Saturday, September 16, 2006

1987- The Winds of Change

1987. A young Mark McGwire set the rookie record for home runs in a season with 49. The Los Angeles Lakers beat the Detroit Pistons for the 1987-88 NBA championship. The Washington Redskins were the NFL champions of the 1987 season. "Scarecrow" Ray Bolger was the last of the main Wizard of Oz cast to pass away. The world stock market crashed in October.

1987 was also the year that Jim Bakker and the PTL ministry came crashing down, setting events into motion that have transformed the church ever since.

The Set-up
In the years preceding 1987 televangelists had developed a reputation, mostly well deserved, for always asking for money. Preachers would claim that they were on the edge of ruin when in fact they were living lavish lifestyles, while poor and elderly followers were donating their last dimes in search of God's blessing. The top names in the "electronic church" were Oral Roberts, Rex Humbard, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker.

In March of 1987 Jim Bakker resigned as the head of the PTL ministry, giving control to Jerry Falwell. What followed was a series of charges and countercharges befitting a soap opera, not the work of the Lord. Jim Bakker had a one night affair with a church secretary named Jessica Hahn and later used ministry money to pay her off. He claimed that Jimmy Swaggart had eyes on his ministry, so he invited Jerry Falwell to take over for a short time. Swaggart denied everything. Falwell claimed that Bakker was involved in homosexuality, and he insisted that he would never be allowed to return to lead the ministry. On and on it went. In the beginning of 1988 Jimmy Swaggart was caught visiting a prostitute. He delivered his tearful "I have sinned" speech for the cameras and the whole sordid mess started all over again.

Christian Music
The contemporary Christian music scene began simply, with young people getting saved utilizing the music they knew well as a means of letting their peers know of the joy they had found. It was a means of ministry. Singers such as Larry Norman, Phil Keaggy and Honeytree, and groups like Love Song, Mustard Seed Faith and Children of the Day released albums and increased in popularity. It took a few years, but eventually it changed from a "scene" to an industry. Deals were signed, more records were produced and sold, and radio stations took notice of this burgeoning phenomenon, but even in the face of increased popularity musicians were concerned about communicating a message of faith, with lyrics based on Scripture and Jesus being mentioned boldly.

Enter 1987.

With the onset of the Bakker and Swaggart scandals Christians took great pains in distancing themselves from the mess. "Sure, we're Christians, " they would say, "but we aren't like that." CCM artists were no different. Albums such as Amy Grant's Lead Me On, Russ Taff's self-titled album, and Michael W. Smith's I (2) eye were less triumphalistic and more introspective and questioning. Which was a good thing. What followed in the next several years, however, was a complete change in the way the CCM musician viewed their "mission", if you could even use that word. For some artists it became just another job. "You can't develop theology from a three-minute pop song," magazine editorials would declare, all the while examining the theology of singers like Carman with excruciating detail.

"Christian music is propaganda, not art," bands started to exclaim. "We just want to create our art without the expectations that Christians have for us." And granted, some good art was created. The whole idea that Christian music wasn't as good, that it was 10 years behind the times, was exposed as complete and utter crap. Bands signed deals with mainstream record companies because they had the talent. Of course, they simply exchanged one set of expectations for another. Instead of being expected to talk about Jesus they were expected not to.

In shying away from "Christian propaganda" they associated themselves with groups and tours which promoted certain political causes. I guess propaganda is in the eyes of the beholder. "Nobody goes to a concert to get preached at," some would say. (Tell that to Pearl Jam and Rage Against The Machine fans.) Finally the whole "Christian band" vs "Christians in a band" argument exploded, and those people who wanted to be known as musicians first and Christians second became as self-righteous about it as the people they railed against. They didn't want to play Christian gigs but always played Cornerstone; they cried about the "Christian music ghetto" but always kept that channel of distribution open in order to keep their options alive if their mainstream career fell through.

1987- the year the music died.

TV ministries
TV ministries obviously changed during this time. Even if the Bakker and Swaggart events hadn't happened, Oral Roberts plea for money "or God will call me home" ploy would have changed things because of the amount of negative publicity it generated. It wasn't long before mostl of the veterans dropped off the map. Jerry Falwell doesn't have a national show anymore. Rex Humbard retired. Oral Roberts gave things over to his son Richard. Jimmy Swaggart still has a TV show but nowhere near the distribution he used to have. His travelling crusade days are a thing of the past. Pat Robertson is still on the air but devotes himself to politics as much as ministry, and to amassing a personal fortune above all that.

A new breed of TV minister has emerged. Joyce Meyers, Creflo Dollar and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland simply teach, with a low-key money plea at the end of the show. Rod Parsley has carried on the Swaggart hard-preaching tradition. Begging TV Evangelist jokes are passe; they just don't apply anymore.

1987- the year the TV preacher died.

The Church
If you look at church growth statistics from the 1980's and compare them to today you will notice some striking trends. In 1983 the top ten churches in terms of attendance contained six Baptist churches, five of the independent fundamentalist variety, with one of those being on top (First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana). One charismatic church, one Calvary Chapel, and two independents. The total attendance of the top ten churches equaled 99,432.

Flash forward to 2006. The total attendance at the top ten churches has almost doubled, to 198,257, but the makeup of the top ten has changed dramatically. None of the six Baptist churches in 1983's top 10 are listed in the top ten for 2006; there are only two Baptist churches, neither of which could be considered fundamentalist. We have two Calvary Chapels now, and six which could be considered independent. The church at number one, Lakewood Church, which was Pentecostal in 1983, could best be described as having a "motivational speaker meets pep rally" style now. The next two, Saddleback Church and Willow Creek Church, are of the "seeker sensitive" variety. African-Americans are prominent in the 2006 list, with three of the top ten.

The paradigm for viewing church has definitely changed. It isn't all about preaching, bus ministry and door to door soul winning anymore; it's all about motivational messages and getting your needs met now. Mention holiness and you are accused of being a legalist; mention our responsibilities, what we need to do, and you are said to lack a true understanding of grace. The end result is that quite a few Christians, more than some and less than most, just do whatever they want to do just because they want to do it. If I like goth music then by golly the church better start playing it. If I don't want to go to church then I shroud myself with a super-spiritual reason why church really isn't necessary to be a Christian. The Christian church is part of a subculture, a separatist, ghetto mentality, we're told; what is needed is to take it to the streets, to be all things to all men. What has actually happened is that people have merely traded one subculture for another. Some of them are neutral, but some of them are definitely bad; would anyone care to defend the Christian Boylove Forum? (I'm not linking to it; look it up on Google- it exists.) We have a generation of self-centered Christians. I don't believe that these changes are a coincidence; I definitely believe that the Bakker/Swaggart events set into motion a change in attitude that is still being felt today.

1987- a catalyst for change.


Post a Comment

<< Home