Diclaimer: This piece is written from the personal perspective of its author. It is not meant to be a final and definitive work on the subject.
When it comes to music, next to hip-hop and rap, the genre which gains the most “heat” from the Church would probably be anything within the hardcore scene. This would include, but is not limited to: Screamo, Hardcore, Post-Hardcore, Pop-Punk, Punk, Metal, Metalcore. People who like these genres might listen to bands like, Oh! Sleeper, Memphis May Fire, Silverstein, Of Mice & Men, Blessthefall, Attack! Attack!, etc. While I am addressing that genre in this article, it is important to note that virtually all of what is written here also can apply to other genres. Many songs by these artists add nothing of spiritual value and some are not beneficial in any way. This article is not about those songs. This is not a blanket endorsement of these genres or their music. If a song is inappropriate, it’s inappropriate. I just don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Because of the intense screaming, the heavy guitar riffs, the breakdowns, the drums, the overall noise level, and the “look” of the scene, this music often gets a very bad rep from those within the Church because, well, let’s be real, it can be difficult to see any of that music or its association as “holy.”
My teenage years were spent listening to this exact type of music. What started as listening to one or two songs by Hawthorne Heights eventually would lead to me attending Vans Warped Tour where I would break a rib crowd surfing. While not all of this behavior was appropriate, I was full-on into the scene from clothes to shows. I want to tell you why.
NEXT STEPS: Young Adult Ministry Training
When I was 17, my dad died unexpectedly of a heart attack. I remember the morning of the funeral, I had to teach myself how to tie a tie. I remember starting to walk toward my parents’ room to ask my dad how to tie a tie, and then remembering why I couldn’t and freezing. I remember sitting in the car on the way to the memorial service with my headphones in and music blaring. I remember wanting to tune the world out. I remember being angry, sad, scared, confused, and just trying to muster the strength to get through the day. The music I had blaring? It wasn’t “Give Me Jesus” or “As the Deer Panteth” or “It is Well.” What was blasting through my headphones was “One Foot in the Grave” by Jamie’s Elsewhere. Here is a snippet of the lyrics:
“Oh, how long must I wait
Til I’m at peace again?
And how long must I wait
To see your face again?“
What happened then was one of the truest moments of worship in my life. I sat there listening to the loud desperate screams, the heavy guitar melody, and the drums blaring through; it was the only music in my entire library that spoke to every single part of my being. It spoke to every single emotion I was dealing with. It let me embrace being human and broken. It didn’t try to distract me from my hurt, it embraced me in my pain. It was authentic. Because of my Christian background, I could connect that song to my faith and filter it through Christ knowing that there will be a time I will see my father again, filling me with hope. I’ve only shared that moment publicly once before online, and I share it with you now because I believe it’s important to be able to see into that journey and understand what part of life this music speaks to.
Here’s why so many people embrace hardcore: the music, its listeners, and everything associated with its scene, are authentic enough to speak to every part of their being. It’s not because they don’t love Jesus! The music speaks to their struggles, embraces their hopes, and loves them through their pain. It brings them life. It doesn’t dismiss, distract, or accuse. Jesus can be found where our reality meets our pain. Caleb Shomo, lead singer of Beartooth, literally cries in the album recording of the song “Sick and Disgusting” because of the intense personal nature of what he is singing. He also has written a song called “Beaten in Lips” as an anthem for the kids with abusive parents:
“This is for the kids with the beaten in lips
Whose parents try to shut them up using their fists
Keep living loud and proud
They never can hold you down
This is for the kids with a soul like mine
When people tell you living is a waste of your time
Keep living loud and proud
They never can hold you down”
“Stay Together for the Kids” is a Blink-182 song from mid-00s that addresses kids whose parents are divorcing:
“Their anger hurts my ears, been running strong for seven years
Rather than fix the problems, they never solve them, it makes no sense at all
I see them everyday, we get along so why can’t they?
If this is what he wants, and it’s what she wants, then why is there so much pain?”
For some people, these songs are the only place they can adequately turn to for comfort. This is the music that is relevant and lets them feel like they aren’t the only ones in dealing with these problems. Where the Church is largely silent, these artists scream out from the mountaintops.
I haven’t heard many praise songs that address the dark, messy, grimy, and ugly parts of our lives. When it comes to those issues, we like to hear the “after” part of their stories while neglecting involvement when they’re still the “present.” For those individuals–the ones whose pain the Church doesn’t often address–the mosh pit becomes a refuge and the stage becomes a church. This is the worship of the misfits, the orphans, and the hurt. Of course there are always those few individuals that ruin it, those who seek destruction for seemingly no reason. But while I’m being totally authentic here, I’ve found that issue in church, as well. I want to see that change, and I long to see more churches embracing authenticity and vulnerability that allows for people to express their feelings in a healthy way.
You may find beauty, grace, forgiveness, and joy in the peaceful melodies of the hymnal, but for those whose lives have known only chaos, they find those exact same things in the raw emotion of a mosh pit. I admit, not all of that music is wonderful, not all of it will draw you closer to Jesus, and not all of it will be healthy, but I know that of some Christian music, too. Let’s embrace learning how to discern for ourselves what is holy, noble, and pure, and allow others to use that discernment for themselves. Let’s not project what might be a stumbling block for only some of us as a stumbling block for all of us. Finally, don’t just embrace people, embrace their journey as well.
Jesus felt righteous indignation, he threw tables in the temple and he spoke ruthlessly to the Pharisees. God calls Himself a “Jealous” God. Many of the Psalms are people crying out desperately for God wondering where in the world He is! We must stop pretending like those raw emotions don’t exist, or that they are only reserved for the most spiritually mature of us. We need to stop checking them at the door of the Sanctuary. If we are created in God’s image and He felt those emotions, too, then I think it’s okay for us to work through them as well. God is big enough to handle our pain, fear, doubt, shame, and guilt. Jesus was angry the Pharisees made a mockery of His temple; a child can be angry their parents are showing them a broken picture of love and are causing them pain. The church should be a place for that child to find a renewed and proper picture of that love and find hope and restoration in its walls. In the words of Jud Wilhite, a pastor in Las Vegas, “Sin is messy. Grab a mop.”