Christian Cultural Criticism and the Defense of "Traditional" Authority
On November 24, 1979, brothers Steve and Jim Peters hosted their first-ever record burning at the campgrounds of Zion Christian Life Center, their church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Describing the "burning celebration" a few years later, the brothers fondly recalled how cheers erupted as some four hundred youths "began to heap their once-prized rock albums onto the fire, nearly choking it with sheer weight." In that single evening, participants burned an estimated $15,000 worth of records, tapes, books, and other items associated with teen culture (in compliance with fire codes, vinyl was smashed, not burned). Steve Peters explained to the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the event was intended not to "censor" rock groups but rather to break youth culture's hold on young people. As he put it, "These records encourage kids to rebel against their home and their parents, and we want that to stop." The event provided young believers with the opportunity to "[align] their lifestyles with their Christian commitments." The brothers continued to hold the events regularly for the next several years, and by 1984 they claimed to have destroyed over $10 million worth of secular records and tapes. Critics compared the event to Nazi book burnings, but the brothers claimed that the burnings were patterned after an episode in the New Testament in which converts burned their idols to show the sincerity of their Christian belief. Given that the event functioned as a radical disavowal—a cultural exorcism of sorts—it might also have summoned memories of the student antiwar protests and draft card burnings of the 1960s. In this case, however, the brothers encouraged teenagers to burn items as a means of reestablishing, rather than severing, their ties to religious and parental authority.
Public bonfires like those hosted by the Peters brothers had long been part of the Christian anti-rock movement's symbolic repertoire, but by the 1980s some evangelical educators specifically avoided avowedly "Christian" denunciations of youth culture. Although alarmed by the influence of popular culture on young people, these devout educators advised readers that activists who identified themselves as parents would be taken more seriously than those who were identifiably Christians. Al Menconi, who staged a record burning at a Christian school in Southern California in the 1970s, had come to believe that Christian threats of hellfire frequently backfired: patently Christian pickets and record burnings simply served to make an artist "more acceptable in the eyes of the rock audience." Menconi recommended that a Christian who wanted to protest concerts or rock stars approach the responsible parties as "a moral, concerned parent—but not as a Christian."
The disparity between a church-sponsored record burning for youth and a family-centered moral critique reveals the self-conscious "modernization" project undertaken by some conservative Christians in the late twentieth century. In both instances, music provided an entry point to debates about cultural reform. Both strategies demonstrate how conservative Christians linked youth culture and social problems and how they aggressively sought to reestablish "youth" as a category of innocence in need of adult protection during the late-twentieth-century culture wars. In both formulations of the reform agenda, culture, rather than socioeconomic structure, was the catalyst for change. In the 1960s, youth culture, particularly rock music, became linked to "countercultural" practices—with attendant links to the New Left and to African American vernacular culture—practices that valued leisure, consumption, and personal freedom at the expense of "traditional" authority structures and beliefs that encouraged obedience, order, and industriousness. Conservatives like the Peters brothers and Al Menconi used the category of youth as a way of articulating a morality-based social criticism, but they disagreed over how best to protect young believers. The evangelical literature about youth culture produced between the 1970s and the 1990s included magazine articles, pamphlets, and an extensive array of full-length monographs—almost all of them written by believers who were white and male. The authors of this material identified entertainment forms as either enemies or allies. Some conservative Christians assailed youth culture as the vanguard of a broader assault on traditional authority structures, while others saw a battleground for cultural and moral reform. The latter group believed that its ability to control and critique youth culture reflected its success in reasserting adult dominion over home and society.
Evangelicals' cultural interventions reflected a critical shift in conservative religious affinities from Old Right to New Right as evangelicals developed "modern" middle-class suburban sensibilities and consumer habits. In both old and new mindsets, the family provided a critical building block of Christian society, and believers worried that a secular worldview encroached on familial authority. Proponents of both views feared that popular culture had replaced parents and church as the primary source of children's socialization. Strict fundamentalists avoided contamination of the Christian worldview by swearing off secular culture—at least in name. Conversely, suburbanized evangelicals like Menconi cautiously accepted television and music into the domestic circle but attempted to maintain careful adult guidance over message and interpretation. Moreover, these evangelicals optimistically believed they could maintain a proactive stand on culture.
At the precise moment that suburban evangelicals mobilized to protect parental prerogatives, other white suburbanites were organizing to protect "local" interests. As historian Lisa McGirr has shown, beginning in the 1950s, conservatives in Sunbelt suburbs such as Orange County, California, became involved in local political campaigns that challenged sex education, abortion, obscenity laws, and school busing and urged a return to "law and order." Historian Matthew Lassiter has argued that the grassroots partisanship of suburban voters mattered less than their "populist identifications" as "homeowners, taxpayers, and schoolparents." These identities merged with consumerism and evangelicalism to form what literary critic Lauren Berlant has called the "national sentimentality" of the Reagan era, defined by "a politics that abjures politics, made on behalf of a private life protected from the harsh realities of power." Berlant argues that groups such as the Parents' Music Resource Center sought to make parenting, rather than citizenship, the identity necessary to enter into public debates. Christian conservatives were at the forefront of this effort to create a "nation controlled by a local, public, community matrix of parental public spheres." As Berlant explains, conservative activists believed that parenting should be considered a "public profession" and maintained that the "core context of politics should be the sphere of private life." Identification with youth and family issues allowed conservatives to forge alliances with nonreligious organizations in public morality campaigns. The 1970s and 1980s—an era of taxpayer revolts, anti-busing protests, the rise of the New Right, campaigns against the Equal Rights Amendment, and demands for "law and order"—witnessed the origins of a parents' movement that aggressively sought to reclaim the category of youth from the movements of the 1960s and to restore "traditional" authority in both public and private spaces.
The era's "parents movement" intersected with what has become known as the culture wars. The political battles of the culture wars are well known, but many of these struggles also involved popular culture, especially since entertainment provided a ready example of the challenges posed to parental authority. Evangelical Christians provided both rhetorical and organizational groundwork in this cultural endeavor. Christian conservatives viewed themselves as guardians of "family values" and believed that the erosion of "law and order" had its roots in challenges to parental authority. They contrasted "family values," with that term's positive invocation of white, suburban, middle-class, patriarchal, and heterosexual authority, to the notion of rioting urban minorities, rebellious white youths associated with the student movement, "emancipated" women associated with the feminist movement, uncloseted homosexuals associated with the gay rights movement, and godless secularists intent on removing religious symbols from the public sphere. In the minds of Christian parents, the identity movements of the 1960s, in alliance with the consumer marketplace, had used youth culture to undermine traditional authority.
Evangelical activists viewed themselves as important historical agents in guiding America's destiny, but they did not view the nuclear family or youth as historically specific ways of organizing social relationships. On the contrary, conservative Christians found a biblical origin for both the form and authority structure of the family and tied this unit to the fate of the nation. Conservative Christians therefore identified with what British sociologist Errol Lawrence describes as the "common sense" construction of the family during the period. Within this ideology, the nuclear family was deemed "the crucial site for the reproduction of those correct social mores, attitudes and behaviours that are thought to be essential to maintaining a 'civilized' society" as well as the site where "'primary socialization' takes place and where 'culture' is reproduced." As Lawrence further explains, the family was "the site in which self-discipline and self-control are 'knocked into' children's heads and in which relations of authority and power are internalized." Within the logic of the culture wars, secular culture disrupted familial sovereignty as it encouraged disobedience and, at times, outright rebellion among young people. Because conservative Christians believed that youthful behavior provided insight into the state of American values, teenagers held important symbolic value for them. An article in the evangelical Christian magazine Moody Monthly named the American adolescent "one of the world's critical mission fields" because "adolescents are the future of our country and the future of our churches." In other words, the cultural and ideological category of youth signified a generational cohort as well as an imagination of America.
Perceptions of youth changed between the 1960s and the 1980s. Beginning in the late 1970s, youth came to be viewed as endangered, rather than dangerous. While the paradigmatic youth of the 1960s was a young hippie or student protester, that of the 1980s was a younger, innocent white child capable of devout belief but in need of parental guidance and protection. The transformation occurred through the efforts of organizations established to represent parental interests, including the well-known Parents' Music Resource Center (PMRC, 1985) as well as antidrug groups such as the Parents' Resource Institute for Drug Education (PRIDE, 1978), the National Federation of Parents for a Drug Free Youth (NFP, 1980), and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD, 1980). While white women usually headed these secular groups, several white male–headed evangelical Christian groups that invoked "family values"—including the American Family Association (AFA, 1976), Focus on the Family (FOF, 1977), and the Family Research Council (FRC, 1980)—also formed during this period. In addition, Anita Bryant, a former Miss America and Florida Citrus Commission spokeswoman, formed Save Our Children in 1977 as part of her successful effort to repeal a gay rights ordinance in Dade County, and Beverly LaHaye, the wife of Left Behind series author Tim LaHaye, established Concerned Women of America (CWA, 1979) to counterbalance organizations such as the National Organization of Women and causes such as the Equal Rights Amendment. Perhaps no program captured the spirit of these groups better than the Back in Control Center, an Orange County–based "family training center" aimed at helping parents establish rules "to de-punk and de-metal" their teenagers
Political posturing and popular culture helped heighten parental fears about targeted attacks on young people. As sociologist Barry Glassner has noted, public panics about juvenile crime, teenage suicides, drug addiction, ritual abuse, and kidnappings of children dominated congressional hearings and news cycles. Such concerns further shifted national attention toward issues dear to the suburban middle class and away from antipoverty and child welfare programs. In 1985 members of the Parents' Music Resource Center appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to discuss labeling for music recordings, particularly heavy metal music. President Reagan soon joined the fray when he noted:
I often think the real heroes of today are the parents, trying to raise their children in an environment that seems to have grown more and more hostile to family life. Music and the media flood their children's world with glorifications of drugs and violence and perversity—and there's nothing they can do about it, they're told, because of the First Amendment.... I don't believe that our Founding Fathers ever intended to create a nation where the rights of pornographers would take precedence over the rights of parents, and the violent and malevolent would be given free rein to prey on our children.
The speech created a decisive binary between the rights of parents and those of "pornographers." In 1986 the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography (also known as the Meese Commission), which included James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family, described the impact of pornography on American culture, urged strict enforcement of federal obscenity laws, and endorsed protests, pickets, and boycotts of companies and stores that sold pornographic materials. The findings were announced just after Southland Corporation, the parent company of 7-Eleven stores, announced the beginning of a self-imposed ban on the adult magazines Playboy, Penthouse, and Forum. (Christian groups, claiming that children frequented the stores, had boycotted the stores for months.)
The media incited further public panic with breathless commentary about the ruinous consequences of an untamed contemporary culture. A few weeks after the PMRC hearings, U.S. News and World Report ran a cover story that asked "Do You Know What Your Children Are Listening To?" Echoing Reagan's earlier speech, the article answered with the warning, "Day and night, America's youth are enticed by electronic visions of a world so violent, sensual and narcotic that childhood itself appears to be under siege." In 1988 a Geraldo Rivera special about satanic cults became the highest-rated two-hour documentary to air on television. A similar pattern developed among conservative intellectuals. Picking up the PMRC's denunciation of "porn rock," conservative columnist George Will asked readers, "Would you want to live in a world in which no one, not even the young, blushed?" Like other conservatives, Will linked the content of music to the fate of the nation. One's taste in popular music—"porn rock" versus classical music or even classic rock—demonstrated one's propensity for "discretion" and "self-restraint," he argued. "An individual incapable of shame and embarrassment is probably incapable of the governance of the self. A public incapable of shame and embarrassment about public vulgarity is unsuited to self-government." The debate over popular music thus provided a means for demonstrating self-control, one of the fundamental tenets of the conservative revolution. Allan Bloom continued these criticisms in a chapter of his 1987 best seller, The Closing of the American Mind, when he lamented that rock music and television had "assaulted and overturned the privacy of the home," resulting in "nothing less than parents' loss of control over their children's moral education at a time when no one else is seriously concerned with it." Reflecting the era's shift away from economic amelioration for the poor, each account demonstrated a preoccupation with children's moral, rather than material, well-being.
Not for the first time were Americans debating the proper role of youth culture in children's lives. Over the course of the post–World War II era, teenagers, many of whom earned disposable income from part-time jobs while still enrolled in school, became such an important market for consumer products that advertisers began to attribute adult buying power to them. Teens' newly acquired (and newly identified) buying power accelerated the commodification of youth culture and raised questions about the merits and consequences of children's entry into the consumer marketplace at an earlier age. From time to time, parents worried about the challenges peer culture posed to their authority. Historian James Gilbert calls this concern an "episodic notion" and notes that fears about the impact of youth culture arose about movies in the 1930s and about comic books in the 1950s. While conservative Christians formed a core constituency of anti-rock movements, evangelicals frequently tapped into modern media techniques and trends in order to establish church-sponsored youth groups that would, in Elmer Gantry's words, "take the wreck out of recreation and make it re-creation." The convergence of styles was evident in Billy Graham's Youth for Christ stadium crusades in the 1940s. Years prior to the PMRC hearings, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) cited the impact of music on young people as the basis for their campaign in 1976 to persuade the music industry to remove "sexy songs" from the nation's airwaves. When set alongside the PMRC, the efforts of Operation PUSH reveal the bipartisan nature of parents' movements.
Conservative Christians disagreed about what constituted a "biblical" or "Christian" stance on rock music, yet they concurred that youth culture exerted tremendous influence over young people. Rather than examining the campaigns as efforts at either censorship or co-optation, this study explores Christian conservatives' shifting attitudes toward youth culture to provide insight into how religious conservatives attempted to reenter public conversations about culture at the end of the twentieth century. Many Christian conservatives did, in fact, abhor the content of popular culture. The anti-rock literature generated between the late-1960s and the 1980s featured writers with backgrounds ranging from the anti-communist Right to fundamentalist Christianity to secular youth culture itself. Although each group articulated a slightly different stand on youth culture, most agreed that rock music—whether it represented a communist, countercultural, or Satanic threat—posed a grave danger to the modern Christian church and home. Because rock exerted tremendous mental, spiritual, and physical power over young people, these anti-rock critics believed that youth culture had no role to play in Christians' lives.
Yet as rock music became more engrained in American culture, other Christian conservatives, especially parents, became convinced that the genre could not be spurned entirely. While still suspicious of a secular world that scoffed at their concerns, these Christian conservatives self-consciously honed modern media protest techniques. Rather than protest on the basis of faith alone, this group of Christians became part of the parents' movement to reform the moral content of American culture: the family-based focus of these media experts overlapped with the "secular" guides endorsed by groups such as the Parents Music Resource Center. In the wake of the student movement and counterculture of the 1960s, these believers thought they could redomesticate youth by first taming rock 'n' roll. Instead of characterizing youth as agents (knowing or not) in the destruction of American values, these critics suggested that "innocent" young people needed parental guidance and protection. Parents' multipronged endeavor required vigilance and activism inside and outside the home. First, with the help of media experts, they began to approach youth ministry as they would a mission in a foreign country: by learning the culture. Second, Christians attempted to offer an alternative to secular music through Christian rock, which they believed offered a similar sound and appeal but with a "positive" Christian message. Finally, having secured their authority in the home, parents took one final step: they engaged in consumer and political campaigns against secular rock music in an attempt to cleanse its content.
Christian attitudes toward popular music reveal the contradictions created by the category of youth. The language of popular music, which frequently embraced themes not often associated with the Christian life—sensory satisfaction, personal freedom, rebellion—offered a way for Christians to delineate the boundaries that separated their Bible-believing values from those of the "world." At the same time, many Christians believed they could help the nation re-establish "traditional" authority by exerting greater control over youth culture at home and in public. The sustained alarm over children and media, in turn, demonstrates a narrowed American political discourse concerned with moral, not material, home improvement.
"Dante's Inferno Is Coming to Your Hometown": Anti-Rock Critics
During much of the post-1945 period, popular music provided conservative Christians with a catchall explanation for everything that was geopolitically threatening, physically perilous, or spiritually sinister. Even as moderate evangelicals like Billy Graham hosted wildly successful revivals that openly appealed to young people with finely calibrated marketing campaigns and contemporary-style gospel music, conservatives sought to avoid the stain of contemporary music. Their fears intensified in the 1960s. Assertions about rock music differed as to its precise sins, but conservatives generally agreed that the genre was a pernicious force in American society. Held to be synonymous with the counterculture and the 1960s, rock 'n' roll was thought to have conspired with communist and satanic groups, encouraged miscegenation, altered sexual mores, and incited sustained social unrest. Beginning in the late 1960s, however, the critique of rock 'n' roll increasingly shifted away from its reputed association with world communism toward its influence on domestic institutions. Critics suggested that the music posed a special danger to the Christian church and Christian home. This rhetorical shift suggests that consumer affluence and parent-child generational dissidence had crept into the lives of conservative Christians. Critics argued that rock music seduced "good kids" from "good homes" into sinful behavior, undermining parental efforts to instill self-discipline and morality into children and creating a "generation gap" within the home.
Some anti-rock activists with connections to the anti-communist movement insisted that rock music held geopolitical significance: the genre was part of the larger domestic communist threat. Just as there could be no neutral ground in the global battle against communism, popular music was strictly divided between the "free" and "unfree." And, as in the Cold War, there were wars of liberation. For a brief time, one of the great lights of the anti-communist movement in the United States, Australian-born physician Fred Schwarz of the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade (CACC), embraced the most quintessentially communistic form of auditory expression: folk music. In 1961 Schwarz helped stir the anti-communist awakening in Los Angeles and Orange County with his School of Anti-Communism, which featured "student day" and "youth nite" with appearances by such performers as Ronald Reagan, Pat Boone, Roy Rogers, and Dale Evans. Despite the presence of pop and country music performers, the movement began maximizing its use of music as an anti-Bolshevik pedagogical aid only in 1964. In the organization's newsletter, Schwarz noted that "every great movement throughout history has expressed its inspiration in music" and lamented that anti-communists had underutilized the medium, especially in contrast to the Reds' deployment of singers such as Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger. In the mounting cultural arms race, Schwarz intended to fight fire with fire. He therefore hired Janet Greene, a television personality from Columbus, Ohio, to set his raging diatribes to music. Greene soon became known as the anti-communist movement's "anti–Joan Baez" for her arsenal of freedom-loving songs, including "Commie Lies," "Poor Left Winger," "Comrade's Lament," and "Fascist Threat" (the last a song set to a jarring calypso beat that might well have evoked concerns about voodoo from other religious conservatives). In the CACC newsletter item announcing her hiring, Greene noted the important role women and mothers could play in fighting domestic communism. The CACC emphatically agreed and suggested that Greene's program was "ideal for meetings of PTA's, Womens Clubs [sic]," "church groups," and "gatherings in the home." Through Greene's activism, the anti-communist message could extend into female-dominated civil organizations such as the school, church, and home.
Despite Schwarz's foray into popular music production, other conservatives continued to believe that Christians would be wise to avoid youth culture—even Christian incarnations of popular music—altogether. The connection to communism was simply too great. For these conservative Christians, separation, not engagement, was the solution to defusing rock's potency. The most prolific and impassioned opponent of rock music was David Noebel, a Tulsa-based conservative who began his career working for radio preacher Billy James Hargis's virulently anti-communist Christian Crusade. Shortly after the British rock invasion of the 1960s, Noebel began to insist that contemporary music—including folk as well as rock—was a key component in communism's "mind warfare" against American society. The opening salvo in his rhetorical war against popular music was a twenty-six-page diatribe against the recently arrived lads from Liverpool. Entitled Communism, Hypnotism, and the Beatles (1965), the manifesto was published a year before John Lennon described Jesus' disciples as "thick and ordinary" and declared, in an interview with the London Evening Standard, that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.
Noebel's pamphlet also attacked the recordings produced by Young People's Records and the Children's Record Guild. YPR and CRG taught children about folk music and folklore, as well as classical and modern composers, while employing progressive pedagogical theories of music instruction such as active participation and performance. The record companies' ties to left-leaning cultural figures of the 1930s folk scene and their leftist politics had led a HUAC witness in 1947, the Hearst newspaper New York Journal-American in 1949, and Red Channels (a 1950 publication of the FBI front group the American Business Consultants) to charge that they formed a communist cultural front. Nonetheless, the records were staples of classroom and children's collections and had secured seals of approval from Good Housekeeping and Parents' Magazine. Noebel, however, revived charges of communist links. Whereas earlier red-baiting charges had complained of some of the music's proletarian lyrical affinities, Noebel now attacked the music as well. He alleged that communism had "contrived an elaborate and scientific technique directed at rendering a generation of American youth useless through nerve-jamming, mental deterioration and retardation." Although mainstream media accounts openly mocked Noebel's efforts, his pamphlet nevertheless persuaded parents in Torrance, California, to form an advocacy group, Torrance Committee of Parents Concerned About Communist Records, to demand the removal of nursery records from classrooms. The group, which had ties to the John Birch Society, ultimately failed: while the school board initially voted to cancel the district's subscriptions and to consider removing the records from classrooms, district trustees eventually voted to keep the records in classrooms and, further, to continue purchasing records.
In subsequent works such as Rhythm, Riots, and Revolution (1966) and The Beatles: A Study in Drugs, Sex, and Revolution (1969), Noebel continued his crusade against the "hidden dangers of rock 'n' roll." According to Noebel, the genre undermined the emotional, psychological, spiritual, and moral strength of the nation's populace. He consistently linked rock 'n' roll with social unrest. In The Marxist Minstrels (1973) Noebel once again suggested that communists deliberately targeted young people, who were induced to commit "menticide," defined as a "lethal psychological process that produces a literal suicide of the mind." Although he claimed that "menticide" indicated an epidemic of youth self-destruction, Noebel also argued that the young people so manipulated would not just fade away: communists, having used rock music to destroy "youths' ability to relax, reflect, study and meditate," thereby prepared youths "for riot, civil disobedience and revolution."
Noebel reserved a special hatred for Bob Dylan and the Beatles, deeming them emblematic of a generation that embraced promiscuous attitudes toward drugs and sex while shamelessly ignoring religious and moral authority. He argued that Dylan's synthesis of rock and folk styles spelled the doom of the United States. "No nation can long endure," Noebel wrote, "with its younger generation singing itself into defeatism, pessimism, a peace-at-any-price mentality, disarmament, appeasement, surrender, fear of death, hatred toward the South, atheism, immorality, drugs, revolution and negation of patriotism." While Noebel associated Dylan and folk music with political causes such as the antiwar and civil rights movements, he associated the Beatles with drug experimentation and the sexual revolution, which together fed youths' desire for further rebellion. Noebel believed that the Beatles, though not necessarily communists themselves, were certainly serving the ends of communism in general and the New Left in particular. Communism's use of cultural intermediaries to destroy the United States underscored the seductive power of music: Noebel reminded readers that the Soviet Union, no doubt aware of rock's psychological powers, had wisely banned the genre in the early 1960s.
In books about rock music that David Noebel published until well into the 1980s, he continued to link the growth of rock to internal subversion by communists. He was joined by the Movement to Restore Decency (MOTOREDE), the anti–sex education wing of the anti-communist John Birch Society. During the late 1960s, MOTOREDE dabbled in cultural criticism through anti-counterculture pamphlets such as The De-Generation Gap and The Pied Pipers: Pot, Rock, and Revolution. While MOTOREDE focused on drugs and opposition to sex education in schools, other conservatives focused on the degenerative effect of counterculture fashion on the national body. In a pamphlet entitled Skimpy Skirts and Hippie Hair, Dr. Hugh F. Pyle, pastor of the Central Baptist Church in Panama City, Florida, proclaimed, "Schools are being disrupted, homes divided, churches confused, and society itself embroiled over the issue of 'hair'!" More interested in endearing himself to parents than to children, Pyle dismissed the religious counterculture's portrayal of Jesus as a "skid-row welfare case who looked like a shiftless hippie," and he demanded that youths "[shift] your bubble gum, [turn] down your transistor, and [push] your locks back out of your eyes" long enough to consider the detrimental impact of long hair on American society. Long hair among young men was part of a "planned, calculated trend" of "Commie Goals" that would "break down the manliness of American men" and develop a "'unisex' population of weaklings." External communism was the ultimate cause of degradation, but conservative hostility increasingly focused on countercultural youth.
Critics who could divine geopolitical threats from trends in music, dress, and hair styles were a vanishing breed by the early 1970s. Anti-rock critics continued to use aspects of anti-communists' arguments, but the dearth of additional voices that linked rock music with the Soviet threat reflected a larger trend in rhetorical strategies among conservatives. As historian David Bennett has explained, Protestant fundamentalists may have warned about the threat of domestic collectivism and Soviet expansion abroad after the 1970s, but they seldom issued accusations of internal communism. Concerned about the changes brought about by the 1960s, conservative Christians instead attacked intellectual elites, the federal government, and countercultural youths for seizing power at the expense of "traditional" morality and authority structures such as the family and church.
During the 1970s, many conservative Christians focused on political issues such as educational curriculum and school prayer that held symbolic importance for reproducing values in young people. Criticism of youth culture, given its (somewhat contradictory) associations with the entertainment industry, the New Left, and African American vernacular culture, offered conservatives a way to express their displeasure with the cultural and religious changes wrought by both the counterculture and the Great Society, which conservatives believed encouraged personal freedom and centralized government at the expense of traditional authority structures and beliefs. For example, in 1970 evangelist Bob Larson, a self-described former rock musician, surveyed the national landscape and assessed the consequences of the sustained popularity of rock 'n' roll since the 1950s. Americans had recently witnessed some of the decade's most violent expressions of individual and collective anger: riots in Detroit and Newark, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the Democratic national convention in Chicago, and campus antiwar protests. Larson found a common link among these events. "Rock music," he declared, "has ... taken over the role of the major influence upon youth. It has given them a national sense of identification." More than giving youths a sense of peer identity, however, music had also "replaced the traditional institution [sic] of society such as the church, school, and family unit." Rock had, he suggested, "unified the voice of the teenage bloc and given solidarity to their rebellion."
While rock music provided a source of peer identity for a rebellious generation, it also provided an alarming index of the state of American morality. According to Bob Larson, "music is an expression and indicator of the values of the society or portion of that society which has produced it. Observe this barometer in a particular era and it is possible to discern the minds of men during that era. Rock music seems to express the shifting values of our society and the hectic, confused speed of the times." In an attempt to "discern the minds" of the generation that produced rock music during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Christian anti-rock critics evaluated not just music but also its consequences and the trends with which it was associated.
The suggestion that rock music reflected American values represented an important shift in conservative Christians' thinking about the genre: whereas Noebel had suggested that a foreign enemy targeted the young, the following generation of fundamentalist separatists asserted that the young—or at least those youth associated with the counterculture or identity movements—were the enemy. In the estimation of fundamentalist critics, the rock music of the 1960s was a promiscuous genre associated with a wide range of radical social causes and immoral cultural phenomena. Frank Garlock, a music professor at Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist school in South Carolina, offered an inventory of what he termed the "associates" of rock in 1971:
drug addicts, revolutionaries, rioters, Satan worshippers, drop-outs, draft-dodgers, homosexuals and other sex deviates, rebels, juvenile criminals, Black Panthers and white panthers, motorcycle gangs, blasphemers, suicides; heathenism, voodooism, phallixism [sic], Communism in the United States ... paganism, lesbianism; immorality, demonology, promiscuity, free love, free sex, disobedience (civil and uncivil), sodomy, venereal disease; discotheques, brothels, orgies of all kinds, night clubs, dives, strip joints, filthy musicals such as "Hair" and "Uncle Meat"; and on and on the list could go almost indefinitely.
Garlock's litany included "Communism in the United States," but it was simply one co-conspirator amidst a cast of thousands. More prominent among rock's associates were signifiers of the antiwar, civil rights, gay rights, and women's movements and the sexual revolution, which were grouped with Satan worshippers, heathens, blasphemers, and other longtime spiritual nemeses of fundamentalists.
In addition to linking rock with an array of immoral causes, Garlock and other fundamentalists also attempted to assess the damage the 1960s had inflicted on the church. According to these critics, one of the key consequences of rock's popularity was that the generation gap had lodged itself in the church as well as in society at large. This was problematic for fundamentalists who sought to follow the advice of 2 Corinthians 6:17 to "come out from them, and be separate from them ... and touch nothing unclean." At the end of his list of rock's associates, Garlock regretfully added "powerless Christianity," as "churches and so-called Christian groups who have lost their spiritual power have adopted rock music as a way of reaching teenagers, but what a cheap substitute for spirituality it turns out to be." Another critic concurred, concluding that rock music was "creating a crisis in the church" between those who eschewed rock (usually adults) and those who embraced it (usually the young).
Agreeing with Garlock, in 1972 Bob Jones III published the pamphlet Look Again at the Jesus People, in which he criticized the most visible Christian youth movement in the nation. Jones argued that the Jesus Movement, in allowing young Christian converts in the late 1960s and 1970s to keep their countercultural styles after conversion, was "unbiblical," its leaders having failed to direct youthful believers into "spiritual obedience and spiritual maturity." By permitting young people to retain styles associated with disrespect and rebellion, leaders were essentially inviting the problems of the world into the church. Moreover, since "countercultural" youth did not renounce their worldly accoutrements, Jones doubted the sincerity of their conversions. "Revival is God-given; it is not man-generated," he wrote. "Revival is not spawned in pot parties, love-ins, hippie pads, dens of iniquity, and rock orgies; but that is where the Jesus Movement was spawned." Rather than accepting the counterculture into the church, Jones urged separation. Garlock found a biblical precedent to address the contemporary crisis: he urged believers to follow the path of Abraham, who settled in Canaan and entered into a covenant with the Lord, rather than with Lot, Abraham's nephew who settled among the sinners of Sodom.
Although fundamentalist critics like Garlock and Jones did not link rock to communism, they asserted that rock threatened to introduce alien practices and beliefs into American culture. Rock 'n' roll had emerged from African American vernacular culture, and anti-rock literature written by conservative whites was rife with references to rock's African roots. Traditionalists in the 1920s had lodged similar complaints against "unspeakable jazz," with one critic decrying dances intensified by "the wriggling movement and sensuous stimulation of the abominable jazz orchestra with its voodoo-born minors and its direct appeal to the sensory center." In a similar vein, Frank Garlock in the early 1970s pointed to the "voodoo rituals, sex orgies, human sacrifice, and devil worship" of rock 'n' roll. At least two critics recounted an apocryphal tale about an American missionary in Africa whose children played rock music, only to have the natives ask him why he allowed his children to play music "that was used to call up demons during voodoo rituals."
Even before gangsta rap became popular among white youths in the late 1980s and early 1990s—and became reviled by politicians for its embrace of a criminal lifestyle as exemplified in songs such as "Fuck tha Police" and "Cop Killer"—the rhetoric about rock's origins and form reflected concerns about law and order. According to critics, in addition to containing immoral lyrical content, rock violated basic aesthetic standards that promoted social order. Garlock, a music professor, explained that whereas "good" music carried the characteristics of coherence, dignity, variety, and balance between intellect and emotion, rock distracted youths from their devotions. Another critic offered a visual representation of the split between the music of the Christian Reformation and that of slavery. One side of the chart this critic drew was a genealogy of "traditional music of the Church," said to appeal to "the spirit and the new nature." This music's lineage followed a path from early hymns to the Reformation—the chart making no mention of the Catholic Church—through chorales, anthems, and gospel songs. The other side of the chart reinforced earlier fears about African American vernacular culture by listing the "music of the world," which appealed to "the flesh and the old nature"; its lineage began with African drums, continued with slavery, and quickly morphed through several popular incarnations: blues, ragtime, jazz, swing, boogie-woogie, bop, and rock 'n' roll. According to this critic, "contemporary Christian music" had its origins in the world, not in the church. The classification system typified fundamentalists' assertion that, just as expanded federal power defied "natural" laws of property and the free market, the youth culture of the 1960s violated the organic balance achieved through the lineage of Western culture.
While Frank Garlock, Bob Jones III, and like critics focused on rock and the counterculture's impact on social institutions such as the church, another kind of fundamentalist Christian anti-rock critic also emerged during the 1970s and 1980s. While these critics agreed wholeheartedly with Garlock and Jones on the need to avoid rock music, they based their authority not in the church but rather in their firsthand experimentation with rock music as either musicians or fans. Their eyewitness authority, which emphasized rock's assault on teenagers' emotions and senses, attempted to lend some credibility to the separatist impulse. Viewing themselves as latter-day Pauls, these critics guided concerned readers through the underworld of rock beats, behaviors, and events in an attempt to convince believers and nonbelievers alike to rid themselves of worldly music. Like the moral sensationalists of the nineteenth century who condemned novels yet dwelled on the grotesque retribution exacted upon the villains of their "true tales," these critics offered testimony that could simultaneously titillate and revolt Christian audiences. In doing so, they engaged in a cultural conversation about the power and meaning of rock music.
What is most surprising about these critics is not their opposition to youth culture but rather their sincere belief in its authority. They attributed tremendous cultural, spiritual, and even political power to youth culture, suggesting that rock musicians were "secular gods" who represented "the avante-garde [sic] of cultural change," making it imperative for Christian conservatives to monitor their work. Beyond associating rock with evil in general, these conservative critics suggested that rock—especially heavy metal—inspired serial killers such as Richard Ramirez to commit murder and encouraged teenagers to commit suicide. Moreover, these native informants recounted how rock music seduced "good kids" from "good homes" into sinful (or even suicidal) behavior, undermining parental efforts to instill self-discipline and morality in their children. They based these concerns in biblical text: according to I Samuel 15:23, for example, rebellion amounted to witchcraft.
The anti-rock "native informants" went to great lengths to establish their credibility as rock experts who had defected to Christianity's cause. In one book, Bob Larson, who conducted anti-rock seminars for parents and students across the country and hosted a long-running nationally syndicated call-in show, included a picture of himself holding his Fender guitar. His biography informed readers that he had his own rock band, the Rebels, by the time he was fifteen years old. Other critics claimed to have been devoted rock fans who had witnessed the genre at its worst. For example, Jeff Godwin testified to readers that, when he attended the infamous 1979 concert by The Who in which eleven fans were crushed to death, he "saw with my own eyes thousands of teenagers driven insane with the Rock obsession." If his description of the Cincinnati concert did not persuade his audience of rock's madness, Godwin perhaps convinced them with a detailed account of a "typical" rock concert that compared the event to a heathen ritual. Jimmy Swaggart laid claim to insider knowledge as well, using his cousin Jerry Lee Lewis's tortured life as an opportunity to expound against the rock 'n' roll lifestyle.
Blaming rock music for subverting values, the former rock fans were concerned with both the physical and spiritual ramifications of exposure to the genre. Critic Jeff Godwin suggested that rock music emphasized "sexual lust" in order to "fire up teenage imaginations and hormones." But such manipulation served no foreign power. Writing during the early years of the AIDS crisis, Godwin ranted about the consequences of the sexual revolution and suggested that sexual activity among young people "serves a specific purpose—to spread demons. Demons are a venereal disease in the truest sense." When not spreading disease, rock introduced non-Christian religious influences into the home; Eric Barger argued that secular rock music was "the single largest cult the world has ever seen." Indeed, Bob Larson suggested, it was no longer enough for parents to worry about the introduction of African religious rites, for young people were now being introduced to Eastern religions through their bedroom record players.
In addition to indoctrinating young people into belief systems that contradicted Christianity, rock threatened to introduce contemporary social problems into the home. Like Frank Garlock and Bob Jones III, former fans worried about a "generation gap" in the home that would pit rock's rebellion against the Bible's demand for submission to authority. Writing in 1970, Larson reported that parents all over the country had told him they were unable to communicate with their children. Larson then asked, "Could it be that their children are tuned in to a medium that is purposely seeking to alienate them from their parents?" In a book published a decade later, Larson began each chapter with a description of the belief systems and practices introduced into the home through youth culture, including homosexuality, religious cults, the occult, and disco. Rock's invasive power concerned other critics as well. During the 1980s, Jeff Godwin argued that rebellion was the sole aim of the genre: "The purpose of rock music is to split, splinter, and destroy your home. While you are working to mend broken bridges between you and your children, the sleazy rock monsters are doing everything they can to tear those bridges to shreds and widen the gap." These critics argued that rock's impact was local rather than global.
As if rock's attacks on the home were not enough, the genre's message could affect some groups more than others. The literature reflects conservative concerns about the student, feminist, gay rights, and civil rights movements, which challenged traditional authority structures and social norms. Writing at the height of the feminist movement, Bob Larson suggested that rock represented a particular threat to young women, who were imperiled by the relaxed behavioral norms offered by the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Larson feared that girls—always presumed to be fans rather than performers—would succumb to pressure and become sex-crazed groupies. He also located a revolutionary feminist threat in popular dance styles. According to Larson, the separation of dance partners in the dance known as the twist represented a critical step in the degeneration of dance moves, as it signaled a decline in male authority and control. Prior to the separation, "the male led in the appropriate steps of the dance and the female followed," but the new dance allowed the female "to gesticulate her body in whatever manner the rhythm dictated without the leading of her male partner." The new moves were particularly troublesome because the mode of expression shifted from "hands and feet" to "the hips and shoulders, drawing attention to the chest and abdominal regions." Larson also attributed fashion changes among young people to the shift in dance roles, asserting that the "look-alike neuter styles" and "role-reversing styles" were "partially an outgrowth of today's dances in which the male abrogates his traditional role as leader." Larson's anti-feminism persisted: in 1989 he linked witchcraft to radical feminism.
Other critics agreed that musicians intentionally attacked gender norms in American society. Jeff Godwin worried that gender-bending rock musicians like David Bowie and Elton John threatened "the God-given line between the sexes," and he claimed that, without action, young people would have "no proper sexual legacy" to inherit. Others were more concerned that the gay rights movement would rob sons as well as fathers of their masculinity if sons decided to frequent gay discos rather than football fields. In fact, the father's role was much under siege by the devil, who sought to destroy fathers and fatherhood alike. To combat the devil, fathers needed to reclaim their authority over wives and children as well as music.
Whereas earlier critics had drawn the line between self and world around the church, younger critics now drew the line around the besieged suburban home; the home, in turn, fit into an eternal order. In contrast to their sixties-era predecessors, who viewed hippies and student protesters as conspirators with evil, the younger critics believed that (younger) children were victims of satanic predation. Since parents, especially the besieged father, were responsible for ensuring that their families served God, they needed to serve as gatekeepers between home and world. Godwin wrote, "YOU the parent draw the line! You decide the scope of the Rock problem within your own house!" If parents neglected their responsibilities, they risked serving the wrong master, and children could become pawns in the battle between good and evil. In 1980 Larson asked readers (presumed to be parents): "Is it possible that while you proclaim your house is the Lord's, other gods are being extolled under your very roof? Is the stereo in your child's room an altar to darkness that dispenses the devil's liturgy?" The pitched battle over rock music in the home became yet another way in which politics became localized for concerned suburban parents.
Concerned about the social and cultural changes wrought by music, Christian anti-rock critics located the root of rock's power in a supernatural force: Satan. Yet critics were cautious not to concede too much power to the devil. After all, the Bible—particularly the Old Testament, which includes the Book of Psalms—was filled with music and musical instruments used in worship. Instead, critics suggested that music possessed dual powers. They attributed the spiritual elements of music to God's creative power, and music's material elements to satanic subversion. Televangelist Jimmy Swaggart described the duality of music when he suggested in a 1986 anti-rock tract that music was either a force for Jesus or a force for Satan. Because God and Satan were so clearly waging a fierce battle on the field of music, critics argued, music could never be neutral: it was by nature either productive or destructive.
Christians who wished to guard children from the evils of rock had a difficult task ahead of them, since musicians displayed tremendous ingenuity in delivering immoral messages to audiences through lyrics, lifestyles, and the objectionable beat of rock. Critics pointed to "morally degenerative lyrics" as the main cause of "the tidal wave of promiscuity, venereal disease, illegitimate births and political upheaval" that had swept the nation in the 1960s. Musicians' lifestyles—particularly their drug use—also swayed the personal decisions of audience members. Concerts represented a particular peril for young people because they allowed the destructive tendencies of degenerate performers and demented fans to converge, if only for a few hours. Performances created an emotional atmosphere through drugs, alcohol, loud music, and other stimulants, leading one guide to warn parents, "Dante's Inferno Is Coming to Your Home Town."
Anti-rock critics were appalled to learn that bands' satanic posturing might be related to the profit motive. In the mid-1980s, Bob Guccione Jr., publisher of the music magazine Spin, offered to send Bob Larson on the European leg of a tour by Slayer, a "satanic" metal band from the United States; in return for full access to the band, Larson was asked to write a cover story for the magazine. Reflecting on the trip, Larson later concluded, "If Slayer's soul was sold to Satan, they did so at the bank, not at a black mass. The forbidden brew Slayer sipped isn't the drink of lyrical death and despair. It's the elixir of fame. In the Garden of Rock 'n' Roll, they ate the apple of image over ingenuity, hype over integrity." The fact that Slayer's stage act was a gimmick undertaken for theatrical and commercial reasons rather than out of conviction enraged the evangelist, who stopped just short of complaining that the band was not satanic. Larson argued that Slayer needed to convince fans to renounce Satanism, since the band had ostensibly led them into false worship. However, according to Larson, rabid fans instead repudiated Slayer for betraying (or selling out) the satanic faith.
Although some Christian conservatives experienced spirit-filled worship, the anti-rock critics were highly critical of both the emotional and physical pull exhibited in rock music. Jimmy Swaggart acknowledged rock 'n' roll's debt to gospel music and Pentecostal worship but argued that rhythm appealed to man's flesh at the expense of the spirit and soul, causing an imbalance between man's senses and his worship patterns. Other critics agreed, arguing that rock music was simply more powerful than other genres: its viscerality appealed to man's sinful nature. While praising "good music" for balancing intellect and emotion, critics accused rock of manipulating human emotions through a dominant beat. Specifically, they claimed that the "syncopated" beat matched the rate of the human heart. Jeff Godwin wrote, "Rock music hits ALL listeners right in the guts, oozing its way like a ravenous leech into the most basic systems of the human body." Other critics expounded on the physical dependencies caused by rock through its apparent ability to stimulate and release hormones.
Critics also believed that rock affected the mind by creating critical lapses of judgment even in young people who had been trained to dissect religious texts rather than visceral beats and subliminal messages. According to Larson, "Music can exercise its influence over the body without meeting any intellectual resistance from the higher nervous centers," because rock music was "written to be felt rather than heard." Whereas the "spoken word" passed through "the master brain to be interpreted, translated, and screened for moral content," rock's "pounding fury" bypassed this "protective screen," causing youths to make no "value judgment" on the material. Rock's ability to circumvent the intellect represented a particular threat to Christian children for it effectively subverted the moral groundwork their parents and ministers had so carefully tried to establish. "Backmasking," the practice of inserting a subliminal message into a recording, proved a particular concern for critics as well. According to Jacob Aranza, backmasking provided performers with a means of conveying "satanic and drug-related messages to the subconscious." Teenagers who listened to rock music were therefore vulnerable to a two-pronged, physical and psychological attack.
Despite the sustained objections of anti-rock critics, who warned that contemporary music appealed to young people for all the wrong reasons, Christian rock exploded as a genre during the 1970s and 1980s. Proponents of Christian rock argued that the genre provided a tool for evangelism and a way for believers to enjoy contemporary entertainment while enhancing their faith. For preachers like Jimmy Swaggart, however, the sound was just one more example of worldliness invading the church. While the Bible includes hundreds of examples of music making, Swaggart could find no scriptural reference that tied evangelism with music. Christian anti-rock critics also saw rock music as antithetical to religiosity. They believed that lyrics should assume primacy in music and that rock's beat disrupted religious contemplation, distorted religious instruction, and generally fostered an environment devoid of spirituality. Christian music, according to Bob Larson, should touch the "head and the heart," not the "hip and the heel." Christian rock had the wrong goals, Larson argued, because "the Gospel is not intended to please men but to warn them." Another critic echoed this sentiment about the valuelessness of Christian rock, claiming that listening to Christian music was akin to "trying to get my meals from the garbage can."
Even if Christian music proved an effective tool for evangelism, critics worried that rock-inspired conversions would be the result of conditioning rather conviction. Doubters also worried that Christian rock offered a false representation of Christian dedication. They insisted that whereas evangelistic rock should emphasize lyrics, the music might actually hinder evangelism by making the message impossible to hear. Likewise, because the music emphasized feelings rather than obligations, listeners might not realize that they should focus on obedience and "a holy fear of God." Christian rock emphasized the sentiment of religiosity without naming the problem (sinfulness) or the solution (salvation). Years earlier, Bob Larson captured critics' misgivings about rock when he noted, "Great men of the faith have been martyrs, not swingers."
As if rock's own traits were not troubling enough, Christians also worried that the genre's contexts and associations would always prevail over any positive message believers might insert into lyrics. Critic James Chute noted that
contemporary Christian musicians would have us believe that changing the words changes the music's very nature, as if the power of music resides in the words alone; as if music can be completely severed from its cultural and social context and suddenly take on meanings not only removed but contradictory to those contexts.
Chute disagreed with Christian performers who argued that they could use rock music to bring nonbelievers to Christianity. "In the struggle between the words and the music," Chute concluded, "music most often has the upper hand." The genre was irredeemable—beyond even God's grasp—for several reasons. To begin with, regardless of Christian musicians' good intentions, the genre would continue to be associated with immorality, especially promiscuity and rebelliousness. Critics frequently noted that because "rock 'n' roll" was originally a euphemism for sex, believers should find the phrase "Christian rock" alarming. Similarly, critics worried that rock's anti-authoritarianism would seep into the church. Swaggart reasoned that if Christian performers proved more acceptable to believers based on a "comparison test" with secular artists, it merely proved that the church had started to use the world, not the Word, as its standard.
"Is Leather 'of the Lord'?": Christian Parents and Educators
Critics who advocated complete avoidance of popular music were fighting a losing battle. By the 1980s, evangelicals were too middle class and too suburban—and consumption-based youth culture too pervasive—for separation to remain a tenable solution. Christian parents, including Christian media experts who sought to assist parents during the 1980s, represented a new thread of late-twentieth-century evangelical Christian thought about youth culture. In contrast to their anti-rock counterparts, who asserted that the debased state of youth culture demonstrated the need to avoid the secular world's wickedness, these experts and parents believed that youth culture's influence should be met by Christian activism at home and in public. In favoring Christian rock, these activists tended to emphasize moral concerns over doctrinal or institutional interests, and the earthly order of the family over an eternal order. To some extent they scorned the public campaigns undertaken by their fundamentalist predecessors and instead sought to advance their cause by deploying "modern" techniques for engaging popular culture.
Parents pursued a number of strategies as they attempted to understand, influence, and ultimately, limit kids' consumer choices. First, with the help of media experts, parents concluded that they needed to approach youth ministry in a manner similar to that of a ministry to a foreign country: by learning the culture. Rather than preventing children from indulging in youth culture, parents needed to manage its flow into their homes. Second, media experts recommended that parents encourage their children to listen to Christian rock, an emerging industry that sold more than 20 million albums in 1984, outsold jazz and classical music by 1985, and received increased airplay on religious stations that featured Christian rock or had switched to a Christian rock format. While religious rock music incorporated aspects of youth culture, parents believed that the medium was redeemable if filtered through a Christian worldview. Third, media experts urged believers to step into the public sphere on behalf of their children through consumer and political campaigns against rock music. These solutions resembled the actions prescribed by nominally secular parent groups such as the PMRC (Parents' Music Resource Center), rather than the blanket denunciations of fundamentalist church leaders.
In order for parents to teach children morals and reestablish their authority, Christian media experts believed they first needed to possess a commanding knowledge of youth culture. Although wary of secular culture, these critics acknowledged that it played a vital—perhaps even defining—role in young people's lives. One writer for Youthworker magazine reflected that rock's critics had "burned it, banned it, damned it, defamed it, labeled it, legislated it, picketed it, protested it, petitioned against it, and prayed hellfire down upon it. They've called it lewd, rude, crude, racist, sexist, demonic, pornographic, and communistic"; they had not, he said, tried to debate it. Experts on youth ministries recommended that Christians familiarize themselves with youth culture through a "cultural reconnaissance" mission; one educator dubbed this tactic "relational ministries." Another suggested that parents' lack of familiarity with popular culture could actually impede youths' spiritual growth. "Even among Christian parents, who take fathering and mothering seriously," this expert explained, "cultural ignorance blocks family growth and spiritual maturing of youths." Knowledge of youth culture thus became an imperative for "serious" parents who did not want to inhibit their children's religiosity.
As a result of the commercialization of youth culture during the 1970s, critics no longer associated rock music with the counterculture. While thus loosened from its seeming connection to alternative lifestyles, rock music—particularly heavy metal and punk rock—was still viewed as a tremendous threat to the American home. Whereas earlier critics had worried about the generation gap in American society and the church, conservative Christian parents now agonized over the generation gap at home, a breach intensified by popular music. Unlike earlier critics, however, the new generation of Christian educators recommended a critical engagement with popular culture.
To help parents become "students of teenage culture" who understood both rock's appeal and its latest trends, Christian educators began to offer parents an array of books, magazines, and pamphlets that promised to keep them informed about the lives and beliefs of current secular performers. Billy Graham was perhaps the first figure to foster peace between the generations when, in 1971, he published The Jesus Generation, an analysis that he explained was "to the young, about the young, and for the young," but also "for the older generation to help them in bridging the generation gap." The genre of Christian parenting advice did not flourish, however, until the 1980s, when critics produced a formidable array of titles including Lord! Why Is My Child a Rebel? Why Knock Rock? The Heart of Rock and Roll, and It's All Rock and Roll to Me. In addition to evangelical magazines such as Moody Monthly and Charisma, specialized newsletters such as Media Update, established in 1982 by Christian educator Al Menconi, furnished parents with ways to address the issue of youth culture in the home. Christian media analysts were not out to seize the primary nurturing responsibility from parents; rather, they intended to facilitate relationships between parents and children by helping parents become conversant with youth culture. This kind of youth work, in which adults entered youth culture and spoke its language, was termed "incarnational youth ministry," as it mimicked God's decision to send Jesus to save humanity. Discussing youth workers, one author reminded readers that the mission of youth workers remained "to help support and strengthen families." These educators offered Christian parenting advice in an authoritative, professional tone that emphasized the importance of maintaining Christian values in the American home.
Evangelical parents linked the growing influence of popular culture to other changes in social norms and cultural authority. Like Christian political activists of the era, many evangelical writers decried the decline of "family values." In this view, the home became a repository of white middle-class economic security, female domesticity, and heterosexual male authority. Jacob Aranza reminisced about the way he and, presumedly, his audience had been reared: "Most of us were raised in families where Dad went to work and Mom stayed home to take care of us. When we got off of the school bus, Mom was there to meet us, hear about what happened that day, and sit us down with a good snack before we did our homework." Aranza lamented that this "traditional family" had nearly disappeared due to divorce rates and working parents.
Other authors struck a similarly nostalgic tone about changes in American society as they idealized the nuclear family of an earlier era. In a March 1992 article in Moody Monthly, a professional educator pointed to the "rootlessness" among teenagers: "Only a couple of generations ago it would have been common for a person to spend the first 18 years of his life in the house where he was born. He knew where home was. And it was a symbol of stability. Now, such a symbol is a luxury." More important, the author continued, instability had spread to the nuclear family and had confused gender roles. "Only a couple of generations ago, it would have been common for a teenager to have his biological mom at home and his biological father at work during the day. Now that is a luxury of a mere 4 percent." The author suggested that the "ideal" family organization, in which a mother stayed at home to attend to the household while the father went to work, was nearly extinct; and by specifying "biological" parents, the author alluded to divorce rates. Even the kids who grew up in "traditional families" could not escape the ill effects of social disarray, since they were bound to have friends who were "bruised and disoriented."
Conservative Christians believed that a decline in cultural standards accompanied these social changes. As a result, Christians who wished to maintain their faith needed to be aware of the dangers presented by secular culture. One author, Al Menconi, explained the perils posed to Christians in an article that framed the "spiritual war" in contemporary American culture in terms of the seductive powers of consumer desire. One of the "weapons" in this conflict—entertainment—remained extremely dangerous to the Christian belief system, yet some Christians continued "to treat this journey like a stroll through a shopping mall" rather than "a race through a battlefield!" Instead of focusing on their faith, Christians "wander around casually window shopping at the enemy's stores!" In an earlier article entitled "A Wake Up Call for America!" Menconi asked parents, "Do you know what post-Christian America is teaching your children through their entertainment?" While Menconi indicated Christians' alienation from mainstream culture by referring to a "post-Christian America," he also reclaimed the category of America by issuing a "wake up call" to the nation, whose parents needed to lay claim to entertainment in order to protect children. In this logic, parenting became an endeavor linked to the nation's cultural fate.
Whereas stricter contemporaries such as Jeff Godwin viewed children as victims of predatory cultural practices, Christian parent activists viewed children as agents and potential allies in efforts to discern immorality in culture. One author-parent lamented that adolescents were "growing up in an R-rated world" in which they had to "process more garbage and make more moral decisions in a week than some of us made during our entire adolescence." However, in contrast to the anti-rock critics, this educator did not expect parents to withdraw from popular culture. As much as parents might have wished for "some kind of protective shield," he instead advised parents to arm their children with moral answers before they were forced to choose. In fact, he claimed, kids wanted parents to help them with the answers because they were so besieged by choices. "Adolescents," the author suggested, "live in a relative world, and they come to church to find that which is absolute." He warned that if children's stress was not lessened, parents should prepare for "a '90s version of the '60s student protests," which to this author stood as the ultimate assault on adult authority.
Before parents expunged the vilest secular artists from their children's collections, they were told, they should examine their own consumer habits. Ministers informed parents that to become Christian role models, they needed to purge their homes of country-and-western music, "mellow lust" pop music, romance novels, and soap operas. By getting rid of their own secular vices, Christian families could present a united front against outside influences.
While their anti-rock predecessors had attributed rock's popularity to the devil's scheming, educational critics took a therapeutic approach to breaking rock's spell in the home. As they began to research youth culture, parents needed to understand why young people listened to music in the first place. One media expert wrote that, contrary to some pastors' belief that the elimination of rock 'n' roll would end "teen epidemics" such as pregnancy, violence, and drug abuse, music was "not the problem": the real core of the problem was, naturally, sin. The same critic emphasized that peer pressure, emotion, and independence played an important role in listening habits. Rather than prohibiting the music, the writer suggested, parents should use it as a springboard for conversations about Christian values. Another Christian media analyst theorized that children listened to rock music because it offered "unqualified acceptance" and "understanding" that parents were perhaps not providing. Even if parents viewed rock music as "a problem," the analyst cautioned that their teenager may view it as "a solution and a friend." Parents could learn how to be both "solution and friend" by understanding how rock music fulfilled this role. By understanding rock music, parents could better insert themselves into the world of young people—and thus close the generation gap.
Christian media educators believed that, besides understanding rock's persistent appeal, parents should familiarize themselves with the latest trends in secular music. The literature reveals a concern with the lifestyles of rock musicians rather than a belief that the music was intrinsically evil. The publishers of Media Update prided themselves on keeping parents up-to-date on shifting patterns of youth culture. About once a year Media Update published its "Hot 100," which profiled the most popular musical acts in the nation and usually attempted to damn the artists with their own words and actions. The editors boasted to readers, "We read, clip and file articles from every credible rock magazine and major newspaper each month as well as take notes from music video programs such as MTV, 'Entertainment Tonight,' and 'Rock and Roll Evening News.'" Perhaps because of their research, the editors disapproved of anti-rock critics like Jeff Godwin, whose book The Devil's Disciples they dismissed for being "riddled with mistakes, wild conjecture, little biblical scholarship, poor historical research and a free-form style." Although they criticized Godwin, the Media Update editors also disapproved of rock music and musicians. However, the editors insisted they were not "carrying out an angry, opinionated vendetta against rock music." Their profiles were "a matter of public record"—and a public service to parents who could not otherwise navigate the complex channels of youth culture.
Concerning other issues, Media Update highlighted emerging trends in the music industry and explained their moral implications. For example, the May–June 1986 issue featured a special article on New Wave music that warned parents not to be fooled by the genre's "milder, more melodic sound" as compared to heavy metal. Informed parents would instead be disturbed by the genre's lyrical themes, "often depressing, dark, macabre, and full of despair." While the sound was not as discordant as that of metal, it was "a prime example of a third generation punk message teaching kids to be happy about being hopeless." The lifestyles and political identities of band members were also deemed unsatisfactory. The article included warnings about bands such as Everything but the Girl ("avowed Socialists"), the Jesus and Mary Chain ("anarchy seems to be at the heart of their message"), Scritti Politti (the band leader "spent most of his time reading about Marxism and leading the Young Communist League in Wales"), and Dead or Alive ("fronted by androgyny king/queen Peter Burns").
Dave Hart, a Media Update editor who wrote about popular music trends, found secular music to be fertile ground for biblically based moral lessons in his book of profiles about the contemporary music scene. Hart noted that the female punk band L7, founders of the pro-abortion organization Rock for Choice, "have become a voice for women who feel they need to be tougher and cruder than men in order to protect themselves in an abusive world. But becoming just like the men they hate is no solution. Women can't become all that God created them to be if they keep trying to be something they're not." Hart used the example of L7 to insist that rock 'n' roll defied divinely ordained gender roles: God had not designed women to be "tough" or "crude," though Hart left unclear how (or if) the women in L7, who were presumed to "hate" men, should "protect" themselves. In another entry, Hart expressed admiration for the work ethic of former Black Flag singer Henry Rollins, but he argued that the singer's rage forestalled resolution. "Unless Rollins reconciles with the Father and forgives his father," Hart concluded, "he will carry the fire of his anger and alienation into the most fiery and alienated place in the universe—the ultimate mosh pit of Hell." While demonstrating his knowledge of punk vocabulary ("mosh pit"), Hart maintained that punk alienation could not ameliorate rage but that religious conversion would. In a sense, the lessons modeled arguments that parents could present to youths who listened to secular music. In fact, following most of his profiles, Hart offered a "music exchange" that provided parents with a Christian musician whose style, but not message, approximated that of the particular secular artist.
Other Christian educators offered resource materials for parents that, like Media Update, were more concerned with cataloging rock's immorality than with detecting any secret (or satanic) messages in music. The Peters brothers, whose "Truth about Rock" seminars were aimed at parents and children, published Rock Music Research, a "rock dictionary" that featured minibiographies of popular bands from AC/DC to ZZ Top, with additional categories for rock associates such as "deaths" (subdivided into "suicide," "accidents," "killed," or "drug-induced"), "drugs," and "sex and rock." Writing about the potentially backmasked messages in a song by Prince, the Peters brothers asked, "Why look for secret messages in the music when there is so much garbage blatantly displayed up front?" The brothers also urged parents to conduct ethnographic research by visiting record stores and magazine shops that catered to the youth market, as well as by speaking directly to young people about the lifestyles and values advocated in rock music.
Another minister, Eric Barger, developed an elaborate rock rating system based on ten immoral or blasphemous themes frequently found in rock music. Created when most Christian critics were concerned with heavy metal rather than rap music, the categories included the occult, drug use, cultic influences, sexual overtones or hedonism, rebellion and violence, Satanism, nihilism and escapism, murder/suicide, and subliminal messages. Barger's ratings tended to penalize (or reward, depending on one's perspective) career longevity and breadth of lyrical focus. In his system, a perfect 10—a negative rating in every category—proved difficult to achieve: out of a list that included, among others, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Sex Pistols, AC/DC, and Van Halen, only Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones achieved a perfect score. Of course, if performers were to be deemed unacceptable by the number of notches earned alone, a fictional band like Spinal Tap (sexual overtones, Satanism, and blasphemy) or an aging folk singer like James Taylor (drugs, rebellion, nihilism, murder/suicide) might be judged more objectionable than rappers Public Enemy (sexual overtones/hedonism, rebellion) or the Village People (sexual overtones, rebellion), whose members were rather overt about their homosexuality.
Although educational materials were generally written for an assumed parental audience, authors occasionally addressed young people directly. In such cases, the authors emphasized obedience. Young people were urged to "closely examine" their albums and play their "favorite songs for Mom and Dad," taking care to "explain the lyrics they probably can't hear." If a young person's parents did not approve of the albums, he or she should ask parents for suggestions as to contemporary artists who advocated "wholesome values" using a "contemporary sound." Children were told to live by their parents' rules and forego their favorite music if their parents so asked. Through such encouragement, the parent activists attempted to foster family unity.
Because parent activists placed blame for immorality squarely on the shoulders of rock stars, they did not believe that rock music was intrinsically evil. As a "creative force," rock music was "God-given" and therefore not "bad" (or evil) by nature; rather, both man and Satan had perverted musical creation, and the rotten fruits of this collaboration were evident throughout the secular music catalog. Although rock conveyed immorality through lyrics, album graphics, lifestyles, and goals, there was no reason that Christian musicians could not create an even more powerful force by communicating "positive" beliefs using the same cultural materials. As a result, media educators were confident that Christian musicians could "redeem the music marketplace" with their work, making "the world of rock music a safer place for young people's ears." Believers hoped to externalize the values of the home through the cultural work of Christian rock. When challenged, educators argued that modern media did not contradict biblical values as long as they were "Christ-centered." Responding to criticism from conservatives, Al Menconi published a defense of Christian rock that justified the contemporary sound:
Since the basis of Christian music is to be Scripture and scriptural principles set to music (an idea upon which we all agree), then Christian music should have the same purpose as Scripture. II Timothy 3:16 clearly teaches us that Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness. Therefore, Christian music should also teach, reprove, correct, and encourage the believer to righteousness.
According to Menconi, while Christian rock did not derive its lyrics directly from the Bible, it drew on biblical principles and was therefore acceptable.
Media educators and activists believed that Christian music, like educational materials, should attempt to foster religious and moral beliefs and strengthen the home. The Peters brothers outlined the goals of music in one of their first books. The brothers did not object to the influence the music industry had on young people: they disagreed not with the medium but with the message. According to the brothers, the music industry needed "to become less concerned with rhyme, rhythm, and songs that sell," and instead focus on creating "music that is uplifting and inspiriting" for young people. The brothers specified the values that music should convey:
There should be songs that build strong morals in young people and teach them to be good citizens; music that will help stem the divorce rate by teaching about real love, not lust; tunes that will help end child abuse and wife battering by showing how men can be men and not bullies; melodies that derail the tendency toward teenage rebellion, and advocate respect, communication and character.
This outline for musical activism demonstrates Christians' supreme faith in the cultural authority of music. According to the Peters brothers, music could and should instill the values of citizenship, calm adolescent hormones, solve social problems, and quell generational rebellion.
Music as conceived by Christian parental activists was not an artistic—or even commercial—endeavor but something closer to Lauren Berlant's understanding of "social parenthood" in which adults self-censor to safeguard the impressionable minds of children. This was particularly true regarding artist lifestyles. Christians, perceived by activists as "sheep among wolves," needed to maintain "Christian witness in an ever-darkening environment." Christian performers were expected to be "teachers" who "bear responsibility for what they teach—not only with their words and music, but also with their lives."
Christian educators believed that Christian rock music would help unify homes, but they worried that Christian rock musicians' appearances and sounds would repulse most parents. As a result, educators attempted to teach parents how to "read" the intentions of Christian musicians. They told parents not to base conclusions about sinfulness on outward appearance: fashion, like music, was neutral—part of the everyday vernacular of youth culture. Even though Christian rock looked as if it was conforming to the world, conformity was a matter of the heart, not of appearances. The media experts instructed parents to look beyond surface appearances such as fashion and to recall biblical nonconformists such as John the Baptist. The Peters brothers captured this effort to reconcile Christianity and the world when they asked in a headline, "Is Leather 'of the Lord?'"
Even as support for Christian recording artists grew, a few critics asserted that believers should erase the boundary separating "sacred" and "secular" culture. This step involved some risk for Christians since they could no longer be assured that young fans would understand which music contained a Christian message and which music did not. Christian media analysts addressed this concern by counseling believers to develop "discernment," which worked in two ways. First, critics acknowledged that mainstream culture had sharpened kids' ability to detect inferior products. Evangelical youths were skilled consumers who demanded "quality recordings, not just religious ones." Consumerism empowered Christian teenagers, who simply would not buy music of an "inauthentic" quality. Second, "discernment" meant religious criticality—that is, Christians' relationship to culture at large and their desire to be "in the world, but not of the world." In this sense, "discernment" meant learning how to consume the products of an unchurched culture selectively—a religious form of reception theory. Christian bands already practiced "discernment" by appropriating secular music for Christian ends, but Christian consumers had to hone their interpretive skills as well. As one writer explained,
"Sacred" and "secular" are not qualities of things; they are qualities of relationship orientation. For example, one cannot paint a Christian landscape, but one can view it in a Christian way, for what the beholder brings to the encounter determines its sacred or secular quality. Thus the terms sacred and secular are better used in conjunction with a mode of existence—namely one's basic orientation is either sacred or secular.
Once confident in their ability to "discern," Christians could use the terms "sacred" and "secular" to describe their orientation to things, not the things themselves.
Before they could deploy this strategy, Christians had to learn how to separate the biblical "truth" of an artist's work from his or her lifestyle. One article argued that believers should scrutinize secular music for Christian—not satanic—content. It asked,
Does Elton John's biblically inconsistent homosexuality make his biblically consistent song "Healing Hand" any less true? Should Madonna's repulsive ideals and behavior invalidate the profoundly anti-abortion message of 'Papa Don't Preach?' Do Janet Jackson's recent sleazy videos make her bold song urging sexual restraint, "Let's Wait Awhile," any less true?
We think not. Those who follow Christ and live by His Word must be discerning enough to be able to separate truth from the imperfect vessels who come bearing that truth.
Music's "imperfect" creators, according to this article, did not determine the final meaning of their products; instead, believers could extract Christian values out of non-Christian commodities. The authors clearly viewed this as an oppositional cultural tactic; once Christians knew how to read secular culture, their interpretations could be transgressive. Indeed, the article quoted another Christian author who suggested,
We will be more effective when we penetrate behind enemy lines ... how does an army fight behind enemy lines? It doesn't move its forces en masse, it can't. Rather, it infiltrates small units to disrupt the enemy's communication and attack strategic targets. And that's exactly what Christians must do in a post-Christian culture.
In this view, living in a closed Christian subculture simply signified acceptance of Christians' exile from popular culture. Instead of withdrawing from that culture, Christians had to learn how to subvert mainstream commodities for Christian purposes. This strategy was not without its dangers, as "subversive" consumption—actions as simple as rewriting the words to a favorite secular band's song or listening to a band because it had a "Christian" member—could lead to greater thirst for secular culture. There were limits to what Christians could consume. "Sinful" products still existed—John Styll maintained that Christian pornography could never exist—but Christians had to be mindful of their opportunity to become cultural leaders through discernment.
Christian parents aimed their efforts at mitigating the effects of a hostile culture once it had entered the home, encouraging the consumption of "Christian" culture, or exercising Christian "discernment" in examining secular culture. These activities formed only one part of a campaign that also extended outside the home. This dual quality of the campaign reflected Christians' belief in social solutions: before parents could become activists in the world, they first needed to become activists in their own homes. That is, as the Peters brothers concluded, Christians needed to "take out the garbage" in their homes before they could criticize their "neighbor's trash heap." And yet, because they believed that rock music was moving "away from the principles that build strong character, produce good citizens and unify families," parents needed to take action in both local and national settings. Defending the home from home was not enough: Christians needed to defend "traditional" authority by moving into public space.
Christians believed that they had important roles as moral stewards for the nation's culture and that they needed to carry their activism outside the home to protect children. The Peters brothers typified this sentiment when they spoke of the need to defend American culture:
Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves what kind of society—what kind of culture—we want for ourselves and our children. More and more, our culture displays an irreconcilable pull away from the Judeo-Christian ethic, and our vulnerable youth are often too immature or too inexperienced in their faith to fight this irresistible force. If we Christian parents are contented doing nothing to help guide our children—as well as to struggle against the forces seeking to destroy our culture—then we are promoting the reign of the devil—the status quo.
In the Christian activists' estimation, children were vulnerable—"too immature" or "too inexperienced" to fight the pull away from Judeo-Christian values—so parents must join the struggle against the "irresistible" force of contemporary culture. Whereas the youth described by the fundamentalist anti-rock critics had been viewed as dangerously independent and potentially volatile, the generation coming of age in the 1980s needed parental support. The shift from sixties-era dangerous youth to eighties-era endangered youth marked one of the critical shifts in evangelical cultural activism, as it allowed devout parents to enter national debates on behalf of children. The culture of the 1960s may have become the "reign of the devil," but Christian parents were determined to reestablish control over American culture.
While Christian music provided a line of defense in the home for parents, political activism on behalf of children mounted a Christian counterattack in the culture wars. Although Christian leaders such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson attempted to mobilize heretofore world-wary conservative Christians to get involved in local and national politics, evangelical Christians like the Peters brothers were also involved in community morality campaigns. And while activists supported legislative efforts to rein in popular culture, they also proposed several consumer-based solutions. Ted Baehr, founder of the Christian Film and Television Commission, demonstrated the parity that consumer solutions had reached with voting rights when he told readers that Christians needed to "reject the bad and choose the good on television, at the theater, and in the voting booth." By suggesting that musicians were corrupting young American consumers through their lyrics and lifestyles, activists framed the debate not as an issue of artistic expression but rather as an issue of consumer safety.
To improve social mores, parents engaged in the dialog about contemporary culture. This did not necessarily mean that activists identified themselves as Christians to other community members. Al Menconi was among educators who suggested that believers frame their critiques as concerned parents rather than as devout Christians. Another writer advised parents who planned to communicate with local radio stations and sponsors not to lace their letter with "Christian jargon and scriptures": after all, he continued, Christians "need not sound as though we just graduated from 'The University of Fire and Brimstone' to be effective." Parents were advised to retain their Christian motives but subordinate them to achieve their desired outcome.
Leaders also urged parents to use their consumption habits to press for changes at the local level. Groups in earlier eras had positioned themselves as national moral stewards, as when the Catholic Church's Legion of Decency sought to influence film content through a rating system and boycotts. Now James Dobson and Gary Bauer recommended boycotts of popular culture, including television and music—a tactic also advocated by Donald Wildmon of the television watchdog group American Family Association and by Ted Baehr of the Christian Film and Television Commission. Parents who wanted to encourage performers to record "positive, wholesome music" needed to stop buying secular records and remember that their "pocketbook votes count!"
Beyond consumer-based solutions, Christian leaders urged parents to get involved in campaigns to persuade municipal or state governments to ban or regulate rock music. Expressing no reservations about legislating morality, parents catalogued grievances against rock, such as the health hazards posed by loud music and the nuisance of large concerts. As evidence of successful campaigns, they pointed to efforts in cities such as San Antonio, Texas, where the activist municipal organizations Community Families in Action and Parents against Subliminal Seduction (PASS) helped lobby for a city ordinance that restricted attendance of youth under age fourteen at "obscene" rock concerts. Media experts also claimed victories at the state level, as in April 1982, when Assemblyman Phillip Wyman conducted hearings in the California Assembly's Committee on Consumer Protection and Toxic Materials to determine whether records allegedly containing subliminal information should carry warning labels. The proposal died in committee, but the hearings nonetheless generated publicity for the cause.
Christian activists also supported national efforts at regulating rock music to protect young consumers. In general, they favored the actions of the PMRC—perhaps because a Christian minister, Jeff Ling, served as an adviser to the organization. Some activists, however, noted that they would have pressed for legislation. In fact, long before the PMRC hearings in 1985, the Peters brothers circulated a national petition asking for a record ratings system; a ban on "obscene, indecent, or profane records" from public airwaves; and a prohibition on sales of "indecent or profane records" to minors under the age of seventeen except by parental consent. The petition asked "all branches of government" to "stop innocent children from being immorally influenced by pornography disseminated through music sold to minors or played over the public airwaves." The brothers also included a form letter for parents who wished to register complaints with the Federal Communications Commission. Conservative Christians who held appointed office also contributed to the cause. In 1983, Ronald Reagan's secretary of the interior, James Watt, an evangelical Christian, decided to ban rock music from the annual Fourth of July celebration on the national mall. Watt explained that rock groups drew "the wrong element" and that Independence Day would be "for the family and solid, clean American lives." Watt replaced the rock lineup, which the previous year had included the Beach Boys, with Wayne Newton and the Army Blues Band.
The battle over rock music in the home provided a way to talk about domesticity, "family values," and the loss of "law and order" in American society. Parents' ability to assert control over rock music in the home became a metaphor for adults' ability to exert discipline and order throughout society in the years after the 1960s. The parents movement of the mid-1980s demanded, in the words of a PMRC pamphlet, an environment in which artists and industry exercised "social responsibility and self-restraint when dealing with young people's minds." Secular and religious organizations as well as lawmakers called on secular artists such as Twisted Sister (whose lead singer, Dee Snider, testified at the PMRC hearings in 1985) and 2 Live Crew (whose lead singer, Luther Campbell, was arrested on obscenity charges in 1990 for performing songs from the group's album As Nasty As They Wanna Be) to self-censor their work for the benefit of children.
Earlier fundamentalist criticism of rock for its alleged dalliance with communism and Satanism had placed conservative believers at the margins of public discourse on the impact of music on youth. When conservative believers reframed their critique to reflect concerns about the impact on home and morality, however, they reentered public conversations about "values" in American culture. A PMRC pamphlet, "Let's Talk Rock," demonstrated this intersection of interests in its "Recommended Reading" section, which listed sources by David Noebel and the Peters brothers alongside addresses for National PTA publications and secular parenting guides.
The intersection of parental interests brought closure to the notion of the "dangerous" (middle-class white) youth of the 1960s. The record burning hosted by the Peters brothers in 1979 sought to provide young evangelicals with a symbolic disavowal of dangerous culture. Both secular and evangelical parenting guides presented children as victims of rock musicians, thus restoring "youth" as a category of innocence in need of parental protection. Young people were savvy consumers, to be sure, but in this aspect of the debate, they needed parental guidance to be agents. Yet it turned out that youth rebellion might have a useful moral purpose after all. In the mid-1980s, evangelicals began to see young people as potential allies in the effort to insert Christianity in the public spaces of suburbia. Like the twelve-year-old Jesus quoting scripture in the temple of Jerusalem, these modern-day religious prodigies would amaze their elders by seeking to enact a radical reformation of American values.