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Trying to Get Christian Music Fans to Tune To the Left

Burns Strider is working with a major Christian music promoter to connect fans with Democratic candidates.
Burns Strider is working with a major Christian music promoter to connect fans with Democratic candidates. (By Peter Sachs -- Religion News Service)
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"My grandmother was born the year women got the right to vote, and I was raised by a lot of strong-willed women. I just got passionate about her," says Hendrix, who gets a strangely dreamy sound in his voice when he talks about meeting Madeleine Albright at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Hendrix has demanded that his musician clients let him stage rallies or set up informational tables for Democrats, at or near their shows, whether they like it or not. About half his artists are fine with that, he says, while the others agree somewhat reluctantly.

But how does this cultural crusade go down with fans? If Hendrix's experience is a barometer, it may be a mixed bag. He says he staged hundreds of Clinton events at concerts before she dropped out, including Young Harmony at Ole Country Church in McDonough, Ga., and the gospel group Heirline at Victory Baptist Church in Dallas. There were repercussions. Someone tried to run over a volunteer (yes, with a car) in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Coffee was thrown in Hendrix's face in Raleigh, N.C. A few radio stations he worked with sent back his CDs, cracked.

"He could have possibly lost his business," says Angie Hoskins, a "lifelong Democrat" who has won multiple awards with her gospel band, the Hoskins Family.

The scene for a Democratic performer is "tough. It. Is. Tough," she says. "We have to be really careful how much we say, because in the industry we work in, it can pretty much kick you out if you're not careful."

Derek Webb, an award-winning contemporary Christian musician who considers himself politically independent, says many churches stopped inviting him to play after he came out in 2005 with "A King and a Kingdom," which included these lyrics:

There are two great lies that I've heard

"The day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die"

And that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class Republican

What chances does this campaign have? Alan Mason, a programming consultant for contemporary Christian radio stations, says he tells clients to pay attention to the Democratic outreach because the next generation of listeners may have somewhat different views. "There is a real change going on," he says. "It's important we understand."

And Hendrix said he found 100 people eager to talk Democratic values with him in Louisville, at the National Quartet Convention, a Christian singing event.

That may be an anomaly, suggest other industry insiders. Listeners are "unmistakably" conservative, particularly on issues of when life begins and of marriage, says Joe Davis, president of the radio division for Salem Communications, the country's largest Christian radio broadcaster, with shows going to 2,000 affiliates.

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