Groups work with obsessed youths

Author: Julia Duin
Date Published: 04/23/1999

Christians try to reach out to heal ‘Goths’ who feel greatly alienated

The image on the CD cover suggests the doom and gloom of the Goth scene: A brooding teen-age boy in a black trench coat.

Inside are such song titles as ”Hired Gun,” ”Ski Mask” and ”Crimes Against Humanity.”

The CD is actually ”Kinetic Faith,” an under-the-radar evangelistic effort by Bride, a Christian rock group.

In an eerie premonition of the recent Colorado massacre, one song suggests:

Let’s go out and have some fun
With our ski masks and hand guns.
Driving fast cars to the sun.
We’ll be blind but we’ll die young.

Ever since Goth-obsessed teen-agers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and one teacher during Tuesday’s rampage at a high school in Littleton, Colo., pundits and parents around the country have agonized over why no one apparently reached out to the two young men beforehand.

But many Christian groups have been working for years to reach teen-agers obsessed with depression, death and destruction. One is a group of Eastern Orthodox community monks in Forestville, Calif., who put out a ‘zine, or a mini-magazine, for alienated youth.

Called ”Death to the World: The Last True Rebellion,” it is replete with the kind of painful imagery – skulls, piercings, crucifixions – that is common to Goth culture.

”This subculture is vacuous and deeply disturbed because of their own pain,” says Monk Paisius, one of the ”Death to the World” editors. ”It’s demonic; they’re living in hell, overdosing on drugs or maybe going into a rage and killing someone. They see life as worthless.

”We want to show them an ideal that is worth their life. These are the marginalized youth who are wounded, and ‘Death to the World’ is meant to touch with a healing hand that wound.”

Saviour Machine, one of the world’s few Christian Goth bands, doesn’t avoid life’s bleakness.

”This whole dark scene is popular in Germany,” says Saviour Machine’s drummer, Jayson Heart. ”The Goth people are the first people who need to be reached.”

The Los Angeles group, formed in 1990, is the oldest among other Christian Goth groups, such as Eva O, Rackets and Drapes, Wedding Party and The Violet Burning.

”This has created a lot of friction in the Christian music scene,” says Mr. Heart, 27, referring to criticism from mainstream Christian leaders. But, he adds, ”People are finally seeing the genre as an appropriate vehicle for Christian lyrics.”

Ghostly faces of the five Saviour Machine members float across their Web site that has only a hint of Christian connection. The only sign of the groups Bible-centeredness is ”Legend” trilogy, a work-in-progress that Web site calls ”the unofficial sound track for the end of the world.”

Song titles on the already-completed Legend I and Legend II albums convey apocalyptic themes: ”The Birth Pangs,” ”The Woman,” ”The Night,” ”The Sword of Islam” and ”The Invasion of Israel.”

Not everyone endorses this combination of Goth and gospel.

”God and Goth don’t mix,” huffs a post from ”Emily” on the Web site’s message board. ”What kind of idiot would make Goth music and preach about Jesus Christ?”

Lots of people do, says Bryan Ward, director of sales for Sonic Fuel, a Nashville-based label that markets alternative Christian music.

”It’s a Christian hardcore music subculture,” he says, ”but it’s pretty underground because no Christian radio stations play it.”

”Hardcore,” for the uninitiated, is high-speed rock music with heavy guitars, screaming vocals and little or no melody.

”It’s very intense and passionate,” Mr. Ward says. ”They talk about very big issues. This music is really powerful to reaching kids. Even if they don’t become Christians, they are getting a positive message and thinking differently about their lives.”

Sometimes, the message gets a bit lost in the mix. The on-line description of the Ohio-based band Zao, on the Web site, describes lead vocalist Daniel Weyandt as ”akin to a giant lizard with attitude” whose concert style on one occasion ”bubbled over so distinctly that he vomited all over the stage.”

Nevertheless, the band ”takes its worship to a more personal and accessible level” on its 1998 album ”When Blood and Fire Bring Rest,” the site promises.

”These are all legitimate kids who are trying to be relevant to the culture they’re in,” Mr. Ward says.

”These are fringe groups,” says Charlie Peacock, a longtime producer of contemporary Christian music based in Nashville.

”They’re wanting to say there is life. There are people of faith out there who are interested in these subculture communities and who want to hurt for them, care for them and cry for them.”

Using hellish imagery to promote a heavenly message is not new. Every fall, church groups around the country attract alienated teens to Halloween ”hell houses,” walk-through theaters showing lifelike scenes of death and gore.

The Rev. John Neel, the youth pastor of First Assembly of God in New Iberia, La., included a high school shooting scene in their realistic ”hell house” last fall. The experience, he said, helped prompt 632 conversions to Christianity among the 6,600 people who visited the site.

”It’s a real wake-up,” he says. ”It’s shocking them. They’re seeing death in movies and its glorification by Hollywood. But the reality of it rips them up. It’s not a video game you can turn off. The answer is changed hearts, not gun control.”

But reaching out to youth works best when done by members of the same generation.

A 19-year-old former punk rock guitarist founded ”Death to the World,” wanting to bring Christian hope to the punk subculture he had just escaped. What especially concerned him was the punk scene’s promotion of despair and nihilism, a philosophy that denies the existence of truth and meaning. Nihilism is a word derived from the Latin word ”nihil,” meaning ”nothing.”

”In our post-modern age, when youth have been denied a knowledge of God, the perfection is usually at first sought in one or usually several human beings, or in unworthy lesser vehicles such as wealth, beauty or fame,” writes Damascene Christensen, one of the ”Death to the World” editors. ”Again, one must turn one’s painful feelings of self-knowledge and longing to go outside oneself – to God, for only He has the infinite love to meet them. We know God through this very pain.”

The religious response does work, says Erik Whittington, 29, of Rock for Life, a pro-life group out of Stafford, Va., who works with some 100 alternative bands.

”I run into guys who’ve been into true Goth bands closer to shock rocker Marilyn Manson,” he says. ”They’re angry and hateful, with lots of bitterness. Then they had some sort of religious experience – a run-in with Jesus – and instead of throwing down their music and changing their dress style, they changed their attitude in life and kept their style of music.”