- The Washington Times - Monday, May 5, 2003

Thudding bass shakes the dance floor, flooded with fog and laser lights. The DJ smoothly transitions from one beat to another.

The all-night dance party is called a “rave,” but this one spins differently than most of its kind. No one is slinking around selling the popular club drug Ecstasy; there is no sweet haze of marijuana smoke.

After hours of dancing, the kids here thirst for hydration and hunger for spiritual fulfillment. It’s a rave — Christian-style.

Mainstream raves, which began in the United States in the mid-‘90s, are all-night dance parties fueled by electronic music and held in dance clubs, warehouses or open fields. Anywhere from a handful of people to a couple of thousand attend.

The parties foster a community feeling that Tronster Hartley, an organizer from the Christian rave group Ictus Ichthus Productions and a former “raver,” experienced originally at secular raves and wanted to apply to a Christian setting.

“Raves are very big on the concept of PLUR — peace, love, unity and respect,” said Mr. Hartley, whose company’s name combines the word ictus, a recurring beat in a series of sounds, and ichthus, which is Greek for fish and an acronym of the Greek phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”

“While my church service was filling on an educational level, it wasn’t as spiritually fulfilling as the raves,” he says. “I wanted to find a way to combine the two.”

Ravers who attended their first Christian rave in Detroit noticed the difference in atmosphere, says Carey Jarvis, DJ of the Dance Chapel radio show.

“A lot of them were like, ‘wow — that was the first party I have been to where it wasn’t about the drugs and people were actually happy and smiling and just having a good time,’” he says. “They didn’t feel like it was too preachy or anything was shoved down their throats.”

On Friday, Ictus Ichthus hosted the rave “Cross Rhythms” at the Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, the fourth one in the Washington area since last year.

“[This] rave is a place where ravers who may not be Christians can come,” says Erik Sellin, who goes by “DJ Rapture Man,” “and see there does not need to be the vices, like drugs, alcohol and sex … to have a blast.”

Many organizers, such as Mr. Sellin, were formerly immersed in the culture of the secular rave scene and wanted to create the same environment they loved, minus the illegal substances.

Secular raves tend to be synonymous with drug use, especially Ecstasy. This prompted the February introduction of the Rave Act in the House of Representatives by Rep. Howard Coble, North Carolina Republican. Pushed on the Senate side by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, it’s also called the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003.

The bill proposes that if drugs are found at a rave, the organizers will be prosecuted and may face prison sentences of up to 20 years, may be fined $500,000 and have their business or property confiscated.

Christian groups have started these parties as an alternative to the established rave subculture because, says Mr. Hartley, they embrace the valuable aspects of a rave — a feeling of community, the joy of the music.

The title “Christian rave” may seem to be an oxymoron, says Crystal Zarba, also an organizer from Ictus Ichthus Productions, because of the negative stereotypes usually associated with raves, but the parties have piqued the interest of both Christians and non-Christians.

The very first Christian raves may have been held in the late 1990s, Mr. Hartley says, but only now are they catching on around the country.

At raves, DJs spin ear-busting music with club lights flashing and fog filling in the empty spaces. As at secular raves, a “chill room” off to the side is available where sweaty dancers can cool down, chat or get something to drink.

The spiritual component is what sets Christian raves apart from their secular counterparts, which can sometimes end abruptly in a police drug raid.

“The crux of our ministry is to bring people to God,” Mr. Hartley says, “but we don’t want to force any dogma on anyone. If people want to come, enjoy the music and tune out the religious message, they are welcome to.”

Beyond the absence of drugs and sexual activity, evidence of the Christian undertone at the rave comes through in the selection of “clean” music (no profanity), Bible verses painted on walls in glow-in-the-dark paint and brief readings of verses or prayers. Some organizers have the DJ give religious testimony at the end of the night, but sermons are never preached.

“Nobody will confuse our event with a church service by any means,” Mr. Sellin says, “which may raise some eyebrows, but we believe in what we are doing. We believe it can be a blessing.”

The “chill room” naturally lends itself to conversations about religion and church. The discussions are typically open and honest, Mr. Hartley says.

Christian rave groups want to also cultivate an atmosphere of worship through the music and the attitudes of the attendees, says David Richardson, Webmaster of tastyfresh.com, a Christian rave Web site.

“[The DJs] can hopefully bring the crowd to a point in which they are more likely to be receptive to God’s voice and thus a place of worship,” he says.

The spiritual aspect is not unique to the Christian raves. Many secular venues will agree that there is a spiritual element to dancing, Mr. Richardson says.

“The DJ, when spinning, is actually in a position of emotional influence,” Mr. Richardson says. “By choosing a certain song, he can speed up the crowd, increase their excitement or do just the opposite.”

The response from the Christian community has been varied. Churches as a whole are apprehensive about the idea because of the negative media portrayal of raves, Mr. Hartley says, but people on an individual basis tend to be open-minded about it.

Youth Pastor John Long of Derwood Bible Church in Derwood expresses reservations about the idea of the raves, questioning whether it lines up with the boundaries set by the Bible for Christians.

“The rave sounds like one of those boundaries you [try to] get as close to as possible,” he says. “I don’t think that God wants us to get right up next to the boundary … . I think he wants us to stay as far away from it as possible.”

Youth Pastor Kyle Cooper of Fairfax Community Church in Fairfax says the raves sound like a creative way to reach out to students. “If you look at the life of Jesus, he took his message to everyone,” he says. “He wouldn’t avoid teenagers and he wouldn’t avoid going into their culture to reach them. Raves are certainly part of the culture of teenagers.”

Cedar Ridge Community Church decided to host the rave on May 2 because “the raves are about dance, expression, community, and celebrating life,” says Robert Kang, pastor of youth and young adults. “We believe in living life to the full, and it is great when events can be done in a positive and high-spirited manner.”

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