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JewishJournal.com

July 23, 2008

Christian guitarist loses his faith, then his band

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/christian_band_removes_agnostic_guitarist_20080723/

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Everyone who either grew up as an evangelical Christian or dated one has heard or spoken this line: “It’s not you. I just want to spend more time with God.”

I always thought this line was a crock, not because wanting to spend more time with God wasn’t admirable, but because it was typically used as a cop-out, a way to ease the discomfort of ruining someone’s junior year of high school.

(See, I have this friend, and he had this girlfriend ...)

I think we can agree that few relationships, especially those where both members were Christians, end because one person’s quest for godliness is inhibited by the other’s indifference. But this story from the Christian Post presents a more difficult issue: What to do when the guy in your Christian band stops believing in Jesus?

Christian metalcore band Haste the Day has asked guitarist Jason Barnes to step down after months of spiritual searching by their close friend concluded with his loss of faith in God.

“This is going to come as a shock to many of you,” the group wrote to fans in their official MySpace page Friday. “After much prayer and thought given to the matter, we asked Jason Barnes to step down from his involvement with Haste the Day.”

In their statement, the seven-year-old band from Indianapolis explained that Barnes had been “searching and searching for real meaning in his existence.”

“After several months of reading literature and talking with friends, Jason had determined that he felt there was no God and certainly no Jesus,” the group revealed.

“We as a band do not have problem with those that do not believe in Jesus, nor do we cast judgement (sic) on those that do not believe in Jesus,” the band continued. “We just want to love on people like Jesus would and hopefully share a little bit about what he’s done and doing in our lives.”

After you get over the lameness of the band’s name, which sounds like a rip-off of Saves the Day, you realize this situation doesn’t have a simple solution. From an evangelical perspective, the band members had to weigh whether Barnes was more likely to return to God if he remained in the band or was removed from it. (In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul tells the church of Corinth to expel an immoral brother for his own good, though the reason is for sinful behavior, not lack of belief.) Then, from a music-making perspective, the band needed to decide whether Haste the Day could stand for the same things with a non-Christian in the band.

Churches deal with the same question when they assemble their worship band, an often-rotating group of musicians selected by a worship leader. I have heard complaints before about non-Christians performing during a Sunday service, and I’ve known worship leaders who have stepped down without solicitation because they didn’t feel their lives were congruent with their words of praise.

I can’t think of any parallels from the world of Christian punk culture that I matriculated through, but I do remember when Pedro the Lion lost his way.

David Bazan, the frontman and every-position musician behind Pedro, had written poetic albums about God’s role in curing the human condition, each album written like a book, with plot and theme and characters and beautiful language. But then I bought “Control,” and I noticed Bazan’s message was changing. The album, which I believe was about the struggle to fight the ways of the flesh, particularly materialism and infidelity, was among the most depressing I owned. The next album, “Achilles Heel,” was much more upbeat, but had some shockers like this line from “Foregone Conclusions”:

You were too busy steering the conversation toward the lord
To hear the voice of the spirit begging you to shut the f—k up

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Pedro the Lion’s EP “Whole”

“‘Foregone Conclusions’ has to be the sweetest piece of music and melody Bazan has ever produced even though the lyrics are as bitter and cynical as ever,” this art and religion blogger wrote. “Ignore the content of the lyrics and you almost have a feel-good summer hit. I guess that’s one of the things that makes the man compelling. Paradox is his bread and butter – cussing with Christianity; sweet melodies with bitter words.”

But by last summer, it became clear that Bazan’s bitter words had found a soft spot. He’d lost his faith. “I just find myself on the other side of this line that I wasn’t on before,” Bazan told the Daily Iowan.

The thing is: His music still shakes my soul. It is beautiful and bitter, obsessed with pain and sadness and joy and doubt and all the other things that make life so wonderful. And his early albums still share the redemptive message found on “Whole.”

So—back to Haste the Day—what to do when a band member loses their religion?

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