The mosh pit teems. The men are young and white and they climb onto the stage and hurl themselves back into the crowd, suspended on a network of hands. Some invert, their boot-shod feet flailing, before they’re sucked back into the mass. Down there, bodies tumble together, holding each other up. Mostly we see moshing as an expression of angst, of anarchy, a shithead riot. That is partly true. But it is also a form of faith: If you leap, we will catch you. If you fall, we will lift you.
Here, in a barn at the 1995 Cornerstone Festival, a Christian gathering on a 670-acre former pig farm in nowhere Illinois, the crowd knows this. It’s late June, the space sickly hot. The Seattle punk band Blenderhead rips through its hit “Cesspool.” Billy Power, the stout and goateed and tonsured lead singer, shouts the chorus: “Am I just walking dead?” The crowd roars back: “I suffer in a cesspool of my miserable existence!”
Then the band cools it. A bridge, a break. “It’s about spiritual alienation,” Power says. “You guys know what that’s like, right? Feeling away from God and stuff?” A few cries of affirmation. The band charges into a final chorus. Bodies again sail.
From 1984 to 2012, Cornerstone served as a nexus for America’s Christian rock scene. It brought in over 20,000 people a year for its skate ramps, funnel cakes, camping, music, and mass baptisms. Onstage here in 1995, though, another nexus was just then coalescing, a group of people from Seattle who’d help take religious punk from fringe oxymoron to big business.
Matt Johnson pounded the drums. Mike Herrera, singer of MxPx, stood to the side, watching—within a year the band’s success would prove Christian punk could go mainstream. Brandon Ebel, the founder of Tooth and Nail Records, newly relocated to Seattle, prowled in the background, snapping photos.
In a city not known for religious music, Tooth and Nail would become the most influential indie Christian label in the country, a sort of godly Sub Pop. It’d release over 750 albums of religious punk, metal, and alternative rock; sell 50 percent to major label EMI for an alleged $6.6 million; and serve as an early step in the careers of musicians like David Bazan, Damien Jurado, and Father John Misty.
The label would also aid the rise of Mars Hill, the fundamentalist Seattle megachurch known for its tattooed congregants and indie rock. At the height of its 18-year run, Mars Hill drew 13,000 people a week to services at 15 locations in five states. It ran a record label and, for a time, Seattle’s lone all-ages venue. Then five years ago, amid a tempest of allegations surrounding its pastor Mark Driscoll—of spiritual abuse, plagiarism, racketeering, rampant misogyny—the church officially dissolved.
But before that some Christian kids found deep unity in two seemingly discordant cultures.
• • • • •
I bought my first punk album, MxPx’s The Ever Passing Moment, in the Christian Supply bookstore in Covington, Washington, in 2000, the year I would turn 13. Amid Bible translations and rubbery key chain crosses that glowed blue when you pressed them, I posted up at a listening station for the sample music. The band, an earnestly rowdy pop punk trio from Bremerton, were all chainsaw chords and nasal vocals. Leaving the store, jewel case in hand, I passed through a portal.
I grew up in a family with a pro-life sticker on the back of our blue 1980s Chevy station wagon. If a trick-or-treater came to our house, we handed out tracts, black ink on orange construction paper, warning of the evils of All Hallows’ Eve. As consolation, we taped a lollipop to the front. I was homeschooled until ninth grade, when I entered public school so my transcripts would transfer to college. Even this, at the small reformed churches we attended, was for many an aberration toward worldliness.
MxPx led me deeper into the hard stuff. The band covered “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” so I discovered the Ramones. Quickly, I lost interest in Christian punk. My brother and I started skateboarding and tracking down the songs we heard in skate videos: Misfits, the Velvet Underground.
In some ways, the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” careening through speakers spoke to my increasingly tenuous relationship with churches where the organ piped hymns. Pastors and family asked me if I’d been saved. I said I think so, when, in fact, my doubt remained hidden and delicate. I feared each night that I’d die in my sleep, still unsaved, and awake in hell. Yet when I prayed nothing happened. A 2016 study of religious experience in devout Mormons found that when they were “feeling the Spirit,” it lit up the same region of the brain as love, cocaine, methamphetamine, and music. I recall no such chemical flush. Perhaps it would’ve helped contradictions cohere. I took sermon notes diligently and sang hymns in straining harmony, and the mystery of things persisted. Before I left home for college, I was agnostic.
Around the time I found MxPx, my sister had sneaked a copy of Green Day’s Warning, with the song “Minority”: “Down with the moral majority / ‘Cause I wanna be the minority.” I thrilled at those lines. They rebelled, yes, but they also aligned with my churches—which saw themselves as alternatives to the secular culture and followed Biblical directives: “Be not conformed to this world: But be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
I didn’t know, but a scene had already formed in Seattle rooted in such parallels.
• • • • •
When Matt Johnson was 13 or so, living in a Seattle suburb, he discovered punk records through the skateboarding magazine Thrasher. He was drawn especially to fast, ferocious hardcore: Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, Black Flag. At 16, he converted to Christianity and—in an early instance of his sense of stark conviction—he ditched secular punk. It felt sinful. He’d buy only Christian music, even if he thought most of it sucked. After a couple years, though, he returned to his old records. He started drumming in a Christian funk punk band. He was a gangly kid with a long, still face that belied his playing’s sophisticated furor. After high school, he moved to Seattle.
In those days, his friend Billy Power, with whom he’d soon start Blenderhead, booked a concert series at a church called Calvary Fellowship. It met in a vacant high school in Wallingford. Here, performing in an old classroom, musicians who’d be vital to Seattle’s next decades of music got their start: David Bazan of Pedro the Lion, Damien Jurado, Jeremy Enigk of Sunny Day Real Estate. During the 1990s most lived together in a place they dubbed House-o-Funk—a malodorous three-story in the University District, its shag carpet so matted they rode skateboards across it—and another ragged space off Highway 99.
At the same time, Brandon Ebel was DJing at Oregon State University’s radio station. He was a pastor’s son with a mop of black hair, and between Sub Pop artists and Green Day, he’d slip in early alternative Christian bands. Students complained about how unpunk it was to play music about God. But Ebel savored the nonconformity. “It’s almost like out-punking the punk rockers,” he says in the documentary No New Kinda Story: The Real Story of Tooth and Nail Records. (He declined to be interviewed for this article.)
After college, Ebel worked for a Christian record label in Orange County and checked out religious hardcore shows. He soon saw the business angle, unsigned bands pulling 500 people to concerts. His grandpa loaned him $60,000, and in 1993 Ebel started Tooth and Nail from his studio apartment.
When the would-be music mogul took his first bands on tour, they played alongside Blenderhead at the House-o-Funk, so many people cramming into the living room that the floor joists bowed. With that, Ebel plugged into the Seattle scene. He signed Blenderhead and brought on MxPx, then a high school band who’d been playing in the city. When their first tour packed venues with crowds who’d memorized MxPx’s album, Ebel knew he’d found something big.
He moved the label to Seattle and rented space in Pioneer Square. By 1996, Tooth and Nail’s staff had grown to 11, and the stickered offices expanded. Soon, a retail store on the ground floor slung branded tank tops and CDs. Important releases continued: Pedro the Lion’s Whole EP, Damien Jurado’s Waters Ave. S. (co-released with Sub Pop). Tooth and Nail’s logo—a black rimmed box, the name jaggedly inscribed within—had devotees searching Christian bookstores for releases.
But the Christian music industry was notoriously miserly with artists, and Ebel’s contracts, according to several people I spoke with, continued that trend. After MTV picked up MxPx’s single “Chick Magnet,” the band decamped for a major label. On its next album, which went gold, a song accuses someone—commonly understood to be Ebel—of “steal[ing] from kids who don’t have a clue.”
The breach, though, proved what Ebel had founded was greater than a niche. A Christian punk band could succeed on its artistic merits, not as a knockoff loved only for its dogma. At the same time a young Seattle pastor inverted the equation, using music to lure punks to conservatism.
• • • • •
The origin stories of churches tend to mirror those of bands. Drawn together in passion, a few guys (so often guys) gather in a garage or a basement or, in the case of Mars Hill, a living room in a Wallingford rental home. In 1996, Mark Driscoll, then a 25-year-old with a bulldog mien, began Bible studies in his house. He aimed especially to reach wayward young men, whom he saw leaving the church in droves. In his 2006 book Confessions of a Reformission Rev., Driscoll (who did not respond to an interview request) writes that he wanted to do so in Seattle, “one of the nation’s least-churched cities.”
He followed reformed doctrines, like those I grew up on—Calvinist predestination; men as leaders, women as helpmates; homosexuality as sin. Yet he used Seattle’s late 1990s culture, its tattoos and piercings and Chuck Taylors, to entice. He imagined a “church that hosted concerts for non-Christian bands and fans on a phat sound system.”
Driscoll tried to achieve this, first, through wild openness. At one service, a congregant killed the lights and read Friedrich Nietzsche’s “The Madman” (the “God is dead” one). Some churchgoers smoked weed. Some were gay. All were welcomed under a dictum: Love the sinner, hate the sin.
Music, of course, clearly connected worship with Seattle’s culture. Few things can impart such an aura of cool, change the tone of a room so that unpopular ideas might be accepted. Mars Hill started pulling musicians from the same Calvary Fellowship scene that’d fed Tooth and Nail. David Bazan played during a few services but didn’t stick around. Others visited but were turned off by Driscoll, a self-described conservative, “truck-driving jock who watches a lot of Ultimate Fighting” and who had a Chris Rock–influenced preaching style that got him dubbed the Cussing Pastor. But for a few—like Jeff Bettger, a young punk from Washington’s peninsula—the church fit.
• • • • •
Bettger was something of an enfant terrible in the Christian scene. One night, singing in Ninety Pound Wuss, a punk band signed to Tooth and Nail, he went to cut a phrase (“love sick”) into his arm. But when he started in, he nearly hit a major artery. Blood gushed. The show got shut down, a biohazard. He then tried to explain performance art to the firefighters who arrived to bandage him.
If such behavior seems contradictory for a Christian, it wasn’t for Bettger. In middle school, someone gave him a Sex Pistols cassette, and immediately that band, snarling about anarchy, knit with his faith. He’d grown up in church, knew no worldview without a creator, and felt Jesus espoused a similar freedom: God’s the only true authority. Everything in this world—governments, even churches—is fallible. (Later he’d discover Christian anarchy has a long history.) He started playing punk and adopted the persona of Jeff Suffering, partly a self-deprecating joke for a kid who hadn’t suffered much.
When he was 18, on a trip to Cornerstone, he befriended Matt Johnson and later moved in with him in Seattle. For a time, he rocked a mohawk and wire-rimmed glasses—apt for a guy with a convulsive stage presence, who in conversation is thoughtful and voluble.
As other artists from the scene, like MxPx and Pedro the Lion, crossed to the mainstream, some on Tooth and Nail found themselves in an odd spot. Bettger views it as a liminal state: Too Christian for the punks and too punk for the Christians. His and Johnson’s bands preferred standard venues to the youth group circuit. They wanted to be musicians, without religious qualifier. Some in Seattle didn’t care about their beliefs. They befriended secular bands like the Blood Brothers and the Murder City Devils. Sharlese Metcalf, now a KEXP DJ, was a fan. She wasn’t religious, she simply liked the music: “It just felt like they were a really big part of the scene.”
Yet the Christian stigma stuck. Modest Mouse backed out of a show after finding out Johnson’s band Roadside Monument was on Tooth and Nail. Roadside’s guitarist started repackaging songs as unsigned demos to get booked in secular venues.
In 1998, with a couple friends, Johnson and Bettger formed a new band, Raft of Dead Monkeys, not affiliated with the label. They set out to satirize legalistic, authoritarian trends in Christian culture. Raft’s first EP, DBM, is a crucible of rabid, performance-art punk. How much could they shock an audience without contradicting their faith? They dressed in militant garb. Bettger spit at the audience and screamed songs like “Kill the Motherfucker.” A friend would come onstage and gorge himself on bananas until he vomited in a fishbowl. To mock rock star excess, they brought in strippers.
At the same time, both were increasingly involved in Mars Hill. They’d started attending in 1997, and if their Raft of Dead Monkeys antics shocked some congregants, no one protested. Instead, Mark Driscoll valued them as artists, took them to coffee. They escaped the liminal space, their Christianness neither lacking nor excessive.
And Driscoll’s relentless, rhythmic, sardonic preaching style kind of matched their music. Here was religious hardcore, both brutal and fundamental. Though Driscoll’s theology differed from Christian anarchism and the straightedge phases Bettger and Johnson had gone through, its framework was familiar—a community guided by conviction. Soon they joined a band with other members: Team Strike Force became one of what Driscoll called the church’s “punk-rock worship teams.”
As Mars Hill brought Seattle music into the church, it also spotted an opportunity to insinuate itself into the city’s scene. In 1998, the church bought an old, abandoned movie theater in the U District. A leaky roof, rat shit everywhere. But soon they’d transform the space into a proper venue with dark ambiance.
A loophole in the city’s Teen Dance Ordinance helped. In 1985, following a substance and sexual abuse scandal at an all-ages club called the Monastery—legally a charter church—city council passed the TDO, demanding venues hire two off-duty cops and hold $1 million in liability insurance. It crushed most all-ages clubs.
But absurdly, given its catalyst, the TDO didn’t apply to tax-exempt nonprofits like churches. In 1999, Mars Hill opened the Paradox in that U District theater, the only all-ages venue in the city. At first, adult contemporary acts played. Then Bettger offered to run a show. He put the Blood Brothers and Raft of Dead Monkeys on the ticket and “promoted the shit out of it.” Drawing on his music industry connections, he became the Paradox’s booker. Low, Dirty Projectors, Bright Eyes, Josh Tillman, Carissa’s Wierd, Minus the Bear, Damien Jurado, Roadside Monument—all would play there over the next four years.
At first, it seemed, there was a separation of church and show. “No preaching or Christian bands… Not gonna force anything on anybody,” Driscoll told the University of Washington’s The Daily. Yet on Sundays Driscoll did, in fact, preach, and throughout Confessions he’s keenly aware of the venue’s outreach power, noting that many converted through relationships formed there. Indeed, the rise of the club coincided with the church swelling from around 350 people to over 1,000 attending multiple campuses.
“The Paradox was, I think, critical to the early stages of the church’s growth,” says Jessica Johnson (no relation to Matt), author of Biblical Porn: Affect, Labor, and Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Evangelical Empire, an anthropological investigation published in 2018. The venue gave the church “a veneer of acceptability, of inclusivity…. a branding tool.” She remembers nonreligious friends defending Mars Hill based on its aesthetics: That place has good music, so it must be liberal.
Early on, though, Driscoll transgressed. In the first available sermon on Mars Hill’s archived website, from 1999, he called girls “prostitutes” for attending a frat party. The next year, Driscoll, in a discussion board on Mars Hill’s website, under the alias William Wallace II, railed against a supposed crisis in masculinity, “a pussified nation” with its “homoerotic worship loving mama’s boy sensitive emasculated neutered exact male replica evangellyfish.” When Bettger discovered the posts were from Driscoll, he thought the comments “were fucking hilarious.” He was brandishing hyperbolic satire in Raft of Dead Monkeys. He figured Driscoll was doing the same—playing the provocateur, a punk tradition.
In 2003, Mars Hill closed the Paradox, saying that though it flourished culturally, it bled money. Since Bettger was the church’s connection to the music scene, Driscoll knew they’d lose clout if he reacted poorly. Bettger took the firing graciously, but he and his wife, Teresa, were devastated. She had just left her job as a publicist at Tooth and Nail to have their first baby.
Still, they stayed. Mars Hill moved into a converted warehouse in Ballard and reopened the Paradox in an adjacent space with someone else running it. The church at this point had gravity with young Christians.
In the suburbs, some 30 miles away, I heard from friends about Mars Hill’s good music. Around 2006, I visited once, driving to Ballard with my brother and a couple others. I remember entering the sanctuary, vast and dim, less temple than venue. Cameras, screens, lighting rigs. The band played worship music with intensity and volume. At one point, Driscoll admonished the audience for being too indie rock and not singing along.
Mars Hill was garnering media attention, too. In 2005 Blender, a mainstream music magazine, ran a feature on Team Strike Force. The writer, Ann Powers, was impressed, comparing the band to Fugazi and Queens of the Stone Age. She also delved into Mars Hill’s rhetoric. “Everybody’s drunk and high and getting laid,” Driscoll told her. “If you really want anarchy and rebellion, Christianity’s the way to go.” “Anarchy” made little sense: Driscoll preached that women should submit to men. To him, though, the music and tattoos were ingratiation tactics, especially in liberal Seattle. Conservatism was revolt. “If you really wanna be a rebel, get a job. Cut your grass. Read your Bible. And shut up,” he said in a 2007 sermon.
Driscoll had some semblance of a point. Sixteen years after Nirvana rode teen angst to stardom (a stretch that’d also seen nonreligious identification in the U.S. increase 10 percent), “alternative” was thoroughly franchised. The posture of nonconformity was a brand—sold to kids like me. The Vans Warped Tour stormed the country. A Hot Topic glowered in every mall. That Blender issue’s cover story on Ashlee Simpson mentions her “passing fondness for tank tops that say PUNK in sparkly letters.” And Tooth and Nail was flourishing.
• • • • •
In 2001—after hits by artists like the OC Supertones, a ska band that sounds like preachy Smash Mouth—Tooth and Nail sold a 50 percent share to EMI. The price was $6.6 million, recalls Ebel’s then-executive assistant Chris Estey, who photocopied the contracts. Around this time, Estey says, the label began to push out “the weirdos,” arty bands who moved fewer albums. Billy Power, who worked in A&R (scouting, basically) until 2003, sees any change at the label as a natural shift under EMI: “You can’t just put out shit that doesn’t sell.”
As other labels’ ostensibly alternative acts like Nickelback and Creed produced major hits, Tooth and Nail capitalized. It signed more conventionally Christian artists like Jeremy Camp (“terrible,” Estey says) and Kutless (“like shitty Creed,” says Power). Screamo and metalcore bands like Underoath and Demon Hunter also hit it big. (Josh Tillman worked in Tooth and Nail’s mail room for a time, and his first record credits—before Fleet Foxes, before he took the name Father John Misty—include drumming on Demon Hunter’s debut.)
During these boom years, between 2001 and 2011, the label’s connection with Mars Hill solidified. More people from Tooth and Nail bands began attending, drawn in by the associations with Bettger and the Paradox. Brandon Ebel joined, too. So did Jonathan Dunn, Demon Hunter’s bassist. In 2011 Dunn left an A&R position at Tooth and Nail to head Mars Hill Music, a record label that would release albums from some of the church’s 35 or so bands. Then in early 2013, the two labels formally joined. Driscoll, in a blog post mentioning the strong ties between the church and Tooth and Nail, announced the pair’s partnership to send “theologically sound and artistically rich music into the hands of millions.”
Mars Hill was an increasingly sophisticated machine. While early musicians had license within certain parameters—singable, biblical—now indie-tinged praise music was honed like a movie soundtrack to support Driscoll’s message.
By 2011, the church claimed 10,000 attendees, an army of volunteers, and $32.7 million in assets. Driscoll preached from the Bellevue campus live and the video was screened in nine others—eight in Washington and one in Albuquerque. That year, the church announced an Easter service at Qwest Field (now CenturyLink), with the aim of drawing 20,000 people.
A friend of mine was attending and invited me. I’d just moved back to the Seattle area and, still agnostic, hadn’t paid attention in years. This seemed absurd: The theology I’d grown up with in small semiclosed communities now filled stadiums?
Rain fell and we filtered into the stadium stands. A news helicopter thwacked overhead. A band and a choir in canary-colored robes played typical praise music. A cross stood center stage, a spray of sunbeams as background. Driscoll, the man so often cited in Chuck Taylors and jeans, arrived onstage in a suit with a red tie. In his sermon, he iterated that Jesus is God. Eventually he was screaming, the word Jesus a bludgeon, trying to convince through strict rhythm. He declared victory, saying that Seattle “was once the least churched city in America, and no longer is.”
Then the band played, and in many small pools on the field, the church’s workers, like an assembly line, dunked converts.
Much as Tooth and Nail turned toward commercial artists, Mars Hill’s musical ambitions eventually eschewed some of its earlier music, like Bettger’s scrappy punk. Over time, he stopped playing in church. He and Teresa had a second kid, and he’d used his paternity leave to record an album with his band Suffering and the Hideous Thieves. “After that, I realized something was wrong with me,” he says. Feeling he’d neglected his wife, he quit music all together and funneled his drive into Mars Hill, as a deacon, then as a volunteer pastor.
In 2013, Bettger had another awakening. Still serving as a pastor, he heard about Mars Hill’s ploy to launch Driscoll’s latest book, Real Marriage, to best-seller lists. The church paid a marketing company to buy 11,000 copies for $210,000. Bettger could not fathom how a church would find such tactics acceptable.
By then a roily murk surrounded Mars Hill. News articles and a community of blogs bubbled with stories of Driscoll consolidating power, of the cult-like shunning of insubordinate members, of Driscoll casting the “sexual demons” out of a woman during marriage counseling without her consent.
Bettger and Johnson had mounting doubts, but the church’s community—forged in small groups where people shared intimate stories—had kept them there, and they were absorbed in its mission. To rationalize, Driscoll proffered the idea that the church was persecuted by the sinful city.
After Bettger heard about the marketing scheme, the cognitive dissonance was too much—he was an anarchist in a leadership role in a corrupt authoritarian megachurch. He began the resignation process. When he left months later, Mars Hill claimed he wanted to pursue other opportunities. So he posted to his blog about the marketing scheme, the “tyranny of injustice,” and the complicity of members, himself most of all: “I have held my cards close to my heart in order for self preservation.”
Concurrently, a radio host accused Driscoll of plagiarizing parts of Real Marriage. Controversy snowballed. Media picked up the marketing news in early 2014. Driscoll’s William Wallace II posts, in which he called women “homes” for penises, went public. The church hemorrhaged members. Matt Johnson and his wife, Rose, left. Campuses closed. Protesters picketed outside the Bellevue location. In October, Driscoll resigned, and on January 1, 2015, Mars Hill officially dissolved.
The following August, Driscoll founded the Trinity Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. He’s published two books since. Neither mentions Mars Hill. In Confessions he mocks a church for having a “web address...the same as the pastor’s name.” You can find his recent sermons at markdriscoll.org.
This fall, I met Jeff Bettger at Georgetown Liquor Company, a spot he likes for its vegetarian options. The Stooges and Nirvana tore across the stereo. His dark beard was strafed with gray. As he spoke, he folded a napkin into a smaller square, a tattoo of thorns encircling his left wrist.
He, like many of the thousands who’d joined Mars Hill, has had to reckon with what the whole thing meant. How had he gone along with it? How had he not seen the signs? Speaking to me, he returned repeatedly to the church’s misogyny and homophobia, and his complicity in those systems. The William Wallace II posts he found so funny he now finds akin to incel rantings.
“Now I look at it and everything I believed in is bullshit,” he said. He’s not sure that he’s still a Christian, sociologically. He doesn’t go to church, but he still loves the story of Jesus, the mystery of belief.
Johnson has changed less drastically. He goes to a traditional church and isn’t sure about things like homosexuality being a sin, though he qualifies that he feels no need to “police” others and distrusts fundamentalist black-and-white thinking.
In 2018, the two, both dads with day jobs, did a couple shows as Ronald Reagan Overdrive, covering the Dead Kennedys, a band that’s written polemics about religion’s capitalistic ploys. Bettger seems closer than ever to that view. “We wouldn’t have had the opportunities that we did to tour or put out records,” he said of his Tooth and Nail years. “But we weren’t aware that, essentially, in my opinion, now, Christian rock is literally a marketing gimmick to exploit one person’s faith in order to sell albums to people who identify with that faith.”
When I mentioned I’d recently gone to a Tooth and Nail band’s show, Bettger laughed. “Oh wow, Tooth and Nail still exists?”
• • • • •
In 2013, in an ailing record industry, Brandon Ebel bought back the part of Tooth and Nail he’d sold to EMI in 2001. The label keeps a small headquarters in Ballard, though its store closed and the staff has winnowed down to a few people. The company still represents over 50 artists.
One of the newer signees is Disciple, an alt-metal band from Tennessee, which, according to its website, has “had its music featured by ESPN’s NFL Live, WWE, Fox Sports, as well as in commercials for CBS’s CSI: Miami and Criminal Minds.” This October, Disciple played a chapel in Montesano, Washington, a town 100 miles southwest of Seattle.
Outside, women sold $20 tickets. Midway through its set the band stopped. The guitarist strummed gentle chords. The singer—in a jersey and shockingly red sneakers, who looked rather like Macklemore were he to grow the tuft of hair on top of his head long—discussed his faith.
Then the band dove into songs like “Radical”: “By his grace I’ve been radically saved…. With my blood, with my bones... I’ll be a radical.” The singer’s vocals ripped from his throat. Hair thrashed. A screen strobed with images: Jesus, cross, American flag, explosion. The church was half full, the crowd less homogeneous than you might expect. Mostly white, but not exclusively so. Parents with their teenage kids. A middle-aged rocker, in leather, with a long silvery mane. Praise hands comingled with the sign of the horns. A contingent of tall young men in T-shirts headbanged. Throughout the night, between songs, they bellowed “Je-sus,” stretched syllabically like the Seahawks chant.
I stood to the side and watched one man—with a big beard and a sleeveless Trust Jesus T-shirt and a tattoo of Jesus’s bleeding, thorn-crowned head adorning a deltoid. He appeared as if some public veil had been stripped away. The look of those on psychedelic drugs, the look of those in love: a raw wonder and yearning and vulnerability. Then the band finished, waving a white flag with the Disciple logo over the crowd, and the house lights came up, and the merch tables were open for business.