Baker Book House
Almost from the inception of rock music, critics assailed it as the devil’s music. But both rock’s early detractors and supporters likely never anticipated that people of faith would one day show up en masse and invade mainstream rock & roll. But people of faith have showed up, and rock may never be the same again.
When I wrote The Rock & Roll Rebellion: Why People of Faith Abandoned Rock Music and Why They’re Coming Back, I saw a day in the future—the distant future—when people of faith would reenter the popular music culture, not as “Christian artists” playing “Christian music” but as Christian men and women deeply committed to that faith, but who avoided those stigmatizing labels even as they infused their music with their faith. I thought I was being realistic saying it might take perhaps twenty years before the proper divisions were achieved: 80 percent of believers rejoining the mainstream of American pop cultural life and 20 percent continuing to perform in a church-based subculture.
What I didn’t anticipate was that the changes would happen so rapidly. During the course of researching that book, I came across an interview with a young group from San Diego named P.O.D. whose members had been claiming in interviews that they were soon to be signed to Atlantic Records and that they were going to enjoy a huge mainstream push. I confess I was doubtful—so doubtful that I didn’t even mention them in the book. But I was wrong, for the band was disciplined and relentless in their quest to break out of the Christian subculture and affect the wider world with their music and their faith.
Another band that wasn’t on my radar screen then was a Florida-based rock band named Creed. Still another was an L.A. band named Lifehouse. Kendall Payne was another who showed up on Capitol Records with her critically acclaimed album Jordan’s Sister. Nickel Creek also appeared and took the alt/country scene by storm. Destiny’s Child rocked the pop and R&B charts. Jessica Simpson got out of her deal with a Christian-oriented label and recorded a hit album for Sony.
But there wasn’t one decisive moment when it became clear that popular music was in the process of undergoing a significant makeover; there were several—like the appearance of P.O.D. on the Howard Stern Radio Show, which showed clearly that there were two markedly different responses toward the shock jock from the faith community.
One was the tried and true approach of boycotting and pressuring advertisers to withdraw their sponsorship of the Stern program. The other was an even older approach first modeled by One who made it His habit to spend time with the spiritually sick, reasoning that it was they, not the spiritually fit, who most needed Him.
The first approach was that of a nationally known minister who used his own program to highlight the continuing campaign to reduce the number of stations carrying the Stern show and inform advertisers of what the self-proclaimed king of all media was up to.
The second was the appearance of P.O.D., whose members were on Stern’s program and actually earned grudging respect from him in the process.
The members of P.O.D. may believe in the same God that the minister believed in, but their strategy couldn’t have been more different. One was reactionary, demanding that those who offered offensive views be silenced, albeit through the legitimate process of moral peer pressure. The other was rooted in the kind of aggressive and confrontational strategy that found early leaders of the Christian faith repeatedly called to testify and defend their beliefs before the Sanhedrin and other public bodies that were hostile to their faith.
Howard Stern had probably never met the minister protesting against his show. He may never even have heard of him. But it’s unlikely that Stern forgot P.O.D. As the members of P.O.D. lumbered into Stern’s studio and put on their headphones to begin their session with the shock jock, they were sending an important message to the culture and the old guard of American evangelical Christianity: A culture that is abandoned will, by necessity, no longer feature the ideals that believers are told to infect it with. The tired old idea that withdrawal and separation somehow transform a culture was being frontally challenged by the members of P.O.D. who took their faith into the center of the public square and earned respect.
After asking one of the members of the group to show him his tattoo—one that featured Jesus, no less—Stern began with his guests, noting in a voice filled with incredulity, “You guys don’t bang your groupies and stuff. I was reading about you. You’re young guys. I would be banging the groupies. But you guys are religious guys.”1
To be sure, Stern had fun with his guests as well, probably to see if their faith also included the ability to laugh at themselves, when he allowed two callers onto the show. One caller claiming to be Jesus Christ told the members of P.O.D. that they were now free to have sex with their groupies, while another purporting to be Satan told them that he was having sex with their wives while they were on the road. The tasteless and blasphemous jokes were vintage Stern, but the members of P.O.D. held their ground and impressed their host with the strength of their convictions.
“You actually respect the chicks in your audience and you will not have sex with them and just do them,” repeated Stern incredulously. “Well, that’s unusual, that’s a new point of view I gotta tell you . . . I respect you if you can do that.”2
It may have seemed like a new point of view to Stern and millions of Americans, but only because of the cultural disappearing act that too many people of faith had staged over the last fifty years, which had too often resulted in their views not being fully aired in the public square. But as P.O.D. and a new generation came of age and rejected philosophies of cultural separation and withdrawal, they were following in the footsteps of cultural confrontationalists like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Jewish captives in ancient Babylon who stood tall for their faith amidst a culture of degradation and wild excess, and never used their belief in God as an excuse to withdraw from a culture into which they had been divinely placed.
The Stern interview was significant because his show was one that serious Christians typically avoided. On the rare occasion when one did agree to be interviewed on the program, it had turned disastrous. When B. J. Thomas, the devout singer who had once achieved success with the hit song “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” showed up, he was harangued by Stern who demanded that his guest sing a song that featured some rather off-color lyrics. When Thomas demurred, Stern grew angry, and the ensuing give-and-take, and Thomas’s firm refusal to play along, had resulted in Thomas looking prudish and Stern looking like a bully.
But earning the respect of perhaps one of the coarsest voices in American pop culture was the first of many of the accolades that P.O.D. earned, which would propel them to the top of the rock world. But it was an ascent that was anything if not calculated. The Stern interview itself was no accident, for P.O.D.’s manager Tim Cook had, early on, clearly understood it as one of his missions to get his band on the Stern program. Singer Sonny Sandoval may have instructed Cook to get the band booked on the Stern show, but getting a rookie band on was no easy task and would be virtually impossible to achieve without some divine intervention.
That divine intervention came in the way of Atlantic Records executive Danny Buch who had recently helped Stern by lining up talent for the shock jock’s birthday party. At the party, Stern had made Buch a solemn promise: As a thank-you for arranging for bands like Stone Temple Pilots to play his birthday fest, Stern promised that he would give free air time to any band Buch chose. Buch’s response: He wanted Stern to feature a recent Atlantic Records signing named P.O.D. Stern obliged, but made it clear that he was only doing so because of his promise to Buch. The band’s appearance on the Stern show increased record sales and created momentum for its next single, “Rock the Party.”
Another moment that served to confirm that people of faith were escaping out of the basement that they had been kept in for three decades by militant secularists and Christian separatists was when P.O.D. singer Sonny Sandoval appeared on Bill Maher’s television program Politically Incorrect. Maher, a libertarian who leans left on social issues and is always a tough interviewer of people of faith, almost always had the last word. But faced with Sandoval he melted like butter, much as Stern had in his own encounter with the band.
First Maher used an obscure Old Testament passage to question Sandoval’s tattoos. Sandoval didn’t bite, but Happy Days star Marion Ross took up a matronly defense of the singer, reminding Maher that the dreadlocks and tattoos were tools to help Sandoval’s audience identify with him. Stymied, Maher went for the jugular. How could Sandoval believe in God, Maher wanted to know, when things like cancer existed? Maher had no idea of the trap he had walked into. Without missing a beat, Sandoval replied that it was cancer that had driven him to God because it had taken his mother’s life and caused him to establish a relationship with Him. Maher appeared stunned at the seemingly effortless rejoinder and was uncharacteristically silent as he begged off of the segment in favor of a commercial break.
Still another moment that indicated that a cultural shift of sorts had taken place was when the pop/rock band Sixpence None The Richer’s singer Leigh Nash appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman. After a rendition of the band’s hit song “Kiss Me,” Letterman went to commercial break, but not before motioning to Nash and saying, “I want to talk to you.”
When the show came back from the break, Nash sat nervously on the sofa next to Letterman and politely listened to his first question.
“Where are you from?” he asked, to which the singer replied that she was from a small Texas town called New Braunfels.
Then Letterman, perhaps sensing the innocence of his guest, showed a surprisingly coarse side by asking Nash first where she was staying in town and then if he could visit the married singer there. Nash looked back at her band members as if for help and searched for the words to answer Letterman, but her silence spoke volumes as a suddenly chastened Letterman profusely apologized, admitting that he had been “needlessly coarse.”
With that Nash proceeded to finish the story she had been trying to tell in response to the host’s question about how her band got its name.
“It comes from a book by C. S. Lewis,” she replied. “The book is called Mere Christianity. A little boy asks his father if he can get a sixpence—which is a very small amount of English currency—for the boy to go and get a gift for his father. The father gladly accepts the gift and he’s really happy with it, but he also realizes that he’s not any richer for the transaction because he gave his son the money in the first place.”
“He bought his own gift,” Letterman responded.
“That’s right. Pretty much,” replied Nash. “I’m sure it meant a whole lot to him, but he’s really no richer. C. S. Lewis was comparing that to his belief that God has given him and us the gifts that we possess and to serve Him the way we should, we should do it humbly, with humble hearts realizing how we got the gifts in the first place.”
Nash’s brave performance elicited from Letterman an uncharacteristically earnest response:
Well, that’s beautiful. That’s very nice. That makes perfect sense. When you hear something explained that is so obvious but yet we need to be reminded of it almost every minute of every day . . . but if people didn’t need to be reminded of that there’d be fewer boobs running around doing boob-like things. If we could just keep that little sliver of enlightenment with us, things would be so much better. Well, nice to see you, God bless you, thank you very much. Leigh Nash, ladies and gentlemen . . . charming.3
Yet another clue that people of faith were deeply impacting mainstream music was the curious choice of songs selected for The Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger’s 2001 solo album Goddess in the Doorway. Jagger had been accused for years by fundamentalists of being a Satanist or pervert or both, and he had seemed to sing and act over the years in a way that confirmed his critics’ darkest suspicions. Such critics used songs like “Sympathy for the Devil” and album titles like Goat’s Head Soup to insist that Jagger had a thing for Old Scratch, and Jagger’s lifestyle confirmed that he had little regard for conventional social morals on marriage and family.
But when it came time to record Goddess in the Doorway Jagger surrounded himself with the talents of artists of faith, and what emerged reflected their influence. The effect that U2’s Bono and singer Lenny Kravitz had on Jagger was noted by Rolling Stone publisher Jan Wenner who, twenty years after arguing against hope that his Slow Train Coming album didn’t truly reflect a Christian conversion for Bob Dylan, seemed to concede that Kravitz and Bono had indeed had a significant impact on Jagger’s thinking.
“‘Joy,’ a rocking, gospel-tinged collaboration with Bono of U2—and featuring an indelible guitar hook from Pete Townsend—offers a revealing glimpse of what Jagger is seeking: ‘I looked up to the heavens/And a light is on my face/I never never never/Thought I’d find a state of grace,’” noted Wenner. “The mark of U2 is over on ‘Joy’ but the band’s influence subtly courses through the rest of the album.”4
Of another song, “Hide Away,” Wenner astutely observed: “The lyrics portray a guy who’s got it all—fame, fortune, and the means to indulge any materialistic and hedonistic impulse he might divine—but is wise enough in his late middle-age to know there’s something more out there.”5
But the biggest surprise was a song Jagger cowrote with Kravitz called “God Gave Me Everything,” which found the singer crediting God for every good thing in his life.
“Jagger offers unabashedly human, vulnerable sentiments on ‘Brand New Set of Rules,’” noted Wenner of yet another song from the record. “I will be kind, won’t be so cruel/I will be sweet, I will be true . . . I got a brand-new set of rules I got to learn.”6
Jagger’s “Brand New Set of Rules” sounded curiously like a line from a song, “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking,” from Bob Dylan’s 1979 album Slow Train Coming, in which Dylan had sung, “Gonna change my way of thinking, make myself a new set of rules.”
Whether the influences were Dylan, Bono, Kravitz, or a new generation of faith-rockers, the zeitgeist had caught up with even Mick Jagger who was looking for spiritual meaning and coming up with rather orthodox notions of faith. The influence of a new generation of artists of faith had touched a legend of rock and shown again that the ability to change the topic of cultural discussion was often as simple as just showing up. With the help of Bono, Kravitz, and others, Mick Jagger had finally lived up to the meaning of his last name, “messenger of God.”
Still another surprise to the rock music establishment came when Billy Corgan, the former lead singer of the band Smashing Pumpkins, delivered his next band outing Zwan, which included a stunningly worshipful song called “Jesus, I.” Corgan, who was never known for being particularly respectful of the Christian faith in his work with the Pumpkins, stunned audiences with this lyric:
Jesus, I’ve taken my cross, all to leave and follow thee . . . I’m resolute, reviled, forsaken . . . destitute, despised, forsaken . . . yet how rich is my condition, God and heaven are all my own.
Had Corgan undergone a transformational spiritual experience, merely being an artist and telling stories or simply responding to a market need for songs about divine love? Nobody could be sure of the answer to that question, but the result was still the same: another prominent rock star was singing songs of devotion to God.
Still more clues that religious expression in pop music was quickly changing were the results of the 2002 Grammy Awards. For years Christian expression at the Grammys had mostly consisted of the blurb “in ceremonies held earlier this evening for Best Gospel . . . ,” which came up just before the real ceremonies cut to commercial. People of faith had for years chafed at their relegation to the cultural backwater. But that all changed at the 2002 Grammys.
Although the show closed with a presentation of “gospel music,” with performances by legends such as Al Green, Michael W. Smith, CeCe Winans, and Andraè Crouch, the truly amazing story of the evening was the explosion of people of faith into all genres of the Grammy Awards, a clear indication that they refused to be sequestered in the “Gospel” category and were instead choosing to be heard and awarded in multiple genres of music.
The most obvious case was that of U2, whose members collected several awards for their record “All That You Can’t Leave Behind.” Lead singer Bono credited the band’s success to God: “We depend on God walking through the room, more than most. And God has walked through the room on our record and I want to give thanks. Amen.”7
T-Bone Burnett, whose faith burned brightly mostly on the fringes of popular music, had multiple wins at the Grammys with his O Brother, Where Art Thou? project, which also won him acclaim as producer of the year.
Lenny Kravitz won a Grammy for Best Male Rock Performance for his song “Dig In,” which included this line:
When the mountain is high, just look up to the sky, Ask God to teach you, then persevere with a smile.8
Best Female Rock Performance went to another spiritually themed song by Lucinda Williams, “Get Right with God,” which contained these lines:
I want to get right with God, yes you know you got to get right with God. I would burn the soles of my feet, burn the palms of both my hands. If I could learn and be complete, if I could walk righteously again. I asked God about his plan, to save us all from Satan’s slaughter.9
Allison Krauss, another devout artist, equaled the previous record by taking home five Grammys for her work both on the O Brother soundtrack and for work with her band Union Station.
Destiny’s Child earned a Grammy as well for their song “Survivor,” which included the line, “I’m not going to compromise my Christianity.”
And then there was bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, who, thanks to the support of Bob Dylan and T-Bone Burnett, finally enjoyed the acclaim he had long deserved, winning an award in the country category for his song “O Death.”
P.O.D. passed up a sure Grammy win in the gospel category and instead chose to be nominated in the rock category where they lost out to rockers Linkin Park.
One of the most poignant moments of the evening was country superstar Alan Jackson’s rendition of his hit song “Where Were You,” written in honor of the victims of the September 11th tragedy. The song included the lines:
But I know Jesus and I talk to God, and I remember this from when I was young, faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us, and the greatest is love.10
All in all, it was not a bad evening for those who took their faith and their rock & roll seriously. Although awards were also given out in the traditional gospel category, with dc Talk, CeCe Winans, and others taking the honors, as usual the culture barely noticed. However, the lesson of the evening was clear: Strong and clear expressions of faith no longer disqualified artists from being taken seriously by the culture, and even, on occasion, winning awards.
In 2001 even Newsweek magazine picked up on the trend and devoted a cover story to the phenomenon entitled “Jesus Rocks.” Every decade or so since 1970 mainstream outlets such as Newsweek checked in on the world of “Contemporary Christian Music” to take a pulse and report back to the mainstream culture. CCM, as it was known, was a parallel entertainment universe constructed by Christian businessmen to produce and market music made by former rock stars who converted to Christianity and evangelical Christians who were warned of the evils of secular rock.
The first wave of coverage was in the early 1970s when the newsweeklies reported on the burgeoning “Jesus Music” craze, as it was known in the early days of the movement. In the mid 1980s, reporters returned to cover the antics of the rock band Stryper, known for throwing Bibles into its audiences, and the singer Amy Grant. They revisited the issues in the mid 1990s when artists such as Bob Carlisle and Jars of Clay achieved a degree of success with their singles “Butterfly Kisses” and “Flood.”
For “Jesus Rocks,” Newsweek proved once again that when it came to the complicated and nuanced issues surrounding the Christian music underground, most reporters with no background in the genre would come away with half and sometimes less of the true story. The cover story completely missed what was really percolating in the Christian music subculture and how it was already having an impact on the larger pop music culture.
Newsweek took the pulse of CCM and found it robust, but in the process missed, as do most mainstream publications, the fact that “Christian music” as a concept was in the middle of a quiet collapse as a new generation of rock stars who were Christians were bypassing the industry altogether and signing with mainstream record companies, having realized that the surest way to not be heard by the mainstream music culture was to allow themselves to be branded “Christian rock.”
Perhaps the final straw for artists of faith was being made fun of on the popular TV sitcom Seinfeld, where one of the characters, Elaine, discovered to her horror that her boyfriend Puddy listened to “Christian rock.” Not to worry, George assured her; Christian rock was nice and safe, not like real rock.
For any rock star, Christian or not, being labeled safe is not a compliment.
Sensing the cultural shift, numerous artists who were in the Christian music industry left, resurfacing at mainstream record labels, sometimes with new names. Other younger artists simply avoided the cultural gulag altogether and signed record deals with mainstream labels from the outset.
Incorrectly labeling mainstream artists like Lifehouse (signed to the Dreamworks label) and P.O.D. (signed to Atlantic Records) as Christian music artists, Newsweek lumped them in with an industry that they had only allowed their records to be sold into.
The real story that Newsweek missed was the same one they missed in the political world in 1980—that just as serious Christians rejected arguments of separatism and entered the U.S. political world, thereby turning it upside down, so they were in the process of entering the popular music culture with their faith-based ideas in tow, all the while throwing off the yoke of the marginalizing term “Christian music.”
That’s why artists like Creed, Lifehouse, P.O.D., Collective Soul, Sixpence None The Richer, Chevelle, Burlap to Cashmere, Kendall Payne, Switchfoot, Blindside, Project 86, and others had signed record deals with mainstream labels, in many cases turning down Christian music labels completely, or in others distancing themselves from the CCM market by allowing their mainstream labels to distribute their records to the Christian bookstore market but refusing to identify themselves as “Christian rockers.”
P.O.D. was the clearest example of this trend, for they had refused offers from the Christian record labels early on and instead signed with the mainstream label Atlantic. Two hit singles, “Southtown” and “Rock the Party,” came quickly, but the band had steadfastly refused the moniker “Christian rock” despite the fact that they were clearly devout believers who allowed their records to be distributed to the Christian bookstore market by Atlantic’s Nashville-based “Christian division.”
This movement of artists out of the Christian music world and onto the rosters of mainstream record labels presented a clear problem for the CCM industry. After all, it had built a business on disgruntled artists who weren’t being given a fair shake at mainstream labels, which were in turn accused of trying to get them to tone down their faith-based lyrics or ignoring them altogether.
But that resistance on the part of mainstream labels had begun to crumble and, as artists such as Lifehouse, Creed, and P.O.D. found out, labels were in fact willing to tolerate explicit statements of faith or unfashionable political statements (Creed’s antiabortion stance, for instance) so long as the music was good and the cash registers were humming.
What Newsweek mistook for a boom in the CCM industry was actually a massive influx of people of faith into the mainstream entertainment world. From Pax TV to Touched by an Angel, from Veggie Tales to the feature film A Walk to Remember, the formerly alienated Christian subculture was now emerging from an 80-year slumber, shedding the marginalization complex that had enveloped it after the Scopes Trial and had sent it into hiding, and reasserting itself in the mainstream marketplace of ideas.
In the process, artists of faith were boycotting or ignoring altogether companies that had developed over the years by using the term “Christian” as an adjective instead of a noun, realizing that it was the surest way not to be heard by the people they were most intent on reaching: nonbelievers.
The impact of this move will be felt over the course of the next two decades, just as the American political scene was jolted by the move of evangelical Christians into politics two decades ago.
However, it is also true that if this trend in entertainment is to be truly understood, it will have to be pursued more vigorously by reporters at mainstream publications who are willing to look beyond industry cheerleading press releases and examine deeper trends and issues, something Newsweek had simply refused to do.
Relying instead on reports from the industry organization, the Gospel Music Association (GMA), and its trade representative, the Christian Music Trade Association (CMTA), Newsweek’s piece was essentially cheerleading for the industry and repeated the questionable numbers that were released by the group, which hid the decline in sales numbers of “Christian music.” The group later rewarded the reporter by giving her an award for her coverage at their Gospel Music Week convention in Nashville.
The reports Newsweek relied on were regularly issued by the CMTA and showed that “Christian music” had been experiencing unprecedented growth in recent years. But a closer look at the top-sellers of 2001 showed that the strongest “Christian music” draws were actually the instrumental favorites Mannheim Steamroller, the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and P.O.D. All had become “Christian records” courtesy of SoundScan, the company originally created to clear up confusing and misleading statistics in the music industry.
Here’s how it apparently worked. Once the industry decided to distribute an album such as Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas Extraordinaire, representatives of the CMTA and Billboard magazine then declared it a “Christian record” and announced its findings to “Christian SoundScan.” Then every Christmas Extraordinaire sale, no matter where it occurred, was credited as another sale of “Christian music.” Those numbers were then used to show how much growth had taken place in “Christian music.”
The same went for P.O.D. If the rock-rap act sold one million records in mainstream outlets and 100,000 in Christian-oriented bookstores, the Christian music industry was credited with 1.1 million units sold.
But P.O.D. didn’t consider itself a “Christian band” making “Christian music.” Instead, P.O.D.’s members saw themselves as Christians making music about their lives, including their love for God, in the center of popular culture. By signing directly with Atlantic Records in New York, they had hoped to avoid being saddled with marginalizing terms that ultimately kept their music away from non-Christians.
Lead singer Sonny Sandoval believed that potential fans of the band sometimes didn’t buy its CDs when they were stocked by mainstream chains in the same bin as traditional gospel singers like Sandi Patty and George Beverly Shea.
“You go into Sam Goody’s and you have these kids that just came back from Ozzfest who [say,] ‘I want that new P.O.D. I just heard them and they’re awesome,’” said Sandoval. “They’re [told,] ‘OK, they’re over there in the gospel section.’ That’s ridiculous.”11
A more accurate picture of the “growth” in Christian music could have been obtained by Newsweek and other outlets had they simply taken the figures released by the CMTA and subtracted the sales of artists of faith signed to “secular labels,” compilation albums of previously released material, and Christmas (or hymn) records made by non-Christian artists. On Christian music’s list of top ten albums of 2001, that would have left only four. So much for the explosive growth in Christian music: the truth was that Christian music wasn’t growing, but the idea of Christians playing music was growing exponentially.
The picture that then emerged was that of an exodus of devout young artists who were avoiding signing with CCM labels in favor of “secular” ones. They knew that Christian music as its own unique genre would not affect a post-Christian culture trained to resist such efforts. But people of faith working in every musical style—jazz, pop, rock, R&B, etc.—quite possibly could.
Young and devout artists like Lifehouse, Creed, P.O.D., Mary Mary, Kendall Payne, and others were voting with their feet, taking their music to mainstream labels. There they were finding executives who didn’t share their faith but who were still helping them find an audience. In their desire to be understood by the Christian community, some of these artists (such as P.O.D. and Kendall Payne) had allowed their records to be distributed to Christian-owned bookstores. But they probably never dreamed that doing this would give all their albums, no matter where they were sold, credit for growth in Christian music.
In theory, this trick, fully utilized, could have allowed the Christian music business to grow each year at whatever level they chose to grow by. Had they chosen, for instance, to label the entire classical music catalogues of the various labels as “Christian” or various Christian-oriented artists like Johnny Cash, Moby, Lenny Kravitz, or U2 and distributed their records to Bible bookstores, they could have perhaps grown by 2,000 percent each year.
Of course, these musicians’ mission would have been much easier had their counterparts on the business side of the Christian music industry reformed their companies. Until these executives learned to function in the culture as ordinary labels (albeit ones with spiritual missions), they would continue to lose talented artists to their secular counterparts. If industry executives were to create safe places for artists to emerge without being labeled “Christian rock,” artists would not have to go to mainstream labels to be heard by the wider culture.
Many were doing just that. Warner Brothers executive Barry Landis worked hard to allow artists like Plus One and P.O.D. to have access to both mainstream and Christian-owned bookstore markets, not as religious artists, but as artists who were available and accessible to the entire culture without limiting labels.
Tooth & Nail Records was another record label that had modeled how labels owned and operated by Christians could operate in the future. Though essentially staffed by Christians, and though the label generally signed artists who were also Christians, it still functioned as if it were a regular indie rock label by servicing mainstream retail, radio, and video outlets with its product and refusing to wave the “Christian rock” banner that so stifled mainstream acceptance.
“There is no such thing as a ‘Christian record label’ any more than there is ‘Christian McDonald’s’ . . . or ‘Christian hockey,’” said the label’s president Bill Powers. “A company is a business. We sign bands that we like. To call something ‘Christian’ implies that what that organization has to offer is only for Christians.”12
The move to label records that had not specifically come out of the Nashville-based CCM industry as “Christian music” ended up perpetuating the sacred/secular split that young artists were trying to overcome. It placed emphasis on growing “Christian music” as a genre and thus reinstituted the labeling that limited influence on the wider culture.
Scholar and author Phillip E. Johnson had warned Christians of the danger of going along with those who sought to label their work as religious.
“Classifying a viewpoint or theory as religious may have the effect of marginalizing it,” Johnson wrote in his book, Reason in the Balance. “A viewpoint or theory is marginalized when without being refuted it is categorized in such a way that it can be excluded from serious consideration. The technique of marginalizing a viewpoint by labeling it ‘religion’ is particularly effective in late 20th-century America because there is a general impression, reinforced by Supreme Court decisions, that religion does not belong in public institutions.”13
Still, some continued to promote CCM as a unique genre that incorporated almost every musical style, sometimes even without lyrics. But they found themselves in a shrinking minority. Ironically enough, while the very notion of “Christian music” was in retreat, people of faith were streaming out of their subcultures and making strong statements of faith in the center of the music culture. And they appeared to be continuing to do so with or without help from their brothers and sisters on the business side of the existing paradigm of Christian music.