Where have all the Jesus Freaks gone?
Once upon a time, when I was young, there was a Christian rock song called Jesus Freaks by a band called dcTalk. On the back of it, the band put their name to two books of modern ‘hero’s of the faith’, which included some very hardcore and actually persecuted Christians, some of whom were recent martyrs. All that now seems long-forgotten.
It occurred to me a month or so back that Jesus Freaks is a song that probably wouldn’t be written, or indeed received, in quite the same way today. Of course, its only natural that such a song, indeed any popular contemporary song, ceases to be both popular and contemporary. It was that stunning as rock music goes, though the words certainly had a profound effect (they also wrote songs about Black-White equality – not a happy topic in a country where Church is the most segregated part of society*).
But that’s not what I’m getting at with the question posed in the title. There was a time when it felt like being a hard-core Christian was an ideal to live up to. Christians were meant to be known by the fact they lived different to everyone else. Phrases like “I want to be an extremist of love” were occasionally heard. Now it seems like everyone is falling over themselves to fit in. The only churches who’s members stand out, do so on a limited number fronts such as abortion and gay rights.
I’m not saying that I remember some kind of pre-establishment utopia. There was plenty wrong in those days, and plenty of which I found myself feeling embarrassed. But the agenda seemed wider: Christians didn’t go shopping on Sunday, or didn’t admit to it at any rate. Now I find myself biting my lip and heading for the other aisles straight after walking down the aisle and out the door. That’s one specific example amongst many.
I would like to make a few suggestions for why this has happened. First, and to acknowledge where my bias in this might be, age probably has a factor. More of the people around me are having kids and mortgages, so they’re pretty distracted by other things. Not being my sprightly young self, all night prayer meetings that knock one’s sleep pattern for days just don’t have the same appeal. Sure, I’ll admit those all-nighters had more feeling of being hard-core than real lasting effect.
A second suggestion would be the creeping commercialisation of church. I’d suggest that its Americanisation, but that feels like a cop out. A church that seems more interested in the souls of city bankers than homeless people – and which treats the homeless as some ‘other’ to provide for, rather than part of its membership, is a pretty compromised church. That the finance industry, with its well-publicised unethical behaviour, doesn’t fire people for becoming Christians is a bad sign and nothing whatsoever to celebrate. Its very hard to be truth and light in a world of lies when you’re appealing to the same materialistic urges.
Is it because New Monasticism and other movements left the mainstream church? I don’t blame them, and the numbers are simply too small. Maybe uncompromising has come to equal traditionalist, and with it those same single-issue battles. More likely is a growing mix of tiredness and cynicism, and a harsh reality check, surrounding appeals to be more like the New Testament Church. We’re not interested in sacrifices – we’re quite cosy how we are. The sad irony is, the more comfortable you make Christianity, the less meaning it retains.
Perhaps the most likely watershed was 9/11. I simply don’t think we’ve realised the effect this has had on Christian faith communities. Sure, the most overt effects were on Muslims, suddenly quick to adopt terms like “moderate” and explain how integrated they were. But what did Christians learn from that? That uncompromising religion is dangerous only as a threat to stability, rather than a threat to injustice? Did we all suddenly think “they were uncompromising and look where they ended up”, then get on with selling out so we’d fit in? Did we realise those laws against ‘religious extremism’ might be used against Christians?
I’d love to know people’s thoughts on this whole area. What do people miss, and what do they think happened in the intervening time? Are there green shoots to go in search of?
Where has this hard-core, uncompromising sort of Christianity gone?
Who still wants to be a Jesus Freak?
*Martin Luther King is attributed as saying that 10am Sunday morning is the most segregated time in American society.