Surfing with the Enemy
Evangelical Christians are using new tactics to entice teenagers into the fold, says Padraig Reidy
It's 7.30 on a Monday night in Soho, and I'm listening to a young man with a crew cut and a tshirt bearing the legend 'psycho' play some earsplitting drum and bass music. A remix of Luniz 'I Got 5 On It' (a paean to occasional difficulties in scoring marijuana) is followed by a tune with lyrics about finding a woman who 'can roll with my arrangement' (a pimping reference). The room is packed with trendy late teens, nodding their heads appreciatively.
Welcome to Evangelical Christianity, 2004 style. The 're:solution' tour is Christianity's latest attempt to give 'a shout out to the kids'. Organised by Share Jesus International, an evangelical group founded by Methodist minister Rev Rob Frost with the aim of "equipping and challenging the church", re:solution takes the extreme sports and rap music popular with today's youth and gives them a distinctly Christian spin.
My only previous experience of the church trying to reach out to 'the kids' happened about 10 years ago, when some friends and I, out enjoying our usual suburban Saturday night (standing on corners, spitting and honing our swearing skills) were invited to join a youth evening at the local Methodist Church. Applying our crude Catholic schoolboy logic (Protestant girls = loose morals, ignoring the fact that any females attending would be devout churchgoers) we happily submitted ourselves to a disturbingly tedious night of Bible study (the highlight of which was being accidentally referred to the verses about bestiality when they meant to show us the Bible's teaching on homosexuality).
But that was 10 years ago. Re:solution is a whole different Bible Studies class.
After a perky kidsTV type introduction, we welcome hiphop group 29th Chapter, who, as their lyrics and pristine white tracksuits tell us, 'represent Christ'.
The party/service is rocking almost immediately, although the atmosphere is tainted, for me at least, by a projected backdrop of incredibly graphic images of Jesus on the cross.
To be fair to 29th Chapter, the combination of rap and religion is not new, although it usually takes the form of Nation of Islam polemics from the likes of Rakim and Jeru the Damaja, rather than gospel revelations, over a phat beat.
While the band takes a break, we're treated to some spectacular skateboarding clips, interspersed with skaters telling us about abandoning sin (although, if my memory serves me well, most of the skaters I knew as a teenager were pretty big into the whole sin thing).
Perky kidsTV type Jo is back, to introduce some Essex graffiti artists who have found God.
Revelation of the evening: "Legal graffiti can be used to worship God." Presumably when it comes to the illegal sort, God is firmly on the side of London Transport Police.
Next up, a rapmetal band called Soul's Rest. Unfortunately, Satan seems to have possessed their PA system, but they carry on regardless, "rockin' it for Christ" (their words, not mine).
The lyrics seem terribly serious, cautionary rather than celebratory; this ain't happyclappy country. In fact, if there's one recurring theme tonight, it's an apocalyptic sense of drama.
Everyone seems entirely convinced that if it wasn't for finding God, they'd all be crack addicts now, rather than the nice suburban kids they obviously are (you can always spot the nice suburban kids, even the Christian ones; they're the ones trying hardest to look thuggish).
The projections have gone distinctly weird shots of buffed surfer dudes riding waves interspersed with Filipino devotees flogging each other on the way to crucifixion. The link is not entirely clear; maybe Andy from Christian Surfers can shed some light on it.
"Christian Surfers", Andy tells us, "bridge the gap between the church and the beach." Apparently, surfing, along with skateboarding, snowboarding graffiti and rapping, is yet another thing you can do for Christ. In fact, it seems you can do pretty much anything (especially if it's fun) for Christ. Personally I'm rather looking forward to getting out of here and having a gin and tonic for Christ.
Becky arrives to tell us about how she became a Christian, and perhaps offers the best insight into why the majority of people are here, as she talks about the need for 'identity' and 'belonging' which dogged her adolescence; the same reasons teenagers give for playing sports, wearing noserings or joining street gangs.
And then the highlight of the night. Yet another fresh faced kidsTV type comes on stage and asks the kids if they want to live 'extreme lives'. This is Andy Frost, head honcho of the re:solution concept, and son of Share Jesus International's founder.
Andy tells the hushed crowd about this "radical guy he knows", who "lived life to the extreme". This man of course, being none other than Jesus Christ.
God's love, according to Andy, is "pretty hardcore": Jesus died "an extreme death" (bit of an understatement, I thought).
Again we get clues as to what the purpose is here: Andy offers kids 'redemption'. Surely anyone who can remember their adolescence can remember the embarrassment and guilt which provided a backdrop for everyday life; who among us wouldn't have welcomed a chance at redemption?
But, despite this tempting offer, there is a sense here of quite literally preaching to the converted. One young student nurse I spoke to later said that, although she enjoyed the show, she really hadn't noticed any increase in numbers at the events, or at regular church services.
So is this a cynical attempt to exploit teenage insecurities, or just a chance for adolescents who don't fit in with their peers to enjoy their own identity? Maybe only God knows the answer to that one.