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New Christians: The media and The Message
By LARRY SCHWARTZ
Sunday 9 April 2000
Stephanie Lamont was looking for good music. So she visited an eastern suburbs store that aspires to sell a range of products of "benefit to the body of Christ".
Along with more mainstream rock by the likes of Counting Crows, the 19-year-old Deakin University student favors Christian bands such as Jars of Clay.
She is studying human movement and intends to become a secondary school teacher. "I suppose everyone's searching for something," she says, "and in my opinion, the only thing that is going to fill that is Christianity."
Her mother, Ms Jackie Lamont, is a primary school teacher. She contrasts Stephanie's taste with daughter Michelle, 17, who listens to musicians including gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur, whose popularity has surged since he was shot dead in Las Vegas in 1996.
"The lyrics are really questionable," Ms Lamont says of 2Pac, as he is known to fans.
Stephanie Lamont's preference for contemporary music with a Christian message is shared by countless teenagers and young adults.
The appeal is highlighted by the success of Queensland band the Newsboys, now touring North America to promote their latest album, Love, Liberty, Disco, which has been described as "driving guitar rock ... with a fresh focus on Christian love".
The band was relatively little-known in Australia until BRW recently revealed that its five members had earned more than $9million last year and listed the band as the sixth-highest entertainment earners in Australia.
Their popularity comes at a time when the various media are being utilised more successfully than at any other time. Late last year, a low-budget film starring Michael York became an unexpected box-office success in the US after preachers exhorted their flock to attend screenings.
The Omega Code, which tells the story of a hidden message in Revelations and a final battle between good and evil, took $US2.4million ($3.7million) in its opening weekend last November.
"I guess it's cool to be a Christian now," says Mr Rheban Bradley, who manages a leading Christian products retailer in Blackburn South. He says friends thought him "a bit different" after he was "born again" in May 1987. But being Christian was now "hip".
His store has sold more than 2000 copies of the Newsboys' album. Another big seller, Melbourne's Phil Colman Trio, had drawn 200 at an in-store appearance. Cliff Richard's Millennium Prayer had also "sold absolutely thousands".
Mr Bradley says Koorong is the biggest Australian retailer of Christian products, including Bibles, religious commentaries, CDs, cassettes, videos, children's books and "giftware with a message".
The store's autumn sales catalogue offers products including the two-pack The Man Behind The Millennium, a recreation of the story of Christ as chronicled in the Gospel of Luke.
"So far in Australia, an estimated 1.1 million people have seen the Jesus video," the brochure says. "Across the world, at least 3.3billion people in more than 233 countries ... and it has been dubbed into more than 558 languages.
"More than 108 million people have already declared their decision to follow Christ after seeing this film."
Meanwhile, there is extensive use of the Internet to sell "Christian" goods, from golf shirts and screensavers to ties, jewellery and much more. "Though almost everyone has heard of that dramatic scene when Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple, his disciples have not always heeded his warning, `You cannot serve both God and Mammon'," the American Christian commentator, Mr Charles Henderson, writes in an article he has titled God4Sale on About.com.
Mr Henderson condemns merchandising "within the temples of cyberspace".
"Promoters of every stripe are putting the gospel on sale in the form of jewellery, T-shirts and trinkets of every kind," he writes. "In these so-called Christian websites, the faith is packaged, promoted and sold like any other product."
Pastor Brian Houston is at the forefront of a new trend in worship in Australia. He is senior pastor at Hills Christian Life Centre in Castle Hill, north-west of Sydney, and national president of the Assembly of God Churches in Australia.
"I don't think it contradicts for one moment the scripture that says you can't serve God and Mammon," says Pastor Houston, who is also inaugural president of a new organisation, the Australian Christian Churches, representing more than 1000 predominantly pentecostal churches and 170,000 parishioners. "Because money, as far as I'm concerned is a tool.
"...You can't serve God and money but you can serve God and use money effectively for his cause."
Largely through music, his church exerts an influence way beyond the more than 7000 parishioners it says are drawn to services.
It has set up a commercial "arm", Hillsongs, that has recorded a series of albums by its band, featuring musicians including Dave Moyse, formerly of Air Supply, and fronted by a pastor, Darlene Zschech, a star of the international Christian music scene.
Hillsongs has sold more than two million albums around the world. Seven have gone gold in Australia (more than 35,000 sold). Shout To The Lord, a CD with title song penned by Zschech, went gold in America (500,000 copies).
A follow-up, Shout To The Lord 2000, is on Billboard magazine's (secular) charts and Zschech has been nominated in the best song category at the Gospel Music Association's Dove Awards, in Nashville, this month.
Pastor Houston has a weekly television program, Life Is For Living, screened in 42 countries and seen here on Channel 10 and Optus' Australian Christian Channel. "In recent years, people have felt a lot freer about worship being contemporary and the focus is still Jesus," he says. "The focus is still God. But the style has definitely become contemporary."
At a time of ageing congregations and decline in attendance at traditional churches, Pastor Houston says: "There's a huge move right across the nation among young people."
He cites Youth Alive, a national group established more than a decade ago, that attracts as many as 10,000 to Christian rallies at venues such as Melbourne Park. "If you were to go, you'd think you were at any rock concert," Pastor Houston says. "They're just dressed like any other kids. But the difference is they worship and they listen to preaching and teaching and respond to God, basically."
Youth Alive holds three Melbourne rallies each year for youngsters from various denominations. Christian bands, such as Delirious from Britain or Sydney's Brotherhood Lush perform.
Matthew Hunt, 24, organises rallies in Victoria. He says Festival Hall was filled to a capacity of about 5500 last Saturday and many were turned away. The venue had been sought only because Melbourne Park was not available on the night.
Youth Alive has also recorded albums. "These are the songs of a young army," Bruce Hills, director of Youth Alive Victoria, says on its website. "A powerful army, God's army, an army of holy and heroic warriors ... Our generation will be reached. Our nation will never be the same again. The revolution has begun!"
Posted as one example of contemporary Australian life. I live in the Southern 'bible' belt of OZ and members of my mob join close friends in this movement. It's attractive to an lot of people here and might well be a revolution. Needless to say it has American origins and the figures a little bit wobbly.
Regards from Down Under
-- Pieter (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 09, 2000
Ah, the arrogance of youth. Every young generation thinks they are starting a revolution. Different targets, same mentality. Who remembers the 60's?
-- Lars (email@example.com), April 09, 2000.
I remember the 60s with great love and affection. I'm going to find out what the most secular country in the world is, and I'm going to move there. I'm hoping it's England.
-- gilda (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 09, 2000.
Most likely that used to be Russia (USSR), since the Soviets were so actively anti-religious. Now it's probably someplace like North Korea or Yemen. Strong secular cultures, but you'd probably have other, ummm, quality-of-life issues.
England still had "blue laws" (shops closed on Sundays) when I lived there in the 70's, so it's a good bet that Christianity still maintains some influence there. You're probably better off staying Stateside and living in one of the more "progressive" cities or locales, like SF or Santa Cruz.
Gad, I sound like a Realtor(TM)...
-- DeeEmBee (email@example.com), April 09, 2000.
Lars, I remember the 60s in a swirl. Never thought of it as youthful arrogance then, more like a reaction against the stuffiness and especially an appalling Vietnam scene. Never quite trusted TPTB since. Today another generation has its say against mainstream State institutionalism. These young people are embracing home tutelage, family social mixing, clean drug-free daily life and business. This is a solid and important response to the floppiness of the law courts, the shallow political sights that embarrass so, the 'American Curriculum' non-education and thrusting multi-national BS. And its not just the Assembly. The Plymouth Brethren with their old- fashioned ethos look positively appealling when placed alongside the ineffectual social programmes of our Socialist Governments.
And that explains why you may be hearing a strangely discountenance from OZ. The politicians only hope of survival is not by taking the political debate to the people, it's the people who are taking the power and the debate. I am enthralled by the variety of comment and the political bloodbaths of the last few days in South Australia when several sitting members of parliament and a Senator have been dumped by the Labor Party in a day of long knives.
This Christian movement may well be consider a revolution. I personally see it as utter rejection of what the social engineers and a bunch of bleeding hearts of recent times have visited upon us. That the Federal Government and the States cannot cannot sustain the debate speaks volumes of the calibre of our leaders, most of whom are only nominally literate.
At this very moment the National debate is about racial issues. It's distressing to watch. I think the honourable members are besides themselves. It's pathetic and media hyped. You'd think they'd have something better to do, like run a country.
Regards from OZ
-- Pieter (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 09, 2000.
"Ah, the arrogance of youth. Every young generation thinks they are starting a revolution. Different targets, same mentality."
I beg to differ, this mentality has the flavor of Christian Crusaders. Forget freedom.
-- (email@example.com), April 09, 2000.
Religious fervor runs in cycles. We seem to be on the upswing. (Taught history for a while) I'm looking foward to a refreshing change. Morals and ethics have been rather smelly of late.
-- brock gannon (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 09, 2000.