'What God's up to?' Stephen McWhirter and Jason Clayborn Model Racial Unity Through 'Rapha' Project
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Stephen McWhirter and Jason Clayborn are two music creators who come from two very different musical cultures. Clayborn has a rich, black Gospel sound, while McWhirter comes with a unique voice in the world of worship music. Their united sound was born in a Kentucky city where racial unrest made headlines around the world. And it's a musical marriage.
Studio 5 sat down with the duo to talk about their newest release called "Rapha." They happily shared what drove them to write and record the song.
Clayborn told us, "Man, so much stuff is going on in the world and in our churches and we and family members and friends of ours' lives, and man, we just one day were just like, man, we need to talk about who God is as being a healer."
"We wrote a lyric in the song that says, 'We're leaning on your Power. You'll do what can't be done either now or forever. We know it's going to come,'" McWhirter said.
Each of the musicians has a unique testimony. McWhirter, who grew up a preacher's kid, was once addicted to drugs. While Clayborn grew up the child of generations of music ministers and never really strayed from his childhood faith.
Recalling his story, McWhirter said, "You know, my dad was an evangelist. I grew up watching him preach on Sunday morning and then behind closed doors, I saw him physically abuse my mom. I said, 'You know what? If God's real, He's not good and I don't want anything to do with this Jesus guy.' So I really quickly just started rebelling. At 13, I'm smoking, drinking. At 15, it's cocaine and pills and I'm selling drugs."
"By the time I'm 17, I'm a full-out crystal meth addict. I'm using crystal meth every day for all six years," McWhirter continued.
"Somebody gave me this book called The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel at 3:00 in the morning. I've got drugs on the side table next to me. Nobody's playing softly in the corner..." "I know it's like seemingly the most improbable place for someone to get saved," McWhirter told Studio 5.
"I say it's the kindness of a very real God to meet a wounded pastor's kid in a place completely untouched by the hands of man. And in this place we had like an internal dialog. I didn't audibly hear him, but I knew I was talking to him, you know... 'God, I want to give you my life. I want to quit all this addiction, all this darkness I've known for so long. I want to, but I can't.' And in a thought more powerful than words, I just feel like the Holy Spirit said, 'You won't do it. I'll do it,'" he continued.
Jason Clayborn's testimony is the opposite from his singing partner.
"My story is totally different. My grandmother was a minister of music at her church. My mom was a minister of music. My father was a minister of music. You know, we grew up in church. My grandmother was the minister of music for 50 years, almost. God has given me favor and put me around greatness a long time ago, and I didn't realize it as a kid," Clayborn told Studio 5.
McWhirter reminisced on how he and Jason came together.
"We live really close to each other. We live like 10 minutes. We've known each other for a long time. We're both mobile and we both have been in this industry, whatever you want to call it, during the pandemic, like, hey, let's get together and do something. And we did. And it was so fine. Like it wasn't work at all. It was like, 'Oh my gosh, I love this.' But there were some people going, 'Hey, you know, some people are watching. You guys are out here and are paying attention to this and wondering what God's up to,' you know," McWhirter said.
Both singers came together at the height of racial tension in our country, however, they didn't let that stop them.
"Not that we thought about it like that, because to be honest with you, this is a very kingdom friendship. It's not, 'Oh, hey, we should do something cause I'm white and you're black.' It's no, 'And I love you. Let's do something together.' This is fun. And it became that not because it was what we were intending," McWhirter continued.
Clayborn offered his thoughts on the matter.
"It's us not trying to turn each other into each other. It's us being who we are and allowing God and allowing the truthful conversations to happen. We're able to say He who comes from type like journey to get to off my chest and just have a conversation. And I think that that's what helps build Kingdom and what's building the relationship is you're able to listen to my story, you're able to listen to the hardships and the things that I've been through and get a understanding of why this is like this and why my culture is like this. And I get an understanding of why your culture is like this, which makes it easier for us to do ministry together," Clayborn said.
Their biggest focus has been on building upon God's Kingdom. McWhirter outlined how.
"I think the whole idea of the Kingdom is this: when we're fixed on the Lord, we're not fixed on each other. I mean, it says 'And every knee will bow, every tongue will confess,' and we'll all sing together to Him, holy holy. And it'll all be different tongues, different nations. There won't be a Kirk Franklin room and there won't be a Hillsong room. It'll just be all at once adoring him," he continued.
"I think genuine love and grace, which those are big words to throw around, but at their core they honor you and they honor each other. And you, like with real love and grace, you begin to trust each other in things. Say whatever he wants to me because I know him and I love him and he has grace to do that with me and vice versa," McWhirter said.
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