This Op-Ed originally ran in AP 277. To buy a copy, head here.

Up-and-coming metalcore quintet TEXAS IN JULY were at the center of a rather unusual controversy this spring. The band, who identify as Christian, were part of this year’s Take Action Tour, which benefited Sex, Etc., a teen sex-education organization that has ties to Planned Parenthood. The next thing the band knew, they were the subject of an online boycott, being accused of being “pro-abortion” and “[raising] money for an organization that is anti-Christian.” Here, bassist BEN WITKOWSKI (center) explains the challenge of staying true to yourself in the face of adversity—even if it’s coming from those you’re supposed to identify with the most.

We started Texas In July in early 2007, and here we are four years later playing on dream tours, sharing stages with bands that we grew up listening to. But with the progress that we’ve made so far, our eyes have been opened to a few experiences that we never thought could happen, until they happened to us. We’ve become aware of this fuzzy, inexact set of expectations thrown at bands by listeners, ranging from how you carry yourself as a group and the way you treat fans to the sound of your music and how it evolves over time. 

For example, I feel that the musicians themselves should have complete creative freedom over what they wish to write. Sometimes fans get bummed when new music is released and say, “Why did they change their style?” As a musician, you are going to constantly improve and grow as an individual, and the result is going to be new music that reflects on those changes. Fans should remember that music is an endless wave of experimentation and imagination—that’s why it’s so rewarding to write music that’s new and different. We never want to disappoint anyone, but staying true to ourselves is far more important than impressing the critics.

Meeting musical expectations of fans is only one of the challenges that bands face. One thing that we specifically get a lot of pressure for is our personal beliefs. A group of Christians—who felt that our participation in the Take Action Tour wasn’t a wise decision—recently boycotted our band for joining the tour. With rumors spreading quickly and false accusations pouring in on us from that group, we felt completely blindsided. Our emotions were all over the place—confusion, rage, depression—and we found ourselves at a complete standstill by the harsh and hurtful statements being made. It did not feel good to be placed into a situation like this, especially for something that was based solely around personal choices and beliefs.

In my opinion, it was unfair to be judged the way we were, because of how we perceive our own beliefs and how we carry ourselves as Christians. Now with all of this being said, this group certainly had the right to stand up for what they believed in and speak out to the public with their feelings on the situation. But if there is anything that the accusers could have done differently to get our outlook on the situation, it would have been to not make a Facebook page filled with hearsay and biased opinions bashing us before they ever even got the chance to hear what we had to say. Instead, I wish they could have come to a show and talked to me or any other member of my band face-to-face, on a personal level.

Having the “Christian” label attached to our band immediately creates expectations from others. That’s completely fine; it’s something we’ve known from the start. The way we manage those expectations is simple: We give respect to everyone. We respect those in the Christian branch of the music industry and those who are not. There may not be people we see eye-to-eye with, but that doesn’t mean we don’t respect them. We treat everyone with equal courtesy and take pride in doing so. Some people may wonder why we choose not to speak about Christianity onstage; we would rather not stand and speak before a crowd of people with mixed beliefs to voice our personal opinions on religion. We are on the stage to bring together a widespread appreciation for music, where we are able to unite Christian and non-Christian fans.

Discrimination of any group or fan in the music world is distasteful to me. Our fans really had our backs during the boycott, and I’m glad they all understood where we truly stood on the matter and stood up for us.

I’ve met so many different types of Christians, it’s hard to say who is who and what is what anymore. Should we go on arguing with one another on who is “right” or who is a “better” Christian? Or can we all share the light, and respect one another as individuals with separate beliefs and ambitions? Some days I feel good in the Christian community, but other times I feel like I can’t move an inch without someone shoving words in my mouth, or trying to tell me I can’t feel the way I want to feel or that I can’t do the things I want to do. This constant battle wears on me every single day. The only thing that matters at the end of the day is the fact that I know I have Jesus in my heart, and I’m living my life for me and not for someone else trying to convince me otherwise.

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