I grew up as an ardent Christian rock fan. Now I am an atheist. “Christian Rock Thursdays” is a series where I talk about another song from the old days.
In 1994, Michael Sweet submitted a video to MTV and they didn’t play it.
Of course, about a gajillion other bands did the same thing, but Michael Sweet was a Christian and his song was about preserving your virginity, so clearly this was an anti-Christian conspiracy.
Oddly, MTV hadn’t minded Sweet’s message when he was the lead singer in Stryper, the second Christian rock band ever to get played on MTV. They were the first band to have two videos on the Dial MTV Top 10 in the same week, so it seems unlikely it was religious bias that kept “Ain’t No Safe Way” out of rotation. Sure, Sweet’s line “The one who abstains is the one who’s cool” probably meant the video got snickered at a few times at the MTV office before it went in the bin, but it wasn’t an anti-god conspiracy. Still, why let the facts get in the way of a good argument?
Possibly the real reason MTV turned down “Ain’t No Safe Way” is because it was crap.
So here we are in 1994 again, and we find another Christian record label tipping money into an arena rock album that’s been released five years too late. This is becoming familiar.
In the interests of balance, I should point out that Sweet’s debut solo album also includes “All This and Heaven Too“, which I loved more than life itself when I first heard it.
Back to “Ain’t No Safe Way”.
I didn’t actually see the video until a few years later. I’d heard about it and seen people arguing in the letters pages of Christian rock magazines about whether the video was just a low-quality embarrassment or Sweet was the victim of an anti-Christian conspiracy. I don’t remember anyone pointing out that arena rock was dead, mostly because it wasn’t in the CCM (contemporary Christian music) world.I finally saw the video when it aired on the Christian Channel Europe (now God TV) as part of the daily CMTV slot (no prizes for guessing what the ‘C’ stood for). I remember thinking then that it was strange for Michael Sweet to tell kids not to have sex because it was unsafe. As far as I was concerned, safety had nothing to do with it. Saying you shouldn’t have sex because it’s not safe implies that if it were definitely safe, it would be fine to do so. That was totally wrong. You shouldn’t have sex because it’s a sin.
With hindsight, I am quite impressed by child-Jonny’s logic, but today I’d put it more strongly: Sweet was being disingenuous and dishonest. He didn’t want kids to have sex because he thought God didn’t want them to. But he didn’t tell the kids that, because the kids wouldn’t buy it. Why should they if they don’t share Sweet’s beliefs? So instead he tried to bully the kids into acting in line with his morals by using scare tactics.
As he performs the song, cinema screens behind him flash up the messages:
WAGES OF SIN = DEATH
ABSTAIN followed by LIVE
CONDOMS 85% EFFECTIVE
Well, at least the statistic seems reasonably accurate, which is not always true of materials promoting abstinence, although it needs some explanation.
I have more of a problem with the way the girl is presented in the scenes that start and end the video. In the opening scene, she is playing a role in the great tradition of Delilah and Jezebel: the evil woman tempting the innocent (presumably Christian) boy. She is the “strange woman” of Proverbs:
For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil:
But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.
Even though the boy is clearly uncomfortable and refusing, she won’t take no for an answer, because that’s what the Strange Woman is like! The Strange Woman will tempt you to sin even if you don’t want to. And this loose woman was a trope in all the abstinence education I received. To be honest, when I finally left church behind, I was pretty disappointed to discover that women never came onto me. As we saw with DC Talk and Legend Seven, in the world of Christian rock, unsaved girls are to be feared, for they could cost you your purity and your salvation.
And then at the end of the video, we see her trying to have her way with another boy, the little slut! How dare she exercise her right to do what she wants with her body in the safest way possible.