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Christian Punk : These Rockers Find There's Room in the Mosh Pit to Praise the Lord


Inside the mosh pit, the momentum swirls and jerks back and forth along with the music. It eases into an almost comic slow motion when the rhythm mellows. Even then it can be dangerous for shins and feet, and this is one participant who wishes she would have worn her steel-toe boots. Still, it's almost cozy--if you don't mind getting shoved and pushed.

The crowd, teens mostly, raises its arms, stretching them high with palms facing out. The moshing languishes temporarily. Some even stand in place. It's not in preparation for some brave soul surfing the crowd, though. Together, as they wave their arms sideways to the beat, the concert-goers join the band--in praising the Lord.

The spiritual refrain ends, and the "dancing" resumes full speed--until the next time the band sings his name.

It's another night out in the Christian alternative and punk scene, hangout to hundreds of high schoolers who insist you can "rock with the Lord" and still enjoy the trappings of their generation's counterculture.

Friday night's show at a church auditorium in Tustin, like those held once or twice monthly at churches countywide, was part of a growing music trend that melds Christian dogma with the sound and attitude of alternative and punk.

Unlike nightclubs and coffeehouses, these churches can squeeze in from 800 to several thousand fans; they hire Christian promotion teams to supply lights and sound.

Shops that sell the music, including the Joshua's Christian Store chain with 85 shops nationwide, have seen sales increase in this category in recent years. At the Newport Beach Joshua's, manager Errol Johnson estimates, alternative and punk accounts for about 40% of the store's music stock.

"The scene is huge in Southern California, the Midwest and Florida," says Brandon Ebel, 24, whose Irvine-based Tooth & Nail record label boasts some of the most popular indie acts with a Christian bent. The 18-month-old label, which moves to Seattle in April, carries Magnified Plaid--commonly know as MXPX--and Plank-Eye. PlankEye, the headliner at last Friday's show in Tustin, performs Saturday night at Joshua's in Newport Beach. (To hear a song by the group, see Listen In on Page 3.)

At last weekend's gig, a friend of mine mentioned that if he caught any of these fans in a different setting, he would presume many of them were troublemakers, maybe losers, definitely not religious devotees.

"For so long, everybody's been so ready to stereotype Christians," says Ginger Reyes, a senior at El Toro High involved in youth groups at South Coast Community Church in Irvine on Sundays and Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa on Mondays. "As times change, so should our views of what a Christian should be, should look like. Where does it say in the Bible that you can't have piercings or color your hair green?"

The petite, 17-year-old dyes hers jet black and wears it this evening up in a sort of bouffant. Her eyes, lined '50s style, and her black outfit with a generous faux leopard collar give her a touch of glam and beatnik. But Ginger is all punk.

She's been hitting Christian and secular punk shows for two years, three fewer than she's been into church and the Lord, she adds. Her family, she laments, isn't "really into going. It's just me. It's not that church is rad. Jesus is rad. My church encourages me. It makes me stronger in my relationship with him."

In fact, despite Ginger's intent to attend Calvary Bible College in Twin Peaks, she says, her parents still worry about what she will do about college and career.

"I'm not worried," says Ginger, "because I know God has a plan for me."

Her favorite Christian punk band is the thrashing MXPX, but she rotates popular secular acts as the Circle Jerks, the Dead Kennedys, the Queers, NOFX and Rancid.

This is where the picture perfect idea of "Christian punk" comes unraveled for some outsiders. The phrase appears a contradiction in terms. Punk was born screaming in the name of anti-Establishment, anti-government and anti-religion. One of its legendary anthems kicks off with the line "I am the Antichrist." And the Dead Kennedys' fourth release was the controversial "Frankenchrist."

"Some songs by the Dead Kennedys totally put down God," Ginger admits. "I wouldn't listen to any song if it offends God."

Other tracks by the band are no problem, she continues. "I'll just fast forward it or turn it down."


Though anarchy and anti-everything might have been punk's origins, it has evolved into more than that, Ginger and others say.

At issue is semantics.

Johnson of Joshua's Christian Store contends there is no such thing as punk in Christian music. Tooth & Nail's Ebel recognizes a Christian music industry but says there is no Christian music per se. Then there's Mark Mohr, 23, of the Newport Beach-based reggae band Christafari, who says reggae and rock trace their roots to Christian hymns and gospel music.

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