HOLY ROCK ‘N’ ROLLERS
They call it demon rock ‘n’ roll. Many preachers have said it is Satan’s tool for catching teens off guard with a beat that drives them into a sexual frenzy. Some have led crusades, burned albums and
They are faced with one of the hottest trends in music: Christian heavy-metal and hard-rock bands, whose voices and guitars screech and wail for Jesus Christ. “All we heard for years from the pulpit was how bad rock ‘n’ roll was,” said Robert Sweet, 25, the long-haired drummer for Stryper, a Christian band from Los Angeles, whose members dress in skintight black and yellow body suits and thick metal chains. “Well, how many people are going to eat their words this year? God created rock ‘n’ roll. Satan cannot create – he can only twist and distort it and make it junk. The first time you catch Stryper with a beer in their hands or their faces in cocaine, then you’ll have a case. But until then, we’re innocent until proven guilty.”
Despite a nonstop wave of protest from ministers and parents, Sweet’s group is one of more than 100 Christian rock bands that have sprung up, Taking names like the Resurrection Band, Barnabas, Jerusalem and Servant. For the uninitiated, retailers like Dickson’s Bible and Book Store in Royal Oak post a chart that lists each group and compares its sound to a secular group such as the Kinks, Cheap Trick, Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. But lyrically – and in concert – the Christian and secular groups are worlds apart.
“Feeling so distressed tonight, Jesus are you there, could we talk a little while, I heard you really care,” sings the Resurrection Band from Chicago, which ends its live Bootleg album by urging fans to give their lives to Jesus. Other groups have an altar call, or station counselors near exits to talk to troubled teens. Stryper members sing about their wild appearance – “No matter how we look, we always praise His name. And if you you believe, you got to do the same” – and throw 100 to 200 New Testament Bibles out to the crowd. “One guy was so anxious to get one,” said Sweet, “that he broke his arm.”
Sue Weldon, a 15-year-old from Troy, said she recently brought her NON-CHRISTIAN friend to Pine Knob to hear Petra, the best selling Christian rock group.
“She became a Christian at the end of the concert,” said Sue, twisting a strand of her permed brown hair. “She went up to one of the counselors and has joined a church now. She really thought it was great.”
Stephen Wyss of Royal Oak, a 22-year-old senior at Lawrence Institute of Technology, said he owns 72 Christian music albums.
“The main difference is what they sing about and their lifestyle,” he said. “When Michael Jackson was really popular, everyone wanted to be like him. Well, with these groups getting more
popular, kids can see how good it is to be a Christian, and they will have a model to follow.”
“You’re not going to reach heavy metal people with pop music. You have different types of evangelists because you have different types of people.”
Though they have been around for about 10 years, most Christian rock groups have just begun to take off, riding on the powerful wings of Christian contemporary artists like Amy Grant, the first Christian singer to appear on “mainstream” music charts. Ms. Grant recently became the best selling artist in Christian music history when her last two albums went gold ($1 million in sales) and platinum (one million albums sold).
Her success in the secular market has been followed by Petra – which is the Greek word for rock – whose seven albums have outsold all other Christian rock groups combined with total sales of more than $1 million.
Stryper, a Los Angeles group which will soon tour the nation, recently sold 40,000 of its newly released singles in one day. It has already received advance orders for nearly 100,000 copies of its
newest album, which has not even been released. Such figures do not compare with those of secular artists like Michael Jackson and Prince. But they are considered phenomenal by industry observers, because major secular radio stations still refuse to play Christian music, citing the songs’ emphasis on evangelism. “It’s only been in the last few years that Christian hard rock
has made any inroads into the mainstream market,” said Bob Darden, who writes about Christian music for Billboard magazine.
“That’s because it’s only been in the last few years that the caliber of the music has caught up with mainstream music. There’s no reason kids should see a bad Christian group if they can see a good
secular group. So the Christians have gotten better.” But Darden is critical of the “bad, trite” lyrics by many of the groups who, for instance, try to cram the story of the resurrection into a three minute song. And John Styll, editor-in-chief of Contemporary Christian magazine, said many of the artists have been content to copy the music style of mainstream artists and just add
religious lyrics, instead of forging new ground. He also predicted that they will never have the success enjoyed by the mainstream counter parts.
“It’s not in the cards,” Styll said. “To most people, contemporary Christian music is about as appealing as contemporary Bahai music. They’ll just think, ‘Oh, that’s for them.’ The gospel
is offensive to people. It will never achieve the popularity that sin does.”
To Ministers who spend a lot of time preaching about the dangers of sin, the subject of rock music still draws a lot of fire. “It is a device of the devil,” said the Rev. Samuel Peterson, pastor of Faith
Temple Church of God in Madison Heights. “In my church, I don’t allow it. Unless the ear is educated to it, you can’t hear the lyrics. What good is the message if you can’t hear it? And it grates on my nerves, whether it’s Christian or not. It’s like having someone scream in my ear. The beat is very physical, driving and compelling. It compels your nervous system until it drowns out your brain. I can’t find a better word than ‘torment.'”
But the Rev. Paul Patton, assistant pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Livonia, encourages young people to listen to Christian rock music.
“If anyone has an ear for that type of music,” he said, “I’d prefer they hear lyrical content that wasn’t sexist or has that macho mentality that is so much a part of the heavy metal scene. They’re
reaching an audience that most of their critics know nothing about. They are touching lives and challenging values that people in mainstream music aren’t.”
Stryper’s Robert Sweet said the group’s success (its fan club has 10,000 members) indicates it can stand on its own from secular groups. But, he said, it has not been easy. “It takes a lot of guts to be in rock ‘n’ roll and stand up for Jesus,” he said. “What field of work are you more tempted in? Here I am, a single guy who has professed to TV stations and newspapers that I’m saving myself for the right woman. And every time I play, I’m confronted by 10 to 20 beautiful women. It’s real tempting. And we can get all the free drugs and alcohol we want.”
“But the more you do God’s work, the more the devil tempts you. So we just pray harder. Stryper wants to walk into the most heavy- metal, hard rock, drug abusing, blinded-eyes kind of situation and say, ‘Look, this is a dark room and the light is walking in.'”
Among the 500 to 600 fans who write Stryper each week are those who thank the group for helping them overcome struggles with alcohol, homosexuality or depression. “We tell them don’t thank us, thank Jesus,” said Sweet, whose mother manages the band and whose brother, Michael, is the lead singer. “I remember one night, a guy called me at 10 p.m. crying. He was a stranger, but I felt like I should go visit him. He was a 24- year-old guy dying of cerebral palsy. He had Stryper stickers all over his wheelchair.”
“I prayed with him and he asked me if he could buy a Stryper jacket. I had mine on and gave it to him. When he got my jacket, tears were streaming down his face and he told his mom, ‘When I die, I want to be buried in this. When I stand in front of God, I want him to see me wearing something that’s good, that’s right.'” “When those things happen, it lets us know that we’re more than
just a rock band.”
By Kate DeSmet from Detroit News, August 4, 1985
Computers for Christ – Chicago