A new dance craze that has become a fad around the world has now exploded among evangelical churches and Christian colleges nationwide, creating much controversy over whether Christians should be imitating the popular video.
The dance is called “The Harlem Shake,” and is part of a YouTube sensation that began last month and has resulted in over 100,000 replications. According to The Independent, the move actually originated years ago with a man named Albert Leopold Boyce, who would entertain the crowds during halftime at basketball games in the Harlem, New York area.
“He would be drunk, and when you went to get him to get off the court, he would start laughing and performing the shake,” explained friend Tony Arias.
The move became known as the the “Al B,” but as teenagers began imitating his moves, it was renamed “The Harlem Shake.”
Because Boyce struggled with a drinking problem, he succumbed to heart failure in 2006 and died at age 43.
However, his dance lived on and a 23-year-old DJ in Brooklyn incorporated “The Harlem Shake” into one of his club vibes called “Con Los Terroristas,” which is Spanish for “With the Terrorists.”
Last month, five teenagers in Australia decided to put together a short video to the song as humor. The video was filmed in the bedroom of one of the youth and opens with the declaration “Con Los Terroristas!” A sole individual is then seen dancing while wearing a helmet while the others seem oblivious to the gyrations in their midst.
When the song breaks into “Do the Harlem Shake!” the video cuts and shows the room filled with people in costumes dancing wildly.
Soon after it was posted, the video went viral, and individuals and groups around the world began replicating the footage. YouTube began being filled with imitation videos of dancing helmet-wearers that are followed by a group breaking out in crazy dances, often while donning zany costumes.
Christian Colleges and Universities “Shaken” By the Craze
While the video has been imitated by the U.S. swim team, a frisbee team aboard an airplane, and even youth protesters in Egypt, now churches and Christian institutions are picking up on the craze. Students from Rick Warren’s Saddleback high school ministry, the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, Providence Christian College, Kentucky Christian University, St. Louis Christian College, Northwest University and Cedarville University have all uploaded footage online of their youth breaking out dancing — sometimes with sensual and suggestive moves, and little clothing.
“It would seem that these institutions are in full sync with this culture rather than a witness to the lost,” stated Pastor David Whitney of Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Pasadena, Maryland.
A video uploaded by a student at Cedarville University video shows male students dancing in their underwear, with two of the men making sexual poses at each other. One Liberty University video captures a student sporting a yellow shirt with the words “I pee in pools” as he gyrates on top of a couch with his shirtless friends. Another video from Liberty, entitled, “Two Men, One Dorm,” shows two men dancing sexually with one male wearing only a pair of spandex.
“Weird that these are the same kind of LU kids that say homosexuality is a sin,” wrote one commenter.
“It’s going on all over the country,” said Dave Moquin, Associate Pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, where many Liberty University students attend church. “It’s really a situation of a bunch of young people getting together being silly.”
Moquin told Christian News Network, however, that the church has not taken a position on whether “The Harlem Shake” is inappropriate.
“The church is not taking any type of position because we don’t feel we need to take a position,” he said, but noted, “It’s not something that we would promote or be a part of it.”
“Liberty University has a code of conduct that was established by its founders and which is enforced by student leadership and the Conduct Office,” said Vice President of Communications, Johnnie Moore. “Our Conduct Office will take appropriate action in instances where the code of conduct is violated.”
Moore declined to comment on whether an any action will be taken or whether the student behavior depicted in the videos conflicted with the university’s mission to “impact the culture for Christ.”
Cedarville University in Ohio, however, confirmed that officials will be addressing responsible individuals after being notified about a “Harlem Shake” video of a number of male students dancing in their underwear and making sexual poses. Mark Weinstein, the Executive Director of Public Relations for Cedarville University in Ohio, told Christian News Network that the behavior of the students “was inappropriate and not in line with the values” of the university.
“The university will deal with this matter swiftly and appropriately,” Weinstein vowed.
“The Harlem Shake” in the House of God?
Numerous churches from across the nation are also recording themselves doing “The Harlem Shake,” including Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida, City Church Downtown in San Antonio, Texas, Sandals Church in Riverside, California, Champions Centre in Tacoma, Washington, Crosspoint Church in Nashville, Tennessee and Destiny World Outreach Center in Killeen, Texas.
City Church Downtown features the video prominently on the home page of their church website, as it begins with a helmeted individual dancing in the aisle while the pastor is preaching a sermon. It then cuts to the entire congregation dancing in party style, and some standing on their chairs while the strobe lights flash. C3 Church in Australia even recorded a “Harlem Shake” video while reenacting Jesus’ death on the cross.
John Wyatt, the Executive Pastor of Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida, said that he believes the videos are harmless fun and can be used as an evangelistic tool.
“The Harlem Shake was a fun element for our Sub30 service that night,” he wrote in an email response to Christian News Network, explaining the young adult and college ministry video that is posted online. “In that context, we believe fun elements in our services help us reach people for Christ, which is always our primary goal.”
However, Scott Brown, the director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches and elder at Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina, said that he unequivocally finds “The Harlem Shake” to be out of place.
“When a Christian institution participates in these types of things, they are simply writing Ichabod on their door for all the world to see: ‘the glory of the Lord has departed,'” he said. “The true people of God do not emulate worldly movements and personalities. The Bible says, ‘Do not learn the ways of the heathen.'”
Pastor Whitney agreed.
“I am surprised that this is a craze among churches, Christian colleges and ministries,” he stated. “This seems entirely out of place for a church, Christian college or ministry to be promoting if they are truly serious about making disciples of Jesus Christ.”
“Imagine the Lord Jesus or Paul, Silas or Barnabas performing these lewd acts,” Brown lamented. Is this an expression of the new man — holiness, purity, wisdom [and] love?”
He stated that the fact that some of the videos are coming out of youth ministries as opposed to church services does not lessen the concern.
“It shows the world the kind of bankruptcy that exists in modern youth ministries,” Brown stated. “The church has long suffered under the weight of the creation of youth culture. This craze is just one expression of how destructive and defiling it is to do so.”
Both Whitney and Brown cautioned other churches and Christian colleges from participating in the fad.
“Does this reflect anything good that is promoted in Scripture?” Brown asked. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
“Any church even considering making such a video ought to think twice about why it even exists as an institution,” Whitney said bluntly. “If you wish to follow the world, why pretend to be a disciple of Jesus Christ at all?”
Calls to City Church Downtown in San Antonio, Texas and Destiny World Outreach Center in Killeen, Texas were not returned by press time.
Footage of Cape Coral Vineyard student ministry