Grammatrain were the first Christian grunge band to break onto the ‘mainstream’ Christian music scene. Their first album came out in September 1995. That fact pretty much sums up Christian music’s desperate trend-chasing: the first Christian grunge album didn’t come out until more than a year after Kurt Cobain died.
In 2010, Grammatrain released a reunion album, but the band’s singer, Pete Stewart, explained that he was no longer a Christian and this was not a ‘Christian’ album. (Apparently, in a 2010 interview with Christian rock rag HM Magazine, Stewart called himself an atheist; I’d be interested in reading that if anyone can find it.) Explaining himself more fully, Stewart wrote:
Jerry Falwell was a man who epitomized everything that eventually drove me away from the dogmatic Christian upbringing that I was raised with. The system I was raised in taught me to believe that homosexuality is wrong, sex before marriage is wrong, everyone who doesn’t agree with ‘our’ view of God and the world is wrong (and on their way to hell), and that we should be afraid of things like people who teach evolution in school, women who want to choose what they do with their own bodies, and Democrats.
Eventually when I saw the astonishing level of commitment people like Falwell had to their cultist ideals, at the expense of things like love and tolerance for humankind, it led me down a path of soul-searching that rather dramatically showed me how much I was not one of them. I couldn’t feel comfortable in the same camp or mentality of anyone who thinks that gays are responsible for 9/11.
He sounds like a cool guy, right? The kind of guy we’d get on with at Leaving Fundamentalism, in fact.
When God’s Not Dead 2 came out this year, the theme tune was a song called “Guilty” by Newsboys. Here’s a taste of the lyrics (like many a Christian rock classic, it’s sung to Jesus in the second person):
When did it become breaking a rule
To say your name out loud in school …
So even if it gets me convicted
I’ll be on my knees with my hands lifted
If serving you’s against the law of man
If living out my faith in you is banned
Then I’ll stand right before the jury
“Guilty”, like the film it comes from, stands in a long line of feeding the evangelical persecution complex, full of all the hyperbole and hysteria of the Christian right that Pete Stewart railed against in that quote above.
For anyone not familiar with the full awfulness of the God’s Not Dead franchise, check out Neil Carter’s review. This is not merely a Christian film; it’s a Christian Right propaganda flick. I’m a professional musician, so I know that we’ve all taken imperfect gigs just to keep playing, but I can’t understand how anyone could critique evangelicalism with the clarity Pete Stewart did in 2010 and then get involved with a hatchet job like this. It represents exactly the homophobic, judgemental, dogmatic Christianity he said he walked away from.
Funnily enough, during and immediately after my time at music college, when I was first seriously questioning my faith, I thought about going to London and trying to play in the band at one of the big Pentecostal churches. A lot of big hitters on the British session musician scene play in some of those churches, and I knew it could be a way to meet them. I also knew that with 16 years of solid church background, I could convince anyone of my godly credentials. But I couldn’t do it, partly because those worship songs made me feel sick and partly because I couldn’t be that dishonest. And I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to walk away from Christianity permanently or not—I was just having doubts.
Stewart knows the harm that kind of Christianity does, yet he still wrote their theme song. If he can handle that level of hypocrisy, he must fit in perfectly with the Christian Right.
H/T Ryan Stollar.
This is part of my Christian Rock Thursdays series.