Alternative/folk group Mumford & Sons is back with another chart-topping album release, Babel. With banjos and guitars abounding, their newest release has created a stir in both mainstream and Christian music critic circles: With an album title referencing the Tower of Babel account from the book of Genesis, a few overt mentions of "Jesus" in their song lyrics, and Christian themes of forgiveness and redemption throughout, Mumford joins the ranks of Evanescence, P.O.D., Creed, OneRepublic, The Fray, and countless other "mainstream" bands and artists Christians have gone up in arms about with the following statements:
"They just said 'Jesus' in that song...but they say the 'F' word, too..."
"Their rock shows feel like worship concerts..."
"Their lyrics are just so, deep and spiritual..."
According to Christianity Today's Kevin P. Emmert, lead singer Marcus Mumford sees the band's music as "deliberately spiritual:"
"What does Mumford have to say about the nature of his lyrics? He told The Guardian the lyrics throughout album Sigh No More are 'a deliberately spiritual thing but deliberately not a religious thing. I think faith is something beautiful, and something real, and something universal, or it can be.' He added that the band's members 'all have our separate views on religion, but I think faith is something to be celebrated. I have my own personal views, they're still real to me, and I want to write about them.'"
So, are Mumford & Sons "Christian?" According to Emmert, Mumford's music contains themes of faith that are real and raw, a quality missing in a lot of popular music today:
"Mumford & Sons herald a message that is rare and profound. Their songs tell stories of guilt, personal and relational anguish, loss, and discontent. But these themes are coupled with images of love, forgiveness, restoration, fulfillment, and hope. Few popular artists tell stories of the fall and redemption so poignantly. In "Holland Road," on Babel, Mumford sings, "When I'm on my knees I'll still believe."
...Many of us are cynics—about politics, the economy, romance, religion. We need a voice to remind us that all will be well, that there is life beyond pain, restoration after brokenness. Mumford & Sons give voice to that message, telling us that love is persistent, grace is stronger than guilt, hope trumps despair. They even tell us we were made to meet our Maker [Awake My Soul]."
Therefore, the answer appears to be that, as a band, Mumford & Sons does not overtly identify as "Christian." Though lead singer Marcus Mumford's parents lead Vineyard Churches in the UK and Ireland, and he says "faith is something beautiful," he also says that "all of the band's members have separate views on religion."
Life isn't always beautiful, and Mumford does a great job of capturing that truth. But, like Emmert says in CT, the main thing we all need, no matter what our faith beliefs are, is "a voice to remind us that all will be well, that there is life beyond pain, restoration after brokenness."
For Christians, that hope is, in short, Jesus - something Christian rappers LeCrae and TobyMac aren't afraid to say straight up.
"I don’t feel the weight to put the whole church on my back. If you’re looking for Lecrae to give you the full encompassed view of the faith, I think you’re putting way too much pressure on a person. I think that’s impossible. What I try to do is answer the questions. I don’t try to hide anything."
This honesty and authenticity (LeCrae often sings of the grave realities facing youth in abusive and violent environments, but always comes back to the redemption and hope that Christianity provides) have been recently rewarded in the mainstream - LeCrae's album Gravity came in at #3 on the Billboard 200, and TobyMac's "Eye on It" soared to #1 a few weeks ago (check out fellow ChicagoNow blogger Anne Kiplinger's review here).
Maybe, then, subtle allusions to the Christian faith are what make Mumford's music stick.