They're speaking up and singing out

Nashville-based singer-songwriters Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken usually share music in clubs, coffeehouses and small theaters, but this fall the husband and wife are touring large churches and Christian college campuses with the Art*Music*Justice Tour.

Conceived by songwriter Sara Groves, the tour – which stops at Cornelius' Grace Covenant Church tonight – features solo and group performances from Groves, McCracken, Webb, Charlie Peacock and Brandon Heath.

The concert is being hosted by Grace Covenant, as well as Holy Spirit Catholic Church and Crossroads Bible Church, both in Denver. Groves and her manager agreed to do the concert in Cornelius to honor the family of Andy Kosmala, who died in May after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

All the money from the concert will go to the International Justice Mission (www.ijm.org), “a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression,” and Food for the Hungry (www.fh.org), which works in “developing countries, providing disaster and emergency relief.”

“During our individual sets, we're trying to emphasize the connections that each of us has to these issues,” Webb explains. “I'm tending toward stuff that's more political or justice-focused. I have a lot of that material, but we're not sticking to that as a rule.”

McCracken, a self-described “abstract writer,” finds material from her new album “Red Balloon” working well in her set, though it's not directly linked to the tour's subject matter.

“You may not find those stories (of rescue) woven into this album, but I've been surprised how many of the stories I've been singing about fit right into the show,” she says. “They're relationship songs, but they fit this idea of desiring things to be made right.”

Webb says it's a coincidence that the tour is happening during the month leading up to the presidential election.

“There wasn't anything intentional … to talk about this before the election,” he adds. “When you're telling these kinds of stories, it transcends who happens to be in the White House. It goes a lot further. It's, ‘What are we doing locally and globally?'”

For McCracken, the tour is a way to do something immediate and tangible to promote global change.

“It almost feels more powerful than a vote,” she says. “Literally, the money we raise in one night can go to rescue these girls from the trafficking. It's a different way to contribute.”

And although all of the artists are technically Christian music artists, Webb doesn't think there are easy, religion-driven solutions to the social problems on their minds.

“I do not know how to redeem or resolve our situation,” he says. “Friends say, ‘I wish Jesus would come down and be president.' I just don't think that would work. I think it would be hard for a truly Christian man to be president of a nation. The humility and self-sacrifice you find in the Bible are opposed to the systems that run our world.

“The American governmental system is about hoarding power. The last place you'd want to put Jesus is in that system, or he'll turn that whole thing upside down.”

Special correspondent Lisa Daidone contributed.