The newspapers had a field day in the wake of the Nine O'Clock Service scandal. But so have mainstream music magazines. Tony Cummings reviews three recent ALTERNATIVE WORSHIP reports.
MIXMAG which bills itself as "the world's leading dance music and club culture magazine' really didn't know what to think about Christians involved in dance. Their 'This Is Not A Club, This Is A Church' article by Jane Headon vacillated between a belief in a sinister conspiracy where evangelistic zealots have hatched a plot to "hook" clubbers and a begrudging admission that "house music particularly in America has come out of gospel traditions that are firmly rooted in the church." Ms Headon's problem is that too often she allows her prejudices to show ("Christian rock just sounds stupid") and never begins to tackle the issue of huge theological diversity in the varying alternative worship initiatives. She also seems to believe that Synergy (of all people) are unique in being a British Christian dance group! For all that, the article is not without interest. Her visits to Abundant Club, Holy Joe's and Holy Disorder produced some interesting quotes though her piece on Synergy no doubt sent shock waves down the record company executives at Milton Keynes. She talked to Synergy's non-Christian member Paul Mallett. When asked whether there were people speaking in tongues at the launch of the Word group's album debut Paul admitted, "I was but then I was f***ed.!
MUZIK Recently voted "music magazine of the year" they certainly lived up to their billing with a fair-minded report 'Bible Bangin" by Jonty Adderley. Cramming in fragments of numerous interviews - the most widely used being that with Andy Hawthorne of the World Wide Message Tribe - Mr Adderley allowed the Christians to speak for themselves. Ray Goudie (NGM), Johnny Sertin (Bliss), Jon Baker (Youth For Christ), Charlie Irvine (the Late Late Service), Steve Baker (Abundant) and even the notoriously erratic Moby all made good points while the comment from Hawthorne, "NOS was a fantastic vision at the beginning; the problem was some bloke went wacko and did crazy things," stopped the evangelicals quoted as being tarred with the same brush. There were a couple of tiny inaccuracies (including calling me Andy Cummings!) but the feature undoubtedly presented sanctified dance/alternative worship in a positive light with good research and fare reportage.
SELECT If the Mixmag report was highly suspicious, the article in Britain's rock culture mag Select by William Shaw positively twitched with sects and cults paranoia. William Shaw is the author of Spying In Guruland - Inside Britain's Cults and clearly sees his role as exposing the evil mind manipulations - often by joining cults and writing about his inside experiences. So much of his article was a first hand, present tense description of the sights, sounds and experiences from (shock, horror) inside a cult. The Nine O'clock Service was long gone by the time Shaw was commissioned for his Select report so instead he homed in on...wait for it...the Jesus Army. Now, having once worked for the old Buzz magazine in the early '80s which did an expose of the hyper-charismatic church-in-community (then known as Bugbrooke) and being still sensitive to the controversy that the Jesus Army causes (Cross Rhythms recently had a Jesus Fellowship album returned by one of its reviewers who stated he couldn't, in all conscience, review it) it is still sobering to see a church movement endorsed on public platforms by such impeccably orthodox figures as Roger Forster and Dave Bilbrough labelled "a cult" in an influential national magazine. In Shaw's report he begins dramatically with his response to a Jesus Army storm trooper trying to lead him to the Lord (it was "Oh sh*t!") then goes on to describe his feeling at an exuberant Jesus Army meeting experiencing "the bizarre phenomenon known as 'The Toronto Blessing'" as feeling like he'd dropped into "a medieval bedlam". Shaw then switches into a general survey which leaps from regurgitated NOS material with a passing reference to the World Wide Message Tribe, the Lighthouse, Late Late Service and even the Wades! He then stumbles on with the old chestnut, talking about "the right-wing evangelical movement," moves on to his bizarre experiences with a REAL cult leader Professor Trance (American Frank Natale) before ending up in Greenbelt at Moby's mainstage appearance "as the bpms accelerated ever faster the crowd went crazy." Shaw's piece is a sneering, inaccurate concoction masquerading as investigative journalism.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.