Singing Justly

February 19, 2024
a choir in black, singing

Correction: The article Singing Justly in the printed Lent/Easter 2024 Issue should have been attributed to Becca Whitla, who is the professor of practical ministry and the Dr. Lydia E. Gruchy Chair in Pastoral Theology at St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
You can also read more through her book  Liberation, (De)Coloniality, and Liturgical Practices: Flipping the Song Bird was released in December 2020 (Palgrave McMillan).  We apologize for not properly attributing this important work in the printed version of Gathering.

People often ask how we can sing songs justly from traditions that are not our own. Singing an-other* people’s music can be an expression of appreciation and respect. It can also be an act of cultural misappropriation, or even a violation against the people who created the song. How then do we sing justly? Here are three principles to consider:

1. Be attentive to context and relationship. Learn about the place where the song comes from. Include that place and its people in your prayers, bulletins, sermons, in community actions, and in our mission projects.

2. Be accountable in relationship. Find out if there are people from the song’s community in the congregation or surrounding community. Invite them to share in the leadership of the song. Ask someone from the song’s community to teach the song to the choir and congregation and pay them! Tangible actions deepen practices of accountability.

3. Be open to transforming relationships. Singing justly changes us. Singing justly means building relationships with communities near and far that are connected to the songs we sing. How do our actions for justice connect to what we sing? This is not easy work. It involves an ongoing commitment to learning, sharing, building relationships, taking risks, and being uncomfortable. The way we do things might be challenged, changed, and transformed in the act of receiving learning from an-other community.

*Néstor Medina suggests using “an-other” instead of “other” as a way to humanize relationships and challenge otherization, particularly of people who are from marginalized communities. See Néstor Medina, “Jürgen Moltmann and Pentecostalism(s):Toward a Cultural Theology of the Spirit,” in Love and Freedom: Systematic and Liberation Theology in the Canadian Context, ed. David John C. Zub and Robert C. Fennell (Toronto: Toronto School of Theology, 2008) 113.

Becca Whitla,
Education Justice and Ethos Committee, Then Let Us Sing!