The building that's drawn them all to this particular patch of urban real estate is oppressively nondescript: a faded, red brick structure surrounded by a small, asphalt parking lot and a 10-foot chain-link fence. The building houses Jay Bakker's Atlanta-based ministry, Revolution.
Revolution is part of SafeHouse, an outreach ministry that takes a hands-on approach to a wide range of work with Atlanta's inner-city population. Revolution though, has a particularly pointed mission: to bring the Christian message to an audience that's been ignored, misunderstood and in some cases outright shunned by more traditional churches.
"We felt there was a huge void with the type of kids that weren't being reached," Bakker explains. "And the void was the punk-rock kids, goth kids, hippie kids, street kids, skaters, whatever. We realized these kids were not being welcomed by the Church at all and didn't care to be. We just decided to create an atmosphere for these kids to come and hang out."
Inside the dark basement of the building, a five-piece band called Point of Recognition plays aggressive, raging hardcore rock to a crowd made up mostly of the same kind of teenage guys loitering outside. Facial piercings, tattoos, dyed hair, band T-shirts, baggy jeans and wallet chains are de rigueur. The basement itself is a small, carpeted room with white walls, a low ceiling, and a stage small enough to give the band's lead singer an excuse to spend the whole set stomping around through the crowd.
Punk and hardcore music was born and, according to purists, still lives in tiny rooms like this, and in many ways, this show isn't any different from what's going on in other makeshift, all-ages venues tonight in cities across the country. Then, before launching into the final song of their set, the lead singer catches his breath and addresses the crowd:
"We just want to thank you guys for coming out tonight. We don't want to preach to you, but well, we're a Christian band, we're all Christians, and whether you guys are Christians or not, we respect your beliefs and want to thank you for respecting ours and listening to us."
The small crowd yells back their approval and the band launches into a vitriolic, throat-shredding, anti-abortion song to close the show.
"I actually ask the bands not to preach," the 25-year-old Bakker says over lunch at Mary Mac's Tea Room a few days later. "Friday night's not our night to preach."
Revolution's shows feature a pretty even mix of Christian and non-Christian artists with a heavy concentration on punk and hardcore bands. Bakker's open to having just about anyone perform though. "If Eminem wanted to play Revolution, we'd say, 'Sure,'" he says. "I mean, we have atheist bands play here. It's important for us to say, 'We're open to everybody.'"
This welcome mat also extends to fans. "I don't care if you're a Satanist, an atheist, a homosexual, whatever, we just love people as they are and welcome them."
Not everyone is taking them up on the invitation. At 27, Jeff Heinrich is older than most of Revolution's regulars, but with sleeves of tattoos up both arms and a fierce interest in punk and hardcore music, he looks a lot like one. Heinrich's never been there though. Some of his friends go both to shows and to Revolution's weekly Bible studies, but Heinrich, who's the founder of an independent record label called Jawk Records, has never made it any farther than the asphalt parking lot out front. "I go to meet kids after Bible study or to flyer for shows, but I don't go in."
Though Heinrich was a Christian until he was 17, he's now an atheist. He's devoted much of the last 10 years of his life to the punk and hardcore community, and feels there are some hefty strings attached to the hip, user-friendly face Bakker's putting on Christianity.
"They want to get you in there, befriend you and talk to you about Christ," he says. "I think Jay believes in all that and it's sincere, but it's just a marketing tool. We've come to the point where religion has pissed off and pushed away so many people, they have to do something to get people interested again. They don't want to bombard you with that Christian message but they're there for a reason."
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Welcome to my hood y'all!