The "technobop" of SINCLAIR ROGERS has attracted plays since Spirit Music first released the album 'Metropolis'. But there's more, much more, to the Singapore-based artist than catchy synth riffs as Mike Rimmer found out.
Spending an afternoon with Sinclair Rogers is an unforgettable experience. It isn't often that an artist's publicity blurb is inaccurate but the description "provocative life, provocative music" is an extreme understatement in a field best known for its hyperbole. Sinclair has lived. The richness with which he has embraced the grace of God and the breadth with which he has applied that grace to popular culture means that in an afternoon with Sinclair Rogers, it is possible to discuss the challenge of Islam on society, the fact that almost every time he is interviewed tape machines have a habit of breaking down and how when life goes wrong, God doesn't wave a magic wand to make it all better. All this before I've even had a chance to run the tape.
I am plagued by a streaming cold which means that our conversation is punctuated by my coughing fits and dripping nose. Sinclair seems unsurprised when my tape recorder malfunctions in three different ways during one afternoon - a record even for me! Do I dare suggest that what this man has to say is so important that there are forces unseen that want to sabotage the message? I wouldn't be surprised. All in all, it's a bit of a struggle but rewarding because Sinclair Rogers has a unique place in Christian music.
It transpires that music isn't the only string to Sinclair's bow. His extensive CV includes time hosting radio and TV programmes fielding calls about sexual problems. He has served as president of Exodus International in North America which is part of a worldwide network of Christian agencies with outreach to the sexually broken. Currently this American is part of the pastoral staff at Church Of Our Saviour in Singapore but he has also gained an international reputation conducting seminars on various aspects of sexuality. Then there is music.
With support from his church, Sinclair has been released to pursue musical ambitions with the intent of engaging his generation in debate about culture, consumerism, sexuality and Christ. His debut album 'Metropolis' is a techno pop album recorded for the Far Eastern market but which is currently on release over here. The album isn't a Bible thumping proselytising epic, it's a more subtle attempt to provoke thought, as Sinclair describes it, "All of my songs reflect the truth. I sing about things that are true, themes of urban living, things we all experience whether you're born again or not and woven in there are nuances of my faith. It's not blatant but whether you're born again or not, I wanted you to be able to listen and say, 'I agree with that,' without making it a polarising experience. Since I feel my music is inspired, I felt like it reflected some of God's opinion."
Reflection is important in the listening process. Sinclair explains, "I want people to reflect. In the modern world we don't really have enough opportunity to do it. With reflection comes insight and perhaps even conviction, so the Lord has a greater chance to speak to us." I wondered whether this was a cop out to simply water down the message. Surely the place of Christian music is to tell people the answer. Sinclair is quick to respond. "Most people do know right from wrong," he asserts. "It's not a lack of information generally speaking. I think we need to ask questions. The Lord spent a great deal of his ministry asking rather than answering."
A lot of Sinclair's questions concern modern living. Indeed, the album sleeve itself has a quote from A W Tozer. "Historians will conclude that we of the 20th century had the genius to create a great civilisation but we lacked the moral wisdom to preserve it." Heavy stuff! The album's title song comes from a cult 1926 silent film directed by German Fritz Lang which portrays a sophisticated technologically advanced society which collapses because of moral corruption. A timely metaphor perhaps? "I can't think of a more apt fulfilment of his cinematic prophecy," says Sinclair, "so in my album I didn't want to sing pretty little love songs and I didn't want to sing about Jesus fixing your broken heart because there're loads of it out there already. I wanted to say you'd better wake up and take a look around and if it's true, how should we be living in the light of these things unfolding in the world around us."
The obvious conclusion is that Sinclair doesn't think much of modern civilisation. "I like air conditioning and microwaves just like everybody else," he laughs. "I just have this sneaky suspicion that we'll end up doing ourselves in with our technology. With all the fire power and bugs and other things we've got, somehow, some day, some way we'll pay."
The 'Metropolis' album is distinctly satirical, a conscious approach as Sinclair explains. "I'm not doing this to be controversial, you can say a lot with satire that is serious. On my album the music is up even though the messages are very serious. It's party, party, party...on the Titanic!"
That satirical approach is probably best summed up on the song "Dysfunctional" which attacks paperback psychology and Oprah type TV where the public talk about their deepest problems live on prime time television. Perhaps surprising, Sinclair feels there are some benefits from this approach. "It's a positive direction in society that we don't cover up our problems," comments Sinclair. "We may need to be circumspect and share with people we trust, but at the same time not talking hasn't helped and the bottom line about the Oprah Winfrey genre is whether there is anybody who isn't dysfunctional! The Church has lost a lot of its moral authority in the eyes of the world because the world is more willing to admit it's messed up. As if Christianity is immunity from humanity! Many Christian people struggle with issues they wish would be brushed aside with a wave of a magic wand when they become born again but if you've been born again for more than two weeks you know that's not true and it's been the Church that has struggled just owning up to the fact that we're all a little bit wonderfully twisted and fallen. While we are new creations and born again children of God and a royal priesthood, the parallel truth is that every day we fall short of God's standard."
Apart from Charlie Peacock, I am not aware of any other Christian artist who is whole-heartedly trying to address the issue of sex. 'Metropolis' contains the song "Sex" so I asked Sinclair to explain his approach to this issue. "The world is talking about sex from a Madonna point of view," Sinclair begins. "A fallen and non redemptive point of view that ends up hurting people, misleading people. Not talking about sex has made the Church irrelevant and ill equipped to navigate in a world of increased risk. We are a very sexually obsessed generation. I have a 10-year-old daughter. She's going to have to navigate through risks that are even greater than when I was her age and having come from a background of promiscuity in my own history, I don't want my daughter to make the same mistakes. I cannot shelter her but what I can do is equip her and I can prepare her and challenge her. The song 'Sex' I sing from my own wide experience. I try not to be preachy but I feel if I am a bit, I've earned the right. I am a counsellor with people who struggle with sexual problems, I came out of a background of terrible brokenness in the area of sexuality and I feel I'm speaking not from a self righteous judgmental point of view but rather having been round the block, I'm asking people to consider what I am saying so they don't get hurt. So if they are making wrong choices, it's not too late to begin making right choices. There is a positive option."
When it comes to sexual behaviour, Sinclair knows too well the pain of wrong choices. For a number of years he adopted a gay lifestyle, even going so far as living as a woman for 18 months in preparation for a sex change operation. I asked Sinclair to describe his experiences. "I didn't wake up and choose to be gay," he explains. "I don't believe I was born gay. The most current medical information does not say people are born gay. There's been a lot of misunderstanding about that. I came from a materially comfortable family but my very talented and beautiful mother was an alcoholic and she got involved with a man who sexually molested me when I was very young. While that did not make me gay, it is interesting to note that universally of all my gay clients, over 80 per cent have a history of molest before the age of 12. Molest does teach you things about sex you shouldn't have learned at an age when you can't really process that and it leaves you defiled."
After his mother's death Sinclair became increasingly effeminate as he was separated from his father. Observing his world, Sinclair concluded that in films it was always the women who received attention and affection from men. However, it wasn't that simple as he explains, "I went down a path that didn't give me affection from men but instead ridicule and rejection for effeminacy and my school years were like an emotional concentration camp."
Although not gay, he was held in contempt by those around him and labelled as gay. Desperately unhappy, Sinclair eventually went into the gay scene and led a pro-gay life. He was the best man at the first gay wedding of two men in the state of Hawaii when he lived there. In the late 70s Sinclair took the extreme measure of attempting a sex change operation. He recalls the situation, "Most gay people don't do that but because I felt so inadequate as a man and because I'd identified with females early on, I decided this would be my way of acquiring long term male love."
The year was 1979 and Sinclair was all set to have the sex re-assignment surgery when God intervened in his life. "I became born again," Sinclair recalls. "And God began to recalibrate my life and that meant a lot of emotional healing." Everything wasn't immediately rosy. If you can imagine that Sinclair had been involved in the gay scene for some time and his mannerisms were extremely effeminate, there were some judgmental Christians who could not handle his flamboyance which was an obvious indication of his background. Sinclair explains, "I had to work through a lot of attitudes from people and it was very frightening for me to come to terms with my manhood because it only brought me pain and rejection and yet I really had the affirmation of God. I had a real Damascus Road experience with the Lord. I don't think anything less would have worked for me. I always believed that he existed but I thought that he hated me and I thought there was no redemption for people like me. I needed an encounter with God to cut through all my misunderstandings and misconceptions. I discovered he loved me. He understood me. It was not too late for me. He had a plan for me. That's what rescued me."
As much as Sinclair wished that God would wave a magic wand over his past, it wasn't to be so. Although he never had another homosexual encounter after becoming a Christian, it wasn't a case that when he was born again he ceased to have any sexual feelings towards men. "I felt very homosexual," Sinclair remembers. "It was the only life and love I had known but I wanted God more. In spite of the internal appetite that I struggled with, for the first time in my life I had this empowerment to obey God in spite of my feelings. The more I obeyed God, the more secure / became and the Lord brought about some wonderful healings in my life to repair the damage. My recovery from homosexuality was about growth. I don't live as if it never happened, I live beyond what happened. So I grew away from my past and towards a new life which now includes being married for 14 years and becoming a father - not proof that I'm not gay because many people live double lives, but it is evidence of a life I never thought possible."
Provocative life, provocative music? Technical problems overcome, a pile of tissues in my pocket, we hurriedly wander to my local McDonalds for a bite before I drive Sinclair to the airport. In the car park he asks my honest critical opinion of the album. I hesitate because I love it with one reservation. I venture to suggest that the album doesn't do him justice. Next to his extraordinary life it just feels too ordinary. He is modest in receiving this flattery and tells me about the plans for the next album.
Christian music needs men like Sinclair Rogers. Men who are prepared to think through the hard issues and communicate God's perspective without looking for the soft answers. Men who have lived a bit and retain some wit and creativity and the ability to remember life on the other side of the fence. If you get a chance to check out 'Metropolis', do so. It's certainly an interesting project but pray for him as he prepares the next album because Sinclair's ministry deserves to break out and touch many who are hurting and confused with the beautiful grace of God he himself has received.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.