THWACK!!! The young woman mutters "Praise the Lord," grits her teeth and smashes a copy of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" against the side of a table in the chapel, of the Zion Christian Life Center in St. Paul, Minn. Black vinyl shrapnel flies through the room as the red wall-to-wall carpeting becomes obscured by jackets of rock albums: The Eagles, The Electric Light Orchestra, Chicago, John Denver, Linda Ronstadt, Blondie, Led Zeppelin, Shaun Cassidy, The Beach Boys, Paul Simon, Donna Summer, The Bee Gees, Helen Reddy and a thousand others.
Pastor LeRoy Peters, and ex-Catholic heating contractor who accepted Jesus as his personal savior 28 years ago and was born-again, offers an invocation:
"Almighty God, we thank you for bringing us together tonight. God, we thank you for helping us to release ourselves from these graven images and, Lord, we thank you for America, wich lets us give witness to You in the way we do."
"Halleluiah," chimes the knot of 100 Christians gathered around two trash cans filled with shattered vinyl. "Praise the Lord." A woman begins playing a piano, and the group claps and sings along, "We are free in Him". . . .
A 9-year-old boy in blue jeans and a down vest picks up the cover of a Kiss album and points to a photo of the band's outrageoulsy made-up leader, Gene Simmons.
"See how he spits fire out of his mouth," the boy says in amazement.
Outside, on this old, crisp Minnesota night, a fire burns for Jesus, waiting to reduce to ashes the album jackets that now lie in repose on the chapel floor.
Jim Peters hadn't always thought of rock 'n roll as the handmaiden of Satan.
Three years ago he was a professional drummer with the Andrea Crouch Singers and a student at North Central Bible College in Minneapolis, writing a term paper titled "How Music Creates Moods" for a course in group worship.
"What I discovered," says Peters, who is now 24, "was that what I was hearing was not what was being said. There were a lot of sublimiinal things going on in rock 'n' roll. And I started thinking: Where do these guys get their inspiration? You think about that and pretty soon it becomes obvious that it's not from the Lord."
And then, about a year ago, Jim Peters and his brother Steve, 27, heard a cassette of a minister preaching about the evils of rock. By this time they both had been ordained by the Jesus People Fellowship in Minneapolis (as had their older brother Dan), and had become associate pastors in the Zion Christian Life Center begun by their father, LeRoy, in 1969. They decided to hold a seminar on rock a year ago, over the Thanksgiving weekend, for the young people in the area. Four hundred kids turned out, and the two brothers estimate that $15,000 worth of albums were destroyed in a public blaze.
The torcher had been passed to a new generation: From Savonarola, who burned the sinful delights of his fellow Florentines; to the pulpits of southern preachers who condemned the gyrating pelvis of Elvis Presley by incinerating his pre-Gospel efforts; to the ubiquitous public blazes that sent the Beatle albums up in smoke after John Lennon proclaimed, "We're more popular than Jesus now."
"The Beatles are dead," says Jim Peters. "But I know personally that Jesus is still alive."
Within a year, the Peters brothers had taken The Word to more than 50 other churches throughout the central swath of America, as far south as Lafayette, La., where 1,700 young Christians turned out and burned about $50,000 worth of rock 'n' roll. In all the fraternal men of the cloth figure that they've accounted for a half million dollars of rock up in smoke, and the sale of 5,000 sets of cassette tapes that have taken their 2 1/2-hour lecture, "What the Devil's Wrong With Rock," as far as Australia.
And caught up in this sudden interest in their rock ministry,Jim Peters found himself "starting to scramble for documentation, to make sure that everything you witness is true. We get up there and quote Elton John saying, 'There's nothing wrong with going to bed with someone of your own sex.' Well, if you're going to witness to that around the country, you'd better be right. I had this fear that Elton was going to call me up and tell me I was wrong."
Steve and Jim Peters are standing in the chapel now, speaking to the faithful over a bullhorn.
"We want to take a stand for Jesus Christ, tonight!
"Knowing that the life styles, lyrics, intentions and album covers of many of the rock stars are perverse, immoral, profane and unscriptural, and that they often condone and/or promote indulgence in the same, we rid our lives tonight!
"How are we going to free ourselves from these questionable and ungodly influences? The Scriptures give us a clear-cut precedent both in the Old and New Testament, which we will follow tonight: Deuteronomy 7:25, 'The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire.' And Acts 19:19, 'Many of them which used curious arts brought their books together and burned them before all men.'
"We want each of you to pick up a handful of covers," says Steve Peters, "and follow us out to the fire and give witness to the Lord."
The crowd responds with a chorus of hallelujahs.
Steve Peters is well over six feet, and has the kind of reddish blond hair and clean-cut mustache that look so good in team photographs and advertising endorsements. His clothes are functional, he speaks with a kind of roller-coaster inflection that echoes a voice undergoing the change of puberty -- a quirk that translates into an oddly effective preacher's tenor.
Although his brother Jim is three years younger, he seems infinitely more sophisticated. His dark hair is neatly blown into shape.
Jim Peters speaks about twice as fast as his brother, and in front of a crowd he seems more certain of himself. He's the one with the facts and figures, while Steve leads the prayers and quotes the Scripture. He has a sense of humor that lightens his message. He shows a slide of the cover of a Ted Nugent album, and refers to the Bible declaring the eyes, "the window of the soul." And then he says: "Look, there's nobody home."
On Friday after Thanksgiving -- the first anniversary of the original rock seminar -- Steve and Jim Peters are standing on risers in North St. Paul's Silver Skate Roller Rink, which six weeks ago they purchased as a new chruch center for $15,000 down.
It's 8 p.m. An icy snow is falling outside, and a few teen-agers are milling about the rink, chiding the 500 or so of their peers who are headed for the seminar. A lowered '59 Chevy roars by, and the kid in the shotgun position sticks his head out the window and bellows, "Rock 'n' roll kicks a--!" This is the Midwest.
The two brothers take turns presenting their case against rock, using slides and overhead projectors. "If you don't know Christ as your personal Savior," says Jim Peters at the outset, "you may miss part of tonight's seminar. We want you to know that rock music is one of the largest satanic forces in the country today.
For three hours and 18 minutes the audience is treated to audio-visual enlightenment, mixing slides of album jackets with quotations from Scripture and allegations of what hath been wrought on God:
"The Rolling Stones have admitted that they recorded some of their songs at voodoo ceremonies;
"The song 'My Sweet Lord' has nothing to do with the Lord Jesus Christ, but really refers to the Lord Krishna;
"Janis Joplin was an admitted bisexual and drug addict; if she hadn't died of drugs, venereal disease would have eaten her up;
"In the middle of a song by Black Oak Arkansas, the members of the band chant, 'Satan Satan Satan, He is God, He is God, He is God;'
"The cover of an Alan Parsons Project album has girls with syphilis sores on their faces cloaked by veils;
"Jimi Hendrix died from drugs. Actually he suffocated in a pool of his own vomit;
"The name Kiss means Kids in Service to Satan;
"On 'Saturday Night Live,'" says Steve, Mick Jagger "kissed his rhythm guitarist on the lips! We're praying that Mick will receive Christ as his personal Savior someday."
A slide declares:
"WARNING TO CHRISTIANS: Listening to rock music may be harmful to your spiritual, emotional and mental health. We recommend gospel and Christian music only.
"Plato said that when the modes of music change," says Jim, "the fundamental laws of the state change with them."
"Young people: with enough listening you'll begin to believe that Jesus never rose from the dead and isn't seated at the right hand of God," says Steve. "You may like rock music. That still doesn't make it right. It only takes a few demons. Does the Devil really exist? The Bible says, 'Be vigilant, because your adversary, the Devil, as a roaring lion walketh about.'
"Hey. We're not condemning these musicians. Jesus died for them, too. Look at Bob Dylan. Be praying for him he's accepted the Lord, but he's come out of a lot of garbage.
"Tonight, we want you to make a public commitment to Jesus Christ. Sure, in the past we've all listened to rock music.
"Jesus, we know You let each one of us come here for a purpose tonight."
A few "Amens" begin to lift from the congregation.
"Stand on your feet," Steve Peters says to the crowd. "Eyes closed. Don't look around." Two people are standing, and in the background a pianist is blocking out gospel chords.
"God is all over this place. He's in every aisle. Rock music is a scheme of the Devil, young people, and tonight we're encouraging you to clean up your act." Two girls raise their arms heavenward. "Remember, every knee shall bend, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!"
The crowd is animated now, punctuating Steve Peters' remarks with cries of "Praise the Lord" and "Amen." After five minutes, nine young people walk off into a prayer room to make their personal committment to Jesus Christ. And Steve Peters says:
"Praise God, that young people are honest before Jesus! Tomorrow you'll have another chance to renouce Satan by burning those rock records. It doesn't make any difference what you paid for that garbage. You shall be blessed. Who are you tring to impress? God or your friends? And young people, if the Lord has spoken to you tonight to get a set of cassette tapes of this seminar, go ahead and do it. All the Proceeds go to this ministry, and the tapes are a great way to witness to Jesus Christ.
"Sometimes," says Steve Peters, "I think I'm a fanatic. But Jesus was a fanatic, too. I love it."
Steve Peters seems comfortable sitting in the house where he has lived all of his 27 years. There are relgious paintings on the walls, and a breakfront is plastered with yellowing photographs of most of the family. He is thumbing through a Bible with a black leather cover, copying Scripture references for a press release about tonight's burning. His mother is sitting in another corner of the room, and walks across the green carpet to fetch her own Bible.
"Never let your Bible get more than five feet away from you if you want to be a good Christian," says Josephine Peters, who offers obervations on the way she raised her four sons.
"I remember the day Danny brought home a Beach Boys record," she says. "I sensed it wasn't Christian. The Beach Boys just had a different message than we were used to in this house. Until we were Christians we were of the world. But then we realized that Satan was all around us. So we eliminated some things from this home, television for one. Sometimes we would rent a TV for high school athletics and Billy Graham crusades.
"Sometimes mothers complain to me about the burnings. They think they're too severe. Some people say it reminds them of burnings in Nazi Germany. I shouldn't say this, but when I was in high school we thought Mr. Hitler had some pretty good ideas. He was particularly good in the sciences. But look at what happens without God. If Hitler had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior, he wouldn't have done anything wrong."
"Don't misunderstand Mom. The only thing we have in common with Hitler is that we both use fire."
And the burnings certainly attracted attention.
"All of a sudden," he says, "we were getting calls from the local newspapers and television stations. We didn't know whether to talk to the media or not. Mom -- she's really the person behind all our good works -- Mom prayed for years that all her boys would become preachers. Anyway, Mom remembered a time before Billy Graham had hit it big, when [William Randolph] Hearst had told his reporters to push Billy Graham. And Mom said talking to the media could help spread The Word. So we started talking. Now we realize that the media is an excellent way to witness to thousands of people you could never meet otherwise. We just did a cover for Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine. We're on the cover with this local rock musician, Willie Murphy, of Willie and the Bees. His songs are so filthy! mWell, we're burning his albums and he's putting the fire out with an extinguisher."
Outside the chapel now the flames of the fire burn bright, illuminating the faces of the 100 pilgrims who are gathered together, circling the blaze. There are 7-year-olds holding jackets from Osmonds LPs, and 30-year-olds about to torch the wrapper of The Rolling Stones. (The records themselves will be discarded in a Dumpster; burning vinyl is too acrid to tolerate.)
"In harmony with God's word," Steve Peters intones through the bull horn, "and the principle set forth in these Scriptures, we burn these albums, books, tapes and various paraphernalia in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. By doing this we are cleaning up our lives and our homes. We have given our hearts to Him, repented of all sin and sought His forgiveness. Now we ask Him to be our Savior and our Lord."
They toss on the jackets. And in moments the fire rages fiercely, forcing the Christians back from the heat.
"Give me a J," Jim Peters shouts through the bullhorn.
"Give me an E.
"Give me an S.
"Give me a U.
"Give me an S.
"What's that spell?"
"What does St. Paul need?"
"What do the Twin Cities need?"
"what does the world need?"
Up in the heavens, the cinders from the bellowing fire die out, interlopers in a dark sky swept with an immeasurable expanse of steadfast stars.