Died: B.J. Thomas, Born-Again Singer Who Clashed with Evangelical Fans

Popular artist professed Jesus and earned five gospel Grammys before turning back to secular music. DANIEL SILLIMAN |

Christian celebrity didn’t sit well with B. J. Thomas. The famous singer of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” and “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” personally loved Jesus. It was Christ’s followers that were the problem.

Thomas, who died May 29 at age 78, had a spiritual awakening in 1976. After his born-again experience, the pop and country singer with 15 singles in the Top 40 charts got off drugs and reunited with his wife, Gloria. He put out a massively successful album of Christian music. And he was confronted by an evangelical culture eager for stars but also instantly, angrily critical of them.

Thomas was hailed as a new evangelical icon and then heckled, booed, and berated by born-again fans who didn’t think he was performing his Christianity right. Other celebrities who have wanted to express their faith in pop music but struggled with the demands of believing fans—including Bob Dylan, Amy Grant, and Justin Bieber—would go through similar experiences in subsequent decades.

“I think it’s a really sad commentary when people who want to refer to themselves as quote-Christians-unquote would want to come out and hear someone just to boo them,” Thomas said in a 2019 interview. “That to me was always tough to deal with, and I just stopped making 100 percent gospel records.”

Thomas’s most public clash came in 1982, after he won his fifth gospel Grammy. He sang a string of his secular hits to an Oklahoma audience of more than 1,800, and a woman started shouting at him to talk about Jesus. He told her he wished Jesus would make her be quiet and then said, “I’m not going to put up with this” and walked off stage. Someone shouted, “You’re losing your witness, B. J.,” and there were scattered boos.

The singer returned to the stage and continued the show, but not before critiquing the fans.

“You people love to get together with your gospel singers and talk about how you lead all the pop singers to the Lord,” he said. “But when you get them in front of you, you can’t love them, can you? I’ve got Jesus, but you can’t love me.”

In CCM, Thomas complained that Christians “can’t seem to hear somebody sing. It’s always got to be some kind of Christian cliché or Bible song, or they feel it’s their right before God to reject and judge and scoff.”

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