MOUNT GILEAD, Ohio -- This is the evangelicals' answer to Bruce Springsteen: an anguished rocker prowling the stage in a black shirt and tight faded jeans, hair matted with sweat, licking his lips and turning his bright, beckoning eyes to the teenage mob in the front row:
"Get out to the polls and affect this country," says Jason Roy, lead singer of the band Building 429.
Organizers for Redeem the Vote, the evangelical answer to MTV's Rock the Vote campaign, estimate they've registered more than 50,000 people to vote.
(Will Shilling For The Washington Post)
_____Redeem the Vote_____
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"Can you do that?"
"Yes!" they roar back. The kids are jumping. The room is hazy with fake smoke. A boy in a ski cap sneaks a hand around his girl's waist. It's chilly outside but it's really hot in here.
The scene could be part of a Vote for Change concert tour, but as with everything else in the vast parallel world of Christian pop culture, it is hard not to notice what's different from the secular version.
The show takes place not in a concert hall in the city, but in the sanctuary of Gilead Friends Church on a rural road an hour north of Columbus. Aside from Ski Cap Guy, most of the couples showing any public display of affection are married. The brown liquid in all those bottles is iced tea or soda pop. And when a screaming girl leans over to give the guy beside her a kiss, he's likely to be her dad.
Roy flirts with the crowd, then steps back and flashes his Donny Osmond smile. And when he sings "I don't mean to be so cold. My words have cut you to the bone. But my heart still longs for you alone," he's not talking about a depressed ex-girlfriend with stalker-ish tendencies but about . . .
"His Majesty. King of Kings, my rock, my salvation, Jeee-heee-sus." And that's when the girls really melt.
Driven by the statistic that 25 million evangelicals between the ages 18 and 35 sat out the last presidential election, many evangelical groups have launched their first voter drives this year. As with other such drives, the best catch is young, first-time voters.
One effort, Redeem the Vote, brings popular Christian rock bands to swing states. The Southern Baptist Convention unleashed an "I Vote Values" 18-wheeler that once belonged to the Charlie Daniels Band. T.D. Jakes's Potter's House church held a Rock the Vote-style youth forum its organizer billed as "not churchy." New heartthrob James Caviezel, who starred as Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ," filmed an ad that was e-mailed to millions of evangelical Christians telling them to "let your voices be heard."
"It's the antithesis of Rock the Vote," says Randy Brinson, who founded Redeem the Vote. "We're trying to do something just as hip and entertaining and just as well done in terms of quality. But without being too risque, without the sexual innuendo."
It's a fledgling effort and the rocker element still has a slightly forced feel, as when Democrats on the campaign trail appear with soldiers in uniform. Fundamentally, head-banging doesn't come naturally.
Lindsay Ellyson, who came to the concert at Gilead Friends with two friends, is the 16-year-old daughter of the church pastor. This church is her world, she goes to school here, hangs out at a prayer group. She doesn't watch TV, much less MTV, and doesn't much miss it. Her life seems fun and fulfilling with worship, music and prayer.
"I don't want to rebel," says Ellyson. What counts as domestic conflict in this circle is when her friend Rachel Retterer's older sister started listening to a secular radio station. Her parents compromised: She can listen, but only in the car.