Christian Rock Thursdays: Whitecross mock the condemned

For a while, Whitecross were my favourite band. I was a bit late to the scene (they were at their peak when I was still learning how to use a toilet), but they had actually been a lot of Christian kids’ favourite hair metal band. Their lead vocalist, Scott Wenzel, sounded almost exactly like Stephen Pearcy from Ratt. In 1987, this was a major selling point. Ratt were a platinum-selling band, but conservative Christian parents wouldn’t let their kids listen to them. Solution: Whitecross.

Whitecross Street

My love of the band meant I spent my childhood getting unreasonably excited by signs like this.

Unlike most Christian versions of secular bands, Whitecross were pretty good (by the standards of a genre which critics universally regard as the nadir of rock n’ roll). I think By Demand, a compilation of Whitecross bangers, might be a better listen than Ratt’s best-of Ratt & Roll 81-91. Whitecross axeman Rex Carroll compares pretty favourably to 80s guitar heroes like Dokken’s George Lynch. And Whitecross definitely have more good songs than Dokken (which is to say, they have some good songs).

Of course, I had no idea at the time that Whitecross sounded like Ratt and Dokken because I wasn’t allowed to listen to those agents of Satan.

Anyway, the Whitecross song I have chosen to dissect is “No Second Chances”, which isn’t necessarily one of their best. It’s here because I find it disturbing.

Alternative link (better audio but no video). Lyrics

So as you probably gathered, this song relates Jesus’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus. As hard rock lyrical fodder, this is—as Bill & Ted would say—most atypical.

I was telling a guitar-playing friend about Rex Carroll a couple of years ago, so I showed him this video, and it struck me how wildly inappropriate this style of music is for that message. That big chant-along chorus makes them sound gleeful at the prospect of sending souls to hell, which I really hope isn’t what they intended. Choruses like this are for making you grin and punch the air. They are for (whoa oh) living on prayers, getting rocked, and announcing your disinclination to take it.

They are not for taunting the damned.

But that’s what Whitecross did, and even if you agree with their theology, this is surely at least a little bit distasteful.

When I was a newly-minted ex-Christian, I was keen to defend the practice of evangelism to my fellow heathens. “They think they’re doing you a favour,” I explained. “If someone really believes you’re going to hell unless you make a change, of course they’ll try to rescue you. You should be flattered their care enough to tell you you’re going to hell.”

I stand by that assessment. If anything, I think that if Christians really believe in hell, they’re not doing nearly enough evangelising. That said, several years of being told I’m going to hell have lessened my patience with evangelists somewhat. The most irritating thing is the way everyone says it as though it will be news to me. I FUCKING KNOW. I spent my entire childhood preaching it. Of course, to many of the faithful, the Good News is so good, and so obviously right, that they only possible explanation for someone not being a Christian is ignorance. The result is, well, quite patronising.

The weird thing about bands like Whitecross is that although the lyrics are evangelical, they rarely played for non-Christians. They were signed to a Christian record label, StarSong, who distributed their albums to Christian bookshops. They played gigs for church youth groups and at Christian festivals like Cornerstone. So while from their lyrics you’d get the impression that this is a group intent on reaching the unconverted, from their actions you’d have to conclude that they are largely incompetent.

Whitecross: To be fair, everyone looked this bad in the 80s.

Whitecross: To be fair, everyone looked this bad in the 80s.

Actually, I think we’ve just misunderstood their mission. Whitecross are like commercials for Ford that aren’t designed to win new customers, but just to make existing Ford customers feel satisfied with their purchase. Christian youth group kids would go to see an awesome rock band like Whitecross doing Great Things For God, and they’d be inspired to grow up to be Strong In The Lord too. At Christian rock concerts, there are always altar calls for people to go forward and Get Saved, but the kids responding to these calls are mostly Christian teens who just feel guilty for not praying often enough. Still, the others see the ‘great response’ to these altar calls and feel convinced that they’re on the right path. It’s preaching to the converted by pretending to preach to the unconverted.

Taken from that point of view, “No Second Chances” looks rather different. Imagine the scene at a Whitecross gig as several hundred On Fire For God teens shout out “GIVE ME ONE MORE CHANCE! … NO SECOND CHANCES!” These kids are the elect. They’re not going to be the ones in the fire; they’re the ones who will be saved. Yes, the song tells them that they need to tell their friends about Jesus so said friends don’t face an eternity being gently crisped, but it also reinforces the us and them divide. If you’re singing along, you’re part of the Elect. Everyone else, well, when judgement comes, it will be their fault. As the song says, “You listened to lies”.

You listened to lies.

That’s it. Eternal damnation, because someone else deceived you. Sucks to be you, pal. No second chances. *Guitar solo*

More like this: Christian Rock Thursdays archive

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About jonnyscaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on October 9, 2014, in Atheism, Christian rock, Christianity and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. revoliverharrison

    Ah, reading this reminded me of some awful “hair metal” (is that the right phrase?) bands of the ’80’s. Make them a certain type of Christian (i.e. a type of very certain Christian) you make them doubly dreadful. Alas, musically and theologically there was a lot of this around at the time. All of which makes the Violent Femmes even more remarkable: a folky, punky trio with some very dirty and dangerous songs.

    For your delectation and delight (if not quite your edification and education) I offer you “Black Girls” — not, perhaps, their best track but the one that first came to mind>

  2. Yeah, Whitecross was my favourite guilty pleasure at the peak of my CCM days. And then came that terrible year when every Christian band went grunge, and I lost interest.

  3. Ahh, Whitecross.
    A choice song you have dissected.

    When Christian’s use the life eternal – after mortal death; the time none of us have any experience with – to defend, or galvanise their faith, you know you can quarrel no more.

    How about the Whitecross song Holy War?!

    This war seems to be fashioned between Christians and… scientists.

    Chistian:
    Listen, heed the warning
    Thru the heavens and thru the earth
    He returns to claim his people
    Made alive in the second birth
    Rise up, holy nation, you are victors in Jesus’ name
    Take a stand and raise a standard
    With the word that we proclaim

    Scientist?
    Hold on, homes, get a grip
    I’m droppin’ science on the Revelation tip
    It’s a fairy tale, a bedtime story
    There won’t be no Armegeddon cuz we’re gonna steal the glory
    From your so-called King and the posse He brings
    Won’t be no thing but a chicken wing
    We’re living large, and takin’ charge
    Gonna park you like a car in your momma’s garage

    The apologetics are second to none!

    • I listen to Demon Hunter’s “The Science of Lies” and “Not I” ironically. When I sing along, I’m directing it to Christianists, not weird culture-war villains.

  4. Whitecross. Damn. Stryper was the most popular here. At the Fundy churches, all rock or music with a beat was sinful!
    When I was a student in the 60s and 70s, we had Malcom and Alwyn, folk musicians and Jesus People. They had much kinder lyrics and actually gave a shit.

    • The Jesus People types had better music for sure. Even as a Pagan, I still love listening to “Spirit In the Sky.”

      You’d think these folks would start wondering why Christian music used to get mainstream recognition, but doesn’t much anymore. (The only ones I can think of during my lifetime that non-CCM-fans would recognize as a Christian band are Jars of Clay and Creed. I was shocked in 2011 when I learned that “Hanging By A Moment” was meant to be a Christian song.)

  5. Fear of Hell Tactics: missing the point since AD 350. What separates the sheep and goats? Why was the rich man toast? Not because they hadn’t “prayed the prayer”. It was because of their treatment of the poor and the needy.

    For what it’s worth I don’t believe in hell as eternal conscious torment for those that didn’t say the correct combination of words.

    I don’t believe in hell as eternal conscious torment full stop.

    I don’t think the majority of people who profess to love and follow Jesus do either.

    Fear is NEVER a good motivator when it comes to a spiritual journey. As for gloating to make yourself feel you’re alright Jack… WHAT?

    God is love. There is no fear in love. Mylovelyathiesthusband says he doesn’t disagree with that except he doesn’t believe in god! You can still believe in love. And fear has nothing to do with it.

    “All I know and all I need to know is there is no end to love” (U2, bit sad I know but this seems a good place to confess musical taste that may not seem cool…)

  6. Great read.

    I was never allowed to listen to Christian Rock. According to my parents, it was the music that was evil. I had a hard time getting them to allow me to listen to Steve Green and Sandi Patty.

    Does anyone remember the radio show Talkback With Bob Larson? He used to regularly denounce the evils of any rock music, even Christian Rock. Yet, he used to play long clips of the music so we could all hear what we shouldn’t listen to. I used to sit and listen to the show, just so I could get my rock fix.

    Ah, the good old days.

  7. One of the more…questionable….musicians on the fringes of a scene I follow (apocalyptic folk-Current 93 (David Tibet is actually very Christian in a mystical way), Death in June, Sol Invictus) named Boyd Rice, a self-professed “Satanic Priest”, appeared on Larsen’s show. What struck me about the show is how Larsen used Boyd Rice and his (terribly misanthropic) views to raise funds. I also understand that Larsen and Boyd Rice were actually friendly and had dined in each others’ homes!

    You can hear it on YouTube.

  8. I have to admit, as tasteless as the taunting chorus is, this is a pretty catchy tune. So very 80’s hair metal, too.

    But…the theological fail is strong in this one. The rich man went to hell because he was a rich man who didn’t help others. Lazarus went to heaven because he was poor through no fault of his own. That’s the entire point of the story.

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