Last night we took the youth group to big Christian rock concert in Wichita called Winter Jam. After a very long day I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about the event.
It was really quite a spectacle to behold. The day started by camping out in line for about 3 hours, and then being in the arena for another 6. There were 7 different bands that were very good and polished. The theatrics of the event was impressive. Everything was produced and orchestrated to an unbelievably high degree. The set design was top notch, creating impressive and unique visuals for each band. I was also impressed at the variety of bands that they had. There were hard rock, pop, indi, and even the David Crowder band which is mainly a worship band but even threw in a bit of bluegrass. Overall, the music was enjoyable and the show was breathtaking.
That being said, I was fairly overwhelmed by many other elements of the show. And I do mean “show”. The fact that it most certainly was a show including all of the “ministry times”, might be my first issue. What’s more, I don’t go to many rock concerts, mainly because they exist to sell me stuff. From minute one, it was obvious that the reason they were there was to sell me stuff at Winter Jam. The only difference was that they heaped on Jesus-guilt along with the product pitch. These things however, were relatively superficial issues.
After the warm up band, the next sequence of events begins to describe where my difficulties really began. After the warm up band, one of the artists came out and promoted a cruise where there would be a whole number of Christian musicians performing. Next, he brought up people from the three local Christian radio stations to promote them. Then he brought up the tour pastor. The pastor began by saying, “Before we start by reading some scripture I want to recognize that there are a lot of armed forces personnel here and I want to remind us to thank them for defending our freedoms and bringing peace.” Then, finally, he read the psalm 149, which has to do with making music to God with various instruments. It also include a bit about God taking out some enemies, which he also mentioned with the note that this is about God making peace through war. His main point with this scripture, however, was that we were justified in being at the concert because God commanded us to worship this way.
If I hadn’t been with 30 youth group kids I would have walked out then and there.
The rest of the concert had a quasi-generic Christian, but distinctly conservative feel. It was a mix of patriotism, evangelism and commercialism. Perhaps the point at which I was most offended was when the pastor, at several different points, appealed to people to either sponsor a child from an overseas orphanage or to give money in the freewill offering. What was offensive was not that he appealed for these things in the first place. What was offensive was when he said, “now some of you are hearing this and thinking, ‘oh I don’t have the money or I don’t think I can or I’d rather not’. That’s the devil talking in your ear because the devil would like nothing more than for you to walk out of here without giving.” I don’t think I even have to explain how theologically manipulative that is.
What I will give the pastor credit for was his pro-life rant. To promote the orphanage project he asked the crowd if they were pro-life. The place went wild with cheers. Then he quoted James 1:27 which talks about pure and faultless religion is one that takes care of widow and orphans. He flat out said that you’re really pro-life then you need to be there to care for a baby when a mother chooses to have the child instead of abort the child. He even said that you’re not really a Christian if you don’t care for widows and orphans, and called out many Christians for only saying that they’re pro-life and not backing it up. Needless to say, the crowd was considerably more quiet in their response to this part of his speech. I was a little shocked, because this was the first time that I’ve heard someone at a very conservative event basically say that being pro-life means more than being pro-birth. Now, that would have held more water for me if he hadn’t started the concert by elevating the military.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about the event. On one hand, the kids loved it and had a great time. It’s not often that they get a chance to go to that big of an event. I have no doubt that it hit a number of the kids very well and strengthened many of them in their faith. Personally I enjoyed most of the music and even found a couple of bands I need to (re)discover. On the other hand, there were key elements of this event that were the total embodiment of everything that I hate about American pop-Christianity. Would I condone my youth group going in the future? Probably. Would I ever intentionally go again if it was just me? Depends on who was playing and what my tolerance for bad theology was at that moment. Will I wind up going again as a leader of a youth group? Probably. But that’s the nature of the beast.
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