March 18, 2012

Which brings me to two brief sermons preached between Winter Jam’s performances.

Youth minister Nick Hall comes out with an All Access Pass dangling from his belt and pulls the microphone to his sleazy John Waters mustache. With googly-eyed positivity, he yammers on about how most kids don’t think it’s “€œcool”€ to be a Christian. Before anyone gets a false impression that social approval is a spiritual distraction, Hall assures everyone that becoming a Christian is in fact the coolest trend one could follow.

For anyone ready to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, Hall recites the generic incantation that many evangelicals claim is our only way to heaven:

Assure Jesus that you believe he was crucified for your sins; confess that you are a sinner and ask forgiveness; promise him that you believe he is the Son of God; and poof your soul is saved for all eternity.

If only everything in life could be so easy.

Later on, a smiling preacher whose name I didn’t catch tells an upbeat story about Jeremy, a seventeen-year-old who got “€œsaved”€ at last year’s Winter Jam. The promoters had received multiple phone calls from Jeremy’s mother after a show in Augusta, GA. When they finally got around to calling her back, the woman explained that her son had been a rebellious terror since he hit puberty, but after coming home from Winter Jam one night, Jeremy woke his parents and told them that he had given his life to Jesus. For the next two weeks, the boy was a model of good Christian behavior.

Then out of nowhere, Jeremy fell and hit his head. He died immediately. (The arena goes quiet.) But because he was saved at Winter Jam, Jeremy will spend eternity in Jesus’s loving arms!

And the crowd goes wild.

Without missing a beat, the smiling preacher explains that Winter Jam is able to charge only $10 for admission because of donations from generous believers. “€œI have three teenagers at home,”€ he says, “€œso I know there’s some money here!”€ Everyone laughs and the house lights go up. “€œWe’ll ask God to use it for his glory.”€

From my perch high above, I watch the buckets get passed around. Some people just hand it to the next guy, but most toss in a handful of bills. The jingle of change echoes throughout the arena.

A lot of statistics were alleged during the event. Fifty-three million abortions performed in the US since January 22, 1973. Two million new orphans yearly. Over one hundred thousand souls saved at Winter Jam this season alone. No one ever mentions how much cash the production clears on admission, donations, and merchandise. I can’t find that number anywhere.

Once the buckets have been filled, the headliner finally takes the stage: a Christian nu-metal band called Skillet. They hammer their fans with distorted guitars and pyro concussions. Twenty thousand tiny fists pump in unison. The air swells with the primal squeal of youth.

I wish the music’s polished aggression would take hold and spark off a furious mosh pit. If only these “€œPanheads“€ would turn the other cheek until every face is smashed to hamburger, then crash through the barricades to assail the dolled-up clowns onstage with steel cooking utensils. But they just bob their empty heads instead.

Between songs, singer John Cooper warns the crowd, “€œThere is a war going on! I’m talking about a war for your souls!”€

I have no doubt about that. On one side are the demons of carnal mass culture. On the other side are demons wearing the sheepskin of Christ. Does it really matter which side wins?



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