He has been compared to Adele and Lorde, and his U.S. tour is now sold out. His most popular song, “Take Me to Church,” has racked up millions of views online, and he was recently interviewed on NPR and performed on David Letterman. Although only 24 and hailing from Ireland, Andrew Hozier-Byrne (known as Hozier) is making ripples in the music scene.

I must admit, I first liked “Take Me to Church” for its vibrancy. It builds appropriately, and has a gospel choral feel with folk and blues influences. The second time through the song, I paused at the lyrics, realizing an important message was contained within. Hozier sings of the relationship between the church, worship, his lover, sins, and human nature.

Slow to Speak

If the Heavens ever did speak

She is the last true mouthpiece

The music video and lyrics make it evident the song is about homosexuality and its relationship to the church. The video, directed by Brendan Canty, follows the relationship between two gay men and the violent homophobic backlash that ensues when the community learns of one of the men’s sexuality. The video echoes the wave of violence currently plaguing the LGBT community in Russia. Some vigilante groups are forcing gay men to drink urine, others describe their mission as a safari of hunting pedophiles and gays, while others are luring gay people in to bully and torture them.

Hozier explains the song:

It’s about humanity at its most natural, and I guess the song is very much about sexuality, about the sexual act itself. It’s also a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek swipe at, say, the Church and organizations that would undermine humanity at its most natural by pontificating over things like sexual orientation or natural humanity.

It’s about asserting your own humanity through a very natural act, because there are very few things more human than that act itself. Also, electing something tangible that you can love, something that’s worth “worshiping.”

Christians will be quick to condemn the song, a picture of the victory of the sexual revolution, as “anti-religion.” But the song is also responding to specific persecution the LGBT community is still facing. Understandably, the sounds of the culture wars are shrill in the ears of Christians and the LGBT community, and both are on high alert for any abuse or inconsistency. Christians would be wise to heed Biblical wisdom in being slow to speak and quick to listen, even though songs like this produce knee-jerk reactions.

Hozier speaks to those who have been abused by the church when he says, “I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife.” Abuse at the hands of anyone is wrong. As Joe Carter said in a recent post regarding imploring religious language for acts of torture, “In attempts to dehumanize, we end up becoming less than human ourselves.” If the church or its members have been or are involved in these misdeeds, they need to seek reconciliation and forgiveness.

Bright, Not Bleak

Every Sunday’s getting more bleak

A fresh poison each week

The only heaven I’ll be sent to

Is when I’m alone with you

I was born sick, but I love it

If Hozier were reading this, I would like to say four things to him:

First, thank you for writing such a powerful song. You are talented and have a great gift.

Second, persecution is from the devil, not the God of Christ’s church. For those who have been persecuted and rejected, Jesus himself came as the rejected one. He was rejected by his own nation, his own people, and even his own disciples. He understands and sympathizes with the “others” of society, even seeking them out and promising that “Anyone who comes to [him, he] will not reject” (John 6:37). But we must also define what we mean by persecution. My initial interpretation of the song was that the metaphor of “knife” stood for more than physical persecution. Rather, it included the peaceful but clear disapproval of homosexuality. After some research on the song, it became clear this was not the case. But one wonders if most will still interpret it this way and if Hozier meant to allow broader applications. For someone to disagree with a lifestyle is not persecution, but simply a different opinion.

But the knife cuts both ways. The danger also exists for Christians to begin to sound like a children’s toy stuck on repeat, crying “Woe is us,” or channeling  Ezekiel: “We are the only ones left.” For all the states to acknowledge same-sex marriage does not necessarily amount to persecution for Christians, either. Disagreement can certainly circle into maltreatment, but maltreatment does not necessarily follow. If both sides could acknowledge this, possibly more cordial and profitable conversations could take place.

Third, although you say the greatest celebration of life comes in being who you naturally are, a fuller celebration is offered through following the one who was raised to life. Gawking at the inside of a coffin is the end result for all those who follow humanity in its natural form. But there is one whom death itself could not keep locked away. As the old hymn says, “Death in vain forbids him rise, but Christ has opened paradise.” The risen Christ is humanity in its most glorious form. Sexuality was created in all its dignity by the one who vacated the tomb. Sexuality does point to our humanness, but the creator has specified the kind of sexuality that sets in motion human flourishing.

Fourth, the church may be communicating that you were born sick, but Scripture says we were all born sick. Rather than glorying in our sickness, the man from Galilee tells us to take up our cross and follow him along the dusty road washing the feet of the persecuted. True Christianity is far from the persecution you sing about. Our desires, which nature and nurture tell us to follow, are the true poison. We are far too easily pleased. 

There is more to life than our desires. And it comes in “unlearning all the self-will that we have been training ourselves into…It means kill part of yourself, under-going a kind of death” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 60). It means following the death of the one raised to life, so we too can burst through the tomb.

If Hozier were reading this, I would say, “Every Sunday is getting more bright, not bleak,” for the tombstone has been rolled away.


  1. I love this response! Emotional appeals (e.g. this song) should not be countered by pure rationale — especially the quickly assembled variety.

    No, this song represents some deep-set feelings that are the result of a mish-mash of cultural factors that would take hours to even attempt to analyze and communicate. To simply dismiss this musical expression of what many people across the world are feeling with a pseudo-intellectual knee-jerk reply would be to negate the pain felt by those who identify with the song — especially Hozier himself. We should instead “feel with them” and get to the root cause of what causes this pain.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Great response.

    I believe that when John wrote “for God so loved the world…” he meant all people. God hates sin but Jesus said that he who is without sin throw the first rock, but instead of throwing the rock He set her free and told her to sin no more.

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