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Metal Missionaries to the Nation: Christian Heavy Metal Music, "Family Values," and Youth Culture, 1984-1994
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American Quarterly 57.1 (2005) 103-128



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Metal Missionaries to the Nation:

Christian Heavy Metal Music, "Family Values," and Youth Culture, 1984-1994

On June 26, 1987, members of the Christian metal band Stryken attended a Motley Crüe concert in San Antonio, Texas. It was not uncommon for Christian bands to attend secular concerts; indeed, many bands explained that they did so in order to keep current on musical trends. But Stryken arrived at the show ready for confrontation. According to the Christian metal magazine White Throne, the band, "wearing full suits of armor . . . and bearing a 14 x 8 foot wooden cross," "stormed the doors of the arena, pushing through the crowds of teenagers and television cameras down the corridor towards the inlet to the main stage." At this point, the "boys in armor" erected the cross and "began to preach to the massed [sic] of kids who were gathering all around." The authorities quickly intervened, and, "ordered to remove 'the cross' or face arrest, the members of Stryken continued to speak openly about Jesus Christ, and were one by one hand-cuffed and forcibly removed from the arena."1 Stryken's actions—which invoked the persecuted early Christians described in the Acts of the Apostles—offer some insights into Christian metal during the 1980s. Motley Crüe's music and the lifestyle of its members were designed to shock middle America, but the band had become one of the most successful acts of the 1980s. By upstaging Motley Crüe's over-the-top behavior with their bold act, Stryken attempted to claim heavy metal's reputation for outrageousness for Christianity. Moreover, by getting removed from the concert, the band successfully positioned itself as the persecuted minority—the authentic outlaws of American music in the 1980s.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, Christian heavy metal bands like Stryken conducted a campaign across the United States to promote Christian values. While much scholarship about Christian conservatives has focused on the impact of political efforts organized by, for example, Gary Bauer's Family Research Council or Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, less has been written about white evangelical Christians' expanded cultural practices—and the political [End Page 103] impact of these practices—during this period.2 Christian heavy metal bands offer an excellent opportunity to examine the cultural activism of conservative Christians during the 1980s because, along with their secular metal counterparts and activists, such as the members of the Parents Music Resource Center, they helped to politicize "youth" as a category linked to the "family values" debate in national politics.

In the aftermath of the social movements of the 1960s, some Christian conservatives were so alarmed about the harmful effects of youth culture—including heavy metal—that they spoke of the teenager as an endangered species. The evangelical magazine Moody Monthly went so far as to name the adolescent "one of the world's critical mission fields" because "adolescents are the future of our country and the future of our churches."3 At the same time, evangelical Christians were acutely aware that consumer culture offered young people an ever-expanding range of choices. They used popular music as a way of introducing young people to their conception of morality while fulfilling youths' desire to stay abreast of contemporary music styles.

Despite the tendency to link American Protestantism to concepts such as "work," "thrift," and "sobriety," scholars in recent years have shown the long-standing connections between consumer culture and Christianity. R. Laurence Moore has suggested that, as a consequence of the First Amendment's disestablishment clause and the growth of market culture in the early nineteenth century, religious groups were forced to compete with commercialized entertainment, resulting in innovations such as Dwight Moody's use of modern business techniques and the Salvation Army's affinity for street shows.4 Historian Colleen McDannell has shown how, during the second half of the twentieth century, independent Christian bookstores catered to a growing evangelical population that believed that Christianity was a "lifestyle" as...