Stryper Highlights Christian Bands’ Struggle to Crossover Into Mainstream Music Without Losing Their Religion

“The minute some people hear the word ‘Christian’ they run away from it as fast as they can,” Michael Sweet of the rock band Stryper said. (Associated Press)

Like most born-again Christians who find themselves strumming an electric guitar, Michael Sweet needed to decide if his music would be about the girls or the gospel.

Just four years after his family accepted Jesus — after watching televangelist Jimmy Swaggart — he found himself playing the Whiskey A Go Go, Los Angeles’ legendary rock ‘n’ roll club, at the age of 16. He lived what for some is a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy, and his faith waned.

But after four years, it all seemed a dead end.

“I’d done the whole sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll thing,” Mr. Sweet said. “I was a young guy doing all these things, having all these dreams, and then at the age of 20, I saw what a difference God had made in some people and I changed.

“From then, the message and the lyrics are of God,” he said.

Mr. Sweet, 56, is the front man and lead songwriter for Stryper, one of the most popular Christian rock groups of all time and one of the few to also enjoy crossover success in the broader pop market. In the 1980s, Stryper’s major label record “To Hell with the Devil,” spent months on the Billboard charts and sold over 2 million copies. The group had three other gold records too.

Like Hollywood, the music scene is generally not a place where the powers that be recruit overtly religious acts.

But like films, a Christian music industry sprang up to serve those who are looking for the same rock, metal and rap styles, without the often troubling or despairing messages common in mainstream music.

The danger is that acts get relegated to that niche. But the idea of containment, a sense of strong obstacles to break out, still permeates the scene, experts said.

“Stryper was significant because you saw them on MTV,” said Christopher Estley, a pop critic in Seattle who has worn many hats in the music industry. “It might seem a little silly now, but it wasn’t then, when Christian music was all on labels you’ve never heard of and was really bad.”

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SOURCE: The Washington Times, James Varney