevens and Malleable Christianity

Sufjan Stevens and Malleable Christianity
March 5, 2015 Dan Wunderlich

Sufjan Stevens is a singer-songwriter who walks freely back and forth between folky tunes and experimental music. For a while, Sufjan wanted to be a novelist, and his love for words and literary style can still be seen in his music. When he first came on people’s radar, he was making whole albums inspired by states in the U.S., tackling Michigan and Illinois. Since leaving this structure behind, he continues to find interesting themes. I am personally a huge fan of his two Christmas albums, which together total 99 tracks.

A constant theme running through his albums are a foundation of faith, and most specifically Christian faith. With a new album soon to be released, Stevens was recently interviewed by Pitchfork. The album is inspired by his parents and his relationship with them, which as is characteristic of quirky singer-songwriters had its ups and downs. In the interview, Stevens easily talks of his faith and the ways in which it helped him unconditionally love and forgive his parents.

Toward the end of the piece, the interviewer asks Stevens directly about his Christian faith. Stevens responds:

I still describe myself as a Christian, and my love of God and my relationship with God is fundamental, but its manifestations in my life and the practices of it are constantly changing. I find incredible freedom in my faith. Yes, the kingdom of Christianity and the Church has been one of the most destructive forces in history, and there are levels of bastardization of religious beliefs. But the unique thing about Christianity is that it is so amorphous and not reductive to culture or place or anything. It’s extremely malleable.

While Stevens’ approach to his faith may rub some Christians the wrong way, there is an important undercurrent in this approach, and I found it to be a facet of faith in the young adults I pastored as a campus minister. Stevens calls it faith’s mealleability–the ways in which Christianity can take root and form in any time, place, or culture. By taking this view, Stevens finds the freedom to discover new expressions of his faith, but he still sees them as connected to the foundation of Christianity.

As a United Methodist pastor, and one who sees himself as a centrist at that, I value both innovation and tradition. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral calls me to weigh Scripture, reason, and tradition alongside my and other’s experiences. However, this interview is helpful because it gives us a window into how many young adults see and understand their faith today. It is also hopeful because, at least as I read this, people who approach faith as Stevens does see their expression of faith not as a rejection of traditional Christianity, but as an interconnected expression and continuation of tradition. Understanding this may help us to see ways to bridge gaps and find common ground.

Read the full interview here (note: contains explicit language and themes):

Image by Flickr user Tammy Lo. Used under Creative Commons License. Cropped from Original.

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