Ray Boltz was a staple of Contemporary Christian music for twenty years–a string of albums that contained songs sung in every church across America. Who hasn’t heard “Thank You”? “Thank You for giving the Lord/I am a life that was changed/ thank you for giving to the Lord/ I am so glad you gave,” or heard it sung to someone who had fulfilled a life of Christian Service. Who hasn’t heard someone sing “Watch the Lamb”? It’s the story of the crucifixion narrated through the eyes of a father who brings his two sons to Jerusalem to participate in the normal sacrifice of a lamb for their family. He is unwittingly pulled into the drama when he becomes the man who is forced to carry Christ’s cross to Golgotha. “Shepherd Boy” is the story of David–who isn’t picked because he’s big and strong, but because God wants to pick him. I used to sing these songs in church–Ray Boltz and I have similar ranges (and I can only hope I did them justice).
His songs speak to the very heart of what it means to be a Christian—“does he still feel the nails/every time I fail/ does he hear the crowd cry crucify again?” and he sings to life the many people that we only know through Biblical stories. Paul and Silas are singing “I will praise the Lord” in jail, and he sings about the view of the cross from below–the sisters, his mother, watching Christ as he hung there in “At the Foot of the Cross”—reflecting on every Christian’s hope: “keep me near the cross/near the cross/ may I never stray so far/ that I cannot see/ what flowed down for me/ at the foot of the cross”.
These songs keep you close to Christ; they are filled with passion and anguish and they tell the stories that we are familiar with. Yes, keep singing the songs of Ray Boltz in Church. To throw them out is to lose a canon of beautiful music, and lyrical devotions worthy of a prayer book.
When Ray Boltz came out in 2008, it shook the Contemporary Christian music world. Though he had retired several years before, his coming out spawned a massive hate fest on blogs, in magazines, chat rooms, and even hate mail to his house. His career, and even his legacy, was nearly destroyed. But he was a brave man, and that kind of devotion to God and bravery in the face of opposition, I think, doesn’t go unrewarded.
He put out a new album, True, in 2010. Aimed at two audiences, Ray Boltz tries to meet both their needs. His gruff, deep voice still sings about contemporary christian experience, but it has a focus and a drive now, to help Christians understand gays, and to reach out to the LGBT community. Many of the songs ask Christians to reconsider their stance–that they are in error–and that they need to understand that gays mean no harm to their families or their Christianity. In some ways, Ray Boltz is a Paul, trying to talk to us about gentiles, that we are a part of Christ’s plan and message.
I hope one day that Ray’s new songs are also sung in church. “I will choose to love” is Ray’s response to the hate mail. “I will choose to love/ though they shake their fists at me/and I will be myself/ and live in authenticity/ though they wrap their hatred in a message from above/ I will choose to love.” A truly Christian response to the discrimination and judgment of Christians.
“Who would Jesus Love?” asks “would he only love the ones who look the same as me/ would he only offer hope if he saw similarity/ would he leave the others waiting like a stranger at the gate”–and challenges Christians to go beyond the narrow confines of the WWJD movement.
Should we sing Ray Boltz’s music in Church? I hope so. I hope we still do. I hope that one day who someone loves will not interfere with the lyrics and the heart of their offering. Ray Boltz has written some of the strongest, most beautiful Christian songs, and he still writes and sings these songs–in the churches that will let him. Ray Boltz is singing his music in church, and I can’t think of a better way to express the heart of Christianity than to keep him singing, and sing with him.