September 25, 2006


Among 'the Disciple Generation,' fervor and diversity: A 'nonbelieving' journalist spends time with the young and evangelical (Jane Lampman, 9/26/06, CS Monitor)

Welcome to the Evangelical youth movement. Or what Lauren Sandler calls "the Disciple Generation" - an ever-growing population of young Evangelicals, ages 15 to 35, "who are equally obsessed with Christ and with culture as a means to an Evangelical end."

Formerly a reporter for National Public Radio, Ms. Sandler had encountered many Christian groups during her travels. But as Evangelicals became more influential in politics, she set out to scout in depth the evolving youth movement. What she found surprised and disturbed her, an avowed secularist and nonbeliever who was barely 30 herself.

-REVIEW: of Righteous (Sandi Dolbee, San Diego Union Tribune)
Yet this is not a total bash book. Despite her obvious misgivings, Sandler acknowledges a certain admiration, even warmth, for many of the young men and women she encountered along the way.

Take her experience at a small group meeting in Colorado Springs, home to the Air Force Academy and New Life Church, whose ambition is to usher in the Second Coming.

“In spite of all the loathsome warmongering, Gordon (the Bible study leader) and his reverent community have convinced me that in their own way they are capable of translating Jesus' legacy of agape into their daily lives,” she writes. “Tonight they demonstrated the simple concept that powers and sustains this movement: They have shown me the kindness of strangers.”

She does not let her side off the hook, either.

“Until secular America strengthens its own front lines by developing strong communities and a culture that uplifts rather than invalidates, this army will have no viable opponent,” she writes. “It aims to destroy everything that it is not. Maintain no illusion: They are wide awake. They are ready.”

If she thought a little harder it might occur to her that secularism is antithetical to community and the value of life, because focussed completely on the self.

-Lauren Sandler: Exploring How Youth Gets Righteous (Donna Freitas, 8/9/2006, Religion BookLine)

"I always wanted to see something seize my generation," said Lauren Sandler, author of Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement (Viking, Sept.), when asked what inspired her road trip to some of the more extreme and young evangelical communities in America. She added, "I just never imagined it would be this."

Sandler expressed surprise over the fact that, when given the choice, many in this generation of Americans have chosen fundamentalist Christianity as their defining touchstone, rather than, say, the anti-war protests of the 1960s.

A career journalist, Sandler has reported from places far and wide, including the front lines of Iraq in 2003. An atheist herself, she never expected to travel the country in search of fervent Christian teens and twenty-somethings. "When I was originally given the assignment at NPR to produce a series on religion in America, I rolled my eyes. Religion was not something that interested me," Sandler said. "I went through my own conversion in terms of my fascination with the topic."

What prompted the change of heart? "The people I met showed me that the need for what they have—the rigid structure of the lifestyle, the intense community—is deep among this generation," said Sandler. "They want an alternative to mainstream culture, and they believe they are the true radicals out there. So Christianity spreads by being cool."

Holy Rock 'n' Rollers (Lauren Sandler, December 23, 2002, The Nation)
Rock For Life finds its biggest constituency at Christian rock festivals every summer, a dozen gigantic Jesuspaloozas across the nation, drawing more than a half-million people combined--festivals with names like Kingdombound, Alive and Sonshine, which director Bob Poe began two decades ago. Back then, Christian rock was a marginal genre. In the early 1980s he'd host seven or eight bands for a small crowd. "That's all the Christian world had to offer," he says. "Now we have 125 bands and turn away more than twice that many." As evangelism has spread ferociously throughout the country in the past several years, the Christian music industry has flourished in tandem.

The Christian rock festival has become the superchurch for the thrashing masses and the ultimate mobilizing force for antiabortionists. Says Bryan Kemper, "It's one thing to hear a message in a church, a message at school, to hear a message in an institution where you're supposed to hear a message that isn't coming from you, it's coming from a quote-unquote authority. The whole concert scene is supposed to go, 'Let go.' We're bringing a message there where people have guards down, where people are open to listen. In school, kids' guards are up, at a concert they're open to a lot of stuff. It's on their turf. It's their own identity. And music is such a huge part of every kid's life--music connects almost everybody--when you have that passion in the music, the singer says, 'Hey, stand up for this, look into this,' it causes kids to look into it and stand up like nothing else." [...]

It's moving, actually, to be surrounded by a mass of kids dressed in the accessories of anger and marginalization, scowling their teen scowls, and hear the opposite of what you'd expect at a secular gig--a voice, Murray's in this case, shouting to the crowd, "If you want to talk to any guy in this band about what's going on with you, come up. We can help." And then to see guys with tattoos, guys with downcast eyes peering from their black sweatshirt hoods approach band member after band member, saying, "My friend brought me, and he thought I could talk to you," a bizarre twist on the cool-posturing punk shows I'd occasionally check out in high school. To watch a community of people form before your eyes, reaching out to each other, connecting through music and performance to each other and to a shared vision, committing to the political causes they identify as joined with that vision--it's the active community of a liberal utopian's dream.

That is, if you squint so you can't see those Rock For Life shirts. If you can block out the repetition of "Jesus" and "Lord" from the songs and conversations. This, of course, is impossible. Even though "religion" is a dirty word to these instruction-fearing believers (as Murray says, "We're against religion--our God is a God of freedom, not one of religion who won't let you have tattoos"), it's the only reason this scene works. And that's the reason politics so effortlessly becomes a part of the scene. It's the nature and extraordinary effectiveness of evangelical Christianity--the whole-life, whole-belief experience. So whether you're praying in church or at a club, or screaming on a stage or at the doors of an abortion clinic, it's all just an articulation of the oft-repeated "way we live." Is it a political movement? Not in the usual sense. But it is a massive and exponentially self-replicating cultural movement that binds itself inherently to politics.

It's hard to imagine that anytime soon a secular rock band might, as John Lennon said, be bigger than Jesus.

God Save the Teens: Local Kids Seek a New Kind of Church Through Hardcore and Hip-Hop (Lauren Sandler, May 30 - June 5, 2001, Village Voice)
Jay Bakker, prodigal son of Jim and Tammy Faye, has a call on the other line. It's his tattoo artist, phoning to talk to him about freshening up one of his carefully inked arms. Bakker's oft photographed snarl through his lip pierce has rendered him the it-boy popularizer of a long-burgeoning phenomenon: devil music for the Lord. "It used to be 'You're saved now, burn all your albums,' but that's changed," says Bakker. "Now we're refusing to do that. We're saying we'll make the music we want, but we'll make it to glorify God."

From hardcore punk to hip-hop, die-hard young Christians have turned to what were once the most heathen niches of pop culture to express their faith, minister to marginalized cohorts, and spiritually seduce new groupies. New York-area ensembles offer up heavy bass to the heavenly boss, in churches and clubs from the South Bronx to suburban Long Island, stopping off at mainstream

venues in between. Summertime is prime time for rocking and holy rolling: The Jersey shore will be dotted with shows all season long; Rapfest—the big local event for religious rapscallions—will be born again in August; and this weekend will see the annual punk and indie Cornerstone gathering resurrected on Long Island. "Now all over America you can go to, say, a hardcore festival, usually an atheist scene, and hear about Jesus and realize you don't have to give up everything," Bakker says. "You don't have to comb your hair and put on a suit. You can be all you are—tattoos and all—and God will accept you for that."

‘Righteous’ preaches against proselytism: a review of “Righteous: Dispatches from The Evangelical Youth Movement” By Lauren Sandler (Michael Givens, September 23, 2006, Boston Herald)
-REVIEW: of Righteous (Sarah Peasley, Rocky Mountain News)

Kosher reggae for the masses?: Matisyahu's music has religious theme that rings with youth (JEFF DIAMANT, Aug. 26, 2006, Religion News Service

Moshe Herson seemed perplexed. Never before had the 72-year-old Orthodox rabbi been asked to listen to reggae to see whether he could hear Talmudic overtones.

Of course, until three months ago, no Hasidic Jew had ever been crowned Best New Entertainer at the International Reggae and World Music Awards.

So one recent morning in his office, Herson, dean of the Rabbinical College of America, listened on a borrowed iPod to the 27-year-old Hasidic music sensation known as Matisyahu, whose mix of reggae, rap and rock has won gold status for two recent albums, "Live at Stubb's" and "Youth."

Orthodox youth generally avoid pop music, but since 2004, Matisyahu's religious-themed reggae has become familiar to many young people across the Orthodox world, which includes the leafy campus of the rabbinical college.

Matisyahu is part of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Judaism. He wears black religious garb while performing. And his songs, which have sold more than a million albums, draw lyrics from prayers, psalms and Jewish themes on God, messianism and nationhood.

Herson had never heard the music. But as Matisyahu's popularity has surged, Herson -- like most Lubavitch Jews -- has come to know who the singer is.

"He seems to have transcended the Jewish community," Herson said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 25, 2006 4:59 PM

That picture on the cover of the "Righteous" book of some young fellow wearing his baseball cap sideways, "bent," as C.S. Lewis put it, tells us all we need to know about this matter.

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 26, 2006 2:11 AM

As a father of two sons deeply involved with this movement, and both called to ministry in order to further it, I'm not surprised that the secular left treats this like an anthropological exercise. Ms. Sandler kind of recognizes the emptiness of it all but just can't get her arms around the idea that the answer isn't in more self-worship.

And Lou, don't worry too much about the hat. As #2 son once told me, " A lot of the kids in my youth group go through a ghetto wannabe stage, but they get over it." In the end, they see the contradiction between the faux rebellion and the chosen way, and they follow the chosen way.

#2 goes to school in Minnesota and says that the real fear for the secular left should be that there are a lot more of these kids out there than they think and over the next ten years they could turn purple states like Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin solid red.

Posted by: jeff at September 26, 2006 9:54 AM

When the public culture is dominated by counter-culture, traditionalism is rebellion.

Posted by: Mike Earl at September 26, 2006 11:29 AM

The younger generation always sees what is hollow and hypocritical of the older generation. Since the boomers so dominate society and place their counter culture experiences on a pedestal, this is what some now reject.

The young always seek for a meaningful experience and to engage in some form of heroism.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at September 26, 2006 12:28 PM