Christianity, with a dose of punk
Jay Bakker is appealing to a different sort of congregation with his Revolution ministry.
He's America's punk-rock preacher.Skip to next paragraph
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Jay Bakker, once the chubby kid running around the Praise The Lord Ministry TV stage, is all grown up - with a silver ring in his lip and plugs through his earlobes. On his arms, bold tattoos spell out "Grace" and "Christ."
The figure he cuts doesn't fit anyone's image of a typical religious evangelist. But eleven years after a Charlotte jury convicted his father, Jim Bakker, of fraud, Mr. Bakker is busy fusing punk culture and Christian values in an attempt to show just how hip and welcoming today's churches can be.
More concerned about God's love than rules and ceremony, this young street minister has an appealing and inclusive message for his blue-haired flock: Come as you are.
With his new autobiography, "Son of a Preacher Man," he's created quite a buzz. Some see him as the latest prodigal son in a growing crusade to attract society's young misfits to the church. From the leather-studded juke joints of San Francisco to the midtown music scene of Atlanta, more and more punk and goth kids are walking through the doors of new "Gen-X churches" like Bakker's Revolution ministry.
"The challenge is to look at people differently, to love differently, to restore people differently," Bakker tells a packed audience on his current book tour. "In the end, God doesn't care about an Ozzy Osbourne T-shirt."
To be sure, the TV cameras at this Charlotte event (where his famous mother, now Tammy Faye Messner, stands by) may be more interested in the next chapter of the Bakker story than Jay Bakker's insistence on facing the world with grace, humility, and without "the breastplate of self-righteousness." But religious leaders, eager to bring in younger, more diverse congregations, are taking note.
Bringing rebels back to the fold
After the social upheaval of the 1960s, many churches largely gave up trying to attract young rebels to the pews, says David Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute of Religious Research in Connecticut. But that's changing.
Mostly driven by entrepreneurial evangelicals, but also by cast-offs of both Catholicism and Protestantism, the punk-rock ministry movement is having surprising success. Indeed, it's a religious revolution of sorts, says Mr. Roozen.
And it may be a revolution driven by music as much as message. "When people talk about this kind of contemporary worship, sure, there's a general informality involved, but another key piece is the very contemporary styles of music," Roozen says. "The broader piece is that it's making worship fit a constituency rather than assuming that organs work for everyone."
Usually sans organ, music inspired by bands like Creed and Social Distortion is at the ecumenical core of these new faith churches. At Bakker's Revolution ministry in Atlanta, for example, Tuesday-night services may have anything from U2 to Johnny Cash piping out over the speakers. On Friday night, Christian and non-Christian punk-rock bands get together for fast-paced punk performances that draw up to 200 kids.