- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2006

The idea of faith has not connected with Andrew Beaujon, an agnostic. The evolution of Christian rock, however, has induced him to become the movement’s newest historian. Mr. Beaujon is the author of “Body Piercing Saved My Life.” The title, inspired by a T-shirt slogan he frequently saw at Christian music festivals, exemplifies how the movement’s followers bear signs of conventional rockers.

The book, released in June, opens with a description of a typical rock concert. Tattoos, metal and “earlobe-hole stretchers” adorn the bodies of 3,000 teens. The rock artist is loosening up with a jug of vodka and water before the show, and vulgarity makes an appearance in one of his songs.

Nevertheless, this crowd has not adopted “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” as its creed. These teens are sober virgins, Mr. Beaujon writes, and the concert is part of the Cornerstone Christian rock festival, although the artist, David Bazan, did break festival policy by drinking and swearing.

“It just seemed like a story that nobody was really telling,” Mr. Beaujon said. “You go to a festival and there’s 25,000 Christians grooving in cornfields, and you’re the only non-Christian.”

Mr. Beaujon said Christian rock began 20 or 30 years ago when hippies started returning to church.

“The thing about evangelicals is that they’ve always embraced new ways of communicating,” he said. “When sort of burned-out and disaffected hippies were trying to find new meaning for their life, it was evangelical churches that tried to bring them in.”

The trend first manifested itself mostly in Christian contemporary music, which he described as “very bland, very imitative, studiously non-offensive.”

He said the evolution of the Internet opened markets for Christian metal bands outside religious bookstores.

“Being known as a Christian band or as a former Christian band isn’t the former put-down that it used to be,” he said, citing the mainstream success of P.O.D. and Switchfoot.

Mr. Beaujon said many of these artists, growing up, were allowed to play only Christian music in the home. Artist David Crowder convinced his parents that Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” was a Christian song, he said.

Mr. Beaujon discovered “how diverse this supposed monoculture really is,” and became friends with the staff of Rock for Life and others, even though they held different views.

Rock for Life, a division of American Life League, uses music as a means to mobilize teens in the fight against abortion, said director Erik Whittington. The organization hosts concerts, releases compilation records, mans booths at Christian music festivals and raises money for pregnancy help centers.

Mr. Whittington said his band has had a stage at Cornerstone Festival in Illinois for at least five years. Because many non-Christians attend, RFL has a chance to persuade more people to stand against abortion.

“At Cornerstone, you get more of a mix of bands that have actually made it in the secular realms,” he said. “Most of their gigs are bars. Their message is not as up-in-your-face Christian.”

He said rock comes naturally to many Christians. “Over time, there’s been a freedom or an understanding that you can worship God with a Les Paul [guitar] and a Marshall [amplifier] stack,” Mr. Whittington said.

Despite Rock for Life’s decidedly right-wing leanings, Mr. Beaujon said, Christian political views vary.

“I thought I was going to be running into a lot of right-wing robots, and I really didn’t,” he said. “I wouldn’t ever group Christians together. There’s just too many flavors of Christianity.”

Mr. Bazan once represented one of those diverse strains of Christianity. He said Mr. Beaujon’s account of his behavior at Cornerstone Festival told of his last performance at the event. He said he was beginning to move away from Christianity, and he now calls himself an agnostic.

“Most Christian people would say that whatever doctrinal positions I do have would be … borderline blasphemy,” he said.

Mr. Bazan said he tried to be a Christian in an “undistorted way,” although every Christian he knew seemed to share his confusion about the religion.

“Between [ages] 22 and 24, I started to understand the mathematics of the economics of what is called the Gospel,” he said. “I no longer felt that tension. I felt reconciled to the version of God that I felt in my head … and, ironically, that is what got me on the path of searching for truth.”

He believes God may not exist and said the only reason he had been a Christian may be that his father was a pastor. Now, he said, “my goal in making music and playing live is simply to do the creative process as honestly as I know how.”

Mr. Bazan said Christian music has become competitive with commercial mainstream music, but not with artistic music such as Radiohead.

“For it to be considered Christian music, it necessarily has to be propaganda on some level,” he said. “Its point is to narrow down the ideas that are available to people. [Art] has to take in account the sort of confusing aspects of the subject.”

Mr. Beaujon said Christian rock’s quality has improved since his high school years in Arlington, when Christian friends tried to interest him in artists such as Petra. He said Petra sounds like a different secular band on every album, but he prefers bands that “sound only like themselves.”

“I think kids … choose music based on its authenticity and how it speaks to them,” he said.

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