News Articles

This band’s diversity is cultural, spiritual

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–They often get quizzical looks from curious observers at restaurants. After all, they’re not the normal-looking Christian rock band.

Max Hsu is of Chinese origins. Jerome Cunningham is African American. Matt Miller’s background is Korean. Paul Shamoun is a native of Beirut, Lebanon. Dave Ghazarian, an Armenian, was born and raised in Canada. Jason Gregory is a Caucasian.

But, despite their different cultural backgrounds, the guys from Church of Rhythm get along just fine. Most of the time anyway. Before this interview, Gregory kiddingly accused Miller of being a Buddhist. “I’m Asian, and that’s why you think I’m Buddhist. You’re a racist,” Miller poked back.

But, although these friends can laugh about their cultural diversity from time to time, they all say racism is no joke. “I grew up in an all-white community,” said Gregory, the group’s lead singer. “There was really only one African American family, who happened to live across the street from me. So, I was fortunate enough to grow up, and probably my first best friend in the world was African American.”

That experience helped Gregory have an open mind when it came to racial issues and helped him see the true cause of racism.

“It’s ignorance,” Gregory said. “It’s looking at people from the outside and making a judgment just because of the color of their skin, or the way they’re dressed, or something like that. Ignorance breeds racism and breeds prejudices.”

Church of Rhythm producer Max Hsu, who writes most of the group’s songs, said Christians need to see through the eyes of Christ if racial barriers are to be broken.

“I think prejudice extends beyond racism,” Hsu said. “I think you can look at someone and go, ‘Well, they’re not like me, they’re a jock.’ Or, ‘They’re not like me, they’re a nerd.’ It’s much more beyond color of skin.

“I think when we learn to see with compassion we learn to see that people that look differently from us or act differently from us are actually like us — love like us, hurt like us, lose like us, fail like us, need God like we do. That’s the start of learning to see the way Christ does.”

Gregory agreed. “Jesus was an unconditional lover of men,” he said. “He didn’t look at a person for the way they were on the outside. He looked at the heart of man.

“I think that’s what our goal has to be — to look past the outside and look at the heart of people. When we do that, that’s when we’re honestly being like Christ.”

That’s where the church should come in, Miller said.

“One of the responsibilities of the church is to educate in every facet,” Miller said. “The big job I think that the church overlooks today is that their job is not only to lead worship, but to educate.” Miller pointed out the merit of mission trips when it comes to educating youth about cultural diversity. “Take them outside of their setting, show them other people in their culture and their environment, and it’s going to open some eyes and rock some worlds,” he said.

Shamoun agreed the church should play a more active role in dealing with racial issues.

“If churches would just reach out to their communities, … it would make a huge difference,” he said. “It would take time, but it would make a huge difference.”

Making a difference is what Church of Rhythm hopes to accomplish. All six group members have connections to Chicago and Willow Creek Community Church there. Their newest album, “not perfect,” received a Dove Award nomination for rock album of the year.

“This album has opened a lot of doors,” Miller said. “It is very relevant to where kids are at. Our music, the CD and our live show are tools that God has provided us with, along with our talents, to get the chance to go to Florida, to Alabama, to Kentucky, to Canada, and say, ‘Hey. God is real. God is relevant to your life.'”

Even the group’s look has given its members opportunities to minister where other groups might not be as welcome.

“A lot of people ask us questions regarding race because we’re so multi-ethnic within this group,” Ghazarian said. “But we didn’t plan this or anything. This is just how the group came together, and it seems just like a representation of the ’90s.”

As for racial equality in the ’90s, Cunningham thinks it’s getting better. “One good thing that’s happening now is a lot of the racial tension that has happened so far back is being diluted,” he said. “As time goes on, a lot of wounds get healed.”

Cunningham also said the group is trying to do its part to speed along the process. “Music has always been at the forefront of breaking racial barriers. Christianity always been at the forefront,” he said. “You put ’em both together, everything we’re doing is knocking down a lot of doors.”

So, while Church of Rhythm members admit they and this world are not perfect, they hope to be witnesses in all they do — and in the way they treat each other.

“What’s cool about this group is just the daily life,” Gregory said. “When we’re walking down the street or if we’re in a restaurant, there is a witness there that’s unspoken because we’re just hanging out together having fun together.

“People look at that. I think that’s a witness in itself, more than we even realize.”

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

    Read All by Tim Ellsworth ›