RELIGIOUS ROCK AND THE CHURCH
"We dont seem to have a word for "wrong" anymore in the moral sense, as in "theft is wrong." - Meg Greenfield in Newsweek
Religious rock music could have never reached the place of such broad and open acceptance today without a number of divergent forces in the church world working in concert to influence that reception.
To better understand the response religious rock has received, one must examine the facets in the church world - religious TV networks, magazines, and influential churches - which have aided this musical genre.
ROCK MUSIC VIDEOS
All three religious television networks - CBN, PTL, TBN - as well as several individual gospel TV stations, have contributed to the musics popularity by spotlighting artists and groups which utilize the rock sound.
CBN's "700 Club" has a special entertainment reporter who highlights stories of Christians working in show business, while both PTL and TBN's flagship interview programs frequently use artists who play religious rock.
In fact, Stryper's inside cover for its latest release, TO HELL WITH THE DEVIL, extends thanks to a number of individuals and companies for their help, incluing Pat Boone and Jim and Tammy Bakker.
The 16-year-old daughter of the Bakkers, Tammy Sue, has recently released her first album, Sixteen, which she describes as, "its reggae and its rock n roll".
With the widespread popularity of the Music Television Video (MTV) Network highlighting popular secular rock groups, and identical effort has been underway for several years to popularize videos from religious rock.
All of religious rocks superstars - Amy Grant, Mylon LeFevre, Leon Patillo, Petra, DeGarmo and Key, Stryper, Steve Taylor, Rez Band, Randy Stonehill - and a host of lesser lights have all put together music videos.
DeGarmo and Key's video production of "Six Six Six" was temporarily turned down by MTV because of a human figure in flames. The revised product - showing a man representing the antichrist gazing into a crystal ball - was duly programmed by MTV on light rotation.
Typical of the videos is Mylon LeFevre's "Stranger to Danger", which portrays the Holy Spirit as riding on a motorcycle seeking out Mylon, who is supposed to be a lost, tormented soul. In the end, Mylon heeds the call and invites others to follow. The video closes with him and his band singing, "Im gonna be like Jesus."
For several years, PTL has had a program called "Sound Effects" which is aired twice a day on Saturday. TBN has a similar program hosted by the son of the network's founder.
Not to be left behind, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) began production of "Fast Forward" on a weekly basis beginning January 3, 1987.
According to producer Norman Mintle, "Fast Forward is targeted to reach 14 to 24-year-old Christian young people. We're projecting the show to reach into at least one million households per week."
Rock Christian Network (RCN) a new satellite television outreach sponsored by Rock Church, Virginia Beach, Virginia, is producing a music video protram of its own, as well as utilizing the "Off the Wall" show produced by Airborn Communications.
However, the use of these artists, either as talk show guests or by promoting this genre of music through a video, gives added legitimacy to religious rock.
In fact, if someone has a question about the musics authenticity, that question will be resolved in the minds of some people when they see the rock medium embraced by respected Christian leaders. Thats like an outright endorsement.
If there is any doubt in anyones mind, that will be quickly dispelled when a particular TV network provides an outlet for religious rock.
Several publications are currently being published which address themselves specifically to the religious rock music scene. CHRISTIAN ACTIVITIES CALANDER, HARVEST ROCK SYNDICATE, and CORNERSTONE are fairly typical of those publications. However, all three have limited circulation.
In fact, Harvest Rock Syndicate, apparently in its first year or so of operation, received the following letter from the manager of a Christian bookstore connected to Billy Graham's ministry in Minneapolis:
""I am not able to carry your paper at this time, nor would I be interested in carrying it in the future. This is not a periodical that my customers would accept. I hope you do not take this as a put down. I personally was very impressed with the caliber of reporting in your publication, but I have rules and standards I must uphold when considering items to be put in the bookstore...""
The Saturday Evening Post has carried polite cover stories on religious rock artists such as Amy Grant, as has Charisma, which has a circulation on nearly 150,000 among mostly Charismatic and Pentecostal suscribers. Charisma's Amy Grant story promised "A Candid Interview That Goes Beyond the Controversy." Yet the article in the July 1986 issue was incredibly tame.
February 1987's edition of Charisma featured a cover story on pop singer Denise Williams, a Christian, who also records gospel music. The issue also included an excerpt from What About Christian Rock? and information on the magazines 1987 Music Poll.
Since Charisma runs frequent advertisements from record companies, perhaps that could best explain the magazines tender treatment of religious rock.
In fact, Ministries Today, a sister publication to Charisma, recently carried a cover story on religious rock in the church with an interview featuring Mylon LeFevre and his pastor, Dr. Paul Walker as examples.
The boldest step Charisma has taken with the religious rockers came in its December 1986 issue when it recommended "a Christmas shopping list which you can draw from when looking for a gift album."
Among those albums listed was:
""Solitude/Solitare by Peter Cetera includes a dazzling duet with Amy Grant. "The Next Time I Fall" has already climbed into the Billboard magazine Top 20 and still has momentum. Its the kind of love song that brought applause and criticism with "Find a Way"
To label that secular duet as "dazzling" and recomment its purchase to Christians is absolutely beneath the dignity of Charisma's motto: "The Magazine About Spirit-led Living".
Yet it is exactly this kind of effort which is being expended in the Body of Christ to bring religious rock into respectability. Charisma's influence among its readers aids that cause.
CHRISTIAN CONTEMPORARY MAGAZINE
Although its circulatuion is relatively minor (actually less than 40,000) when compared to a publication like Charisma, Christian Contemporary Magazine, now known as CCM, still has considerable influence among its readers, radio stations, and bookstores.
If there is a publication anywhere that is pro-religious rock, it is CCM.
Not only is CCM enthusiastic in its endorsement of religious rock - no matter the variety or weirdness of the genre - but it has taken a number of verbal slaps at myself, David Wilkerson, and anybody else who raises a voice against religious rock.
The October 1986 edition is a prime example. Under the magazines Insider column appeard the following"
""HOW LONG, O LORD? - If you havent heard by now, evangelist Jimmy Swaggart is on the rampage again. This time, his tirade is against the over 900 Wal-Mart and K-Mart stores to discontinue stocking a number of rock albums and rock-oriented magazines. Problem is, it basically worked. The chain has indeed pullled a selection of album titles off the racks along with 35 magazines, including the well-known purveyor of satanic slime, TIGER BEAT...""
By CCM's comments it seems the publication is placing its seal of approval on all rock magazines directed at teenagers. How could anyone advocate the filth which passes for reading material being acceptable for this nations youn people.
Of course, the magazine that I mentioned over television which brought the response from Wal-Mart came from Hit Parader, not Tiger Beat.
However, my great concern is the apparent endorsement which CCM - supposedly operated by Christians - unwittingly gave to the rock magazine industry, to say nothing of the condescending attitude toward Jimmy Swaggart in its article.
In a letter to my son, Donnie, CCM Publisher Jon Styll wrote, "Several of our readers have expressed a similar concern about the column."
One woman wrote CCM to say:
""Although I disagree with him [Jimmy Swaggart] greatly and I think he is narrow minded about Christian rock, I agree with what he is doing this time. What is the problem with him getting a selection of album titles and 35 magazines, including Tiger Beat, off the rack? Ive never seen anything in Tiger Beat that glorifies the Lord. I thin what he's doing is great...""
Of course, CCM's answer centered around the issue of censorship, a cry that is often heard by people in the media.
Styll's letter to Donnie stated in part, "We hop that young people will find in it [CCM] a healthy, upbuilding alternative to the trash that is being offered to them at every turn.""
Yet the magazines November 1986 issue quoted a base, vulgar obscenity from singer Steve Camp.
Letters to CCM, in its January 1987 issue, strongly questioned that obscenity being used:
""...Near the end of your terrific article, why did you have to ruin the whole thing by printing the profane language? Was that the only way Steve could vent his anger at other entertainers' lack of responsibility toward giving their fans the gospel?...
Unfortunately...as I was soaking up all these intellectual gems, I came across...THE WORD. Now here is where my argument comes in: Everyone who read the article knows exactly what word I am referring to, and I believe that many were just as offended as this "sorry excuse for an open-minded college student" was...Im just a stupid kid who hasnt learned that words are just words and that vulgarity only appears when words are put in a sequence where there is malicious or harmful intent. Okay, okay, but you explain that to the high school guys Im discipling...""
Another writer in that same issue canceled his subscription, citing:
""...The caricature of Mr. Swaggart, ads for metal "Christian" rock that have various demonic covers, your extremely unchristian attitude in various articles in the issue...I will no longer receive your magazine, and it sickens me to think that people like you are using the Lord for profit and giving the rest of the world a bad example of Christianity. I am a journalist and pray that I can use my talents for the Lord in a much better way than you people who have massacred any good intentions in your effort.""
Three churches - Mount Paran Church of God in Atlanta, Georgia, Warehouse Ministries in Sacramento, California, and the Carpenter's Home Church in Lakeland Florida - are characteristic of those local churches which utilize religious rock as a part of their outreach programs.
The Carpenter's Home Church was formerly known as the First Assembly of God before its move to a new location near Lake Gibson and the construction of a 10,000-seat auditorium. In the past year, the church has sponsored concerts with religious rocker Leon Patillo, Carman, and Kim Boyce.
A Sunday night program at the church in connection with evangelist Rex Humbard featured country music's Ricky Skaggs, a Christian, who sang three gospel songs. The night prior, Skaggs had appeared at the Lakeland Civic Center with both Willie Nelson and Hank Williams Jr.
Carpenters Home Church operates a 100,000-watt radio station, WCIE, 24 hours a day, under a commercial-free, educational grant license.
Like some 1,600 religious radio stations in the country, WCIE plays a variety of musical styles, besides broadcasting the Carpenter's Home Church services as well as several other church-related programs.
However, the station's predominate sound is religious rock. The use of religious rock over the air has evidently created a market for the records, tapes, and videos of the artists. The church's bookstore, located off the main lobby, has an extensive collection of materials on the religious rockers including Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Rez Band, Bash-N-the Code, and a host of others.
Posters in the bookstore and announcements over the station (in late December 1986) announced the appearance of religious rocker Rick Cua "in concert" in the area. The radio station, which has its own monthly newsletter and prints a Top 40 list of popular songs, sounds much like a secular counterpart at certain times of the day with the harder-edged sound.
Church Pastor Karl Strader said at a recent "Idea Exchange" meeting, "I dont even like contemporary music...I dont even listen to our own radio station."
Warehouse Ministries, a church located in an industrial park off I-50 in Sacramento, is known for its use of religious rock in regularly held concerts. The congregation, pastored by Louis Neely, holds three Sunday morning services for its church of some 1,500.
The pastors wife, Mary, founded Exit Records in 1982 and has since recorded several who attend the church including Charlie Peacock and members of Vector and the 77's. Ms Neely is also the co-author of the book, Stairway to Heaven.
CCM gave Ms. Neely credit "for building virtually from scratch much of the organized new music culture in Sacramento."
Evidently much of that culture is based in secular rock and roll and playing in bars. At least thats the impression CCM gives in its May 1986 issue: "Although bigger clubs like Harry's Bar, The Watchtower, and The Club Can't Tell (downtowns venerable old jazz refuge) host many of the bands from time to time."
While in Sacramento for a Stryper concert (that was canceled), this book's co-author called Warehouse Ministries to inquire if any of the church's groups would be playing anywhere locally.
"I believe Charlie Peacock will be at Melarkey's downtown," the secretary suggested.
In calling Melarkey's number in the telephone directory, he was told the business was a restaurant and bar. Evidently thats where some of Sacrementos religious rockers play.
The church has recently held concerts with Rez Band, Charlie Peacock, and Bloodgood. It was reported that young people have committed their lives to Christ from the concerts. However, since no concerts were being held while this book's co-author was in town, this cannot be verified.
What I can verify is that religious rock artists from teh church do play in local bars. The music, which has been described as "a punchy brand of eclectic pop/jazz rock," apparently appeals to that clientele.
MOUNT PARAN CHURCH OF GOD
Since Mylon LeFevre has gained considerable attention through his religious rock songs, his home church, Mount Paran Church of God in Atlanta, has also received exposure due to its use of the rock music in its youth programs.
The church has, in fact, employed four religious rock bands for use at its Monday night youth meetings for the church of some 8,000, pastored by Dr. Paul Walker.
Having read about Mount Paran's efforts in using religious rock, this book's co-author attended two Monday night meetings at Mount Paran. The first Monday night in January, the group "Alternative" - a five-man rock band - performed for the benefit of less than 100 young people.
Between piercing guitar riffs, crushing drums, and flashing red/blue/yellow lights, Alternative played and periodically read Scriptures between songs. People wandered in and out of the building continually. An unshaven Mylon LeFevre even dropped by to check out the schedule.
The crowd - if it could be called that - seemed bored with everything happening that night.
Two weeks later, David Teems and The Calling (a church band) appeared with nationally known Morgan Cryer and his band. A crowd of some 300 were on hand representing four Baptist churches, two Church of God congregations, and one Assemblies of God. Church buses and vans in the parking lot attested to their attendance.
David Teems closed his performance playing a blue electric fiddle in a "hoedown" fashion while the audience clapped, danced, and patted their feet.
Morgan Cryer's four mop-top musicians practically blew the walls of the building down with the loudness of their instruments. His band, dressed in punk fashions of leather and slouchy clothes, danced and rocked for about 45 minutes. Cryer shared his testimony of growing up as a "nerd" between songs.
Throughout the concert, the young people clapped, danced, and stomped their feet to the music. After some 45 minutes, Cryer closed with his song, "Pray in the U.S.A." and gave an altar call.
After an extended wait, the call was changed to those "who need a closer walk." Perhaps five or ten people responded to that...and the concert ended.
For all of the hype and fancy words about evangelistic programs using religious rock, teh audience turned out to be simply church kids. The idea of employing religious rock to reach them seemed totally out of place. It was certainly unnecessary for the results achieved.