"I'm the father of four," said pastor Ken Bertram, looking at the crowd of 150 gathered in the parking lot of the Cornerstone Assembly of God Church in Bowie last night. "And I'm not going to sit around and watch my children take into their bodies and minds something poison and not make some kind of drastic effort to stop this."
With that, Bertram helped fire up a small pile of album covers, pamphlets, books and posters brought by members of his congregation and by those who had heard his plans for a burning, which he described as a "public commitment to Christ." About 50 participated in the burning, and reporters and television crews made up about a quarter of the crowd.
Surprisingly, there were no album covers by Prince, denounced as demonic by visiting minister Jerry Peters in an anti-rock seminar the night before. Instead, it was mostly old albums by the likes of Jethro Tull, Dean Martin, Iron Butterfly, Elton John (who was playing down the road in Landover), Buck Owens, Hank Williams and George Jones, Donny and Marie Osmond, Elvis, Steve Stills, but not Crosby, Nash or Young.
Also heaped onto the fire was Cat Stevens, Engelbert Humperdinck and Tom Jones. Joining them were Barbra Streisand, the Beatles and Paul McCartney.
Also posters, a lone Journey T-shirt, and books by Philip Roth, John Hersey and Tom Wolfe, along with pamphlets from New Age and the Jehovah's Witnesses.
A lone Michael Jackson 45 went in the pile, while some kids stood on the fringes trying to figure out how to retrieve the collector's edition cover of the Rolling Stones' "Some Girls."
Calling the burning "scriptural principal" (based on Deuteronomy's "Burn these idols and do not touch the silver and gold they are made of"), associate pastor Rich Middleton had spent the previous half-hour collecting materials from two dozen people. The albums themselves and a pile of tapes were later smashed and cracked by hand; materials in both would have released noxious fumes if burned.
As the bonfire leaped to life, some members of the congregation sang songs to Suzanne Spolarich's strumming, while others engaged in dialogue.
"You really need to be informed about what they're saying and what it's all about," Middleton said. "Young people could come under Satan's power if they listened enough."
Middleton didn't know what kind of albums had been fed into the fire, and Paul Dafenbaugh, who was helping him, wasn't paying much attention, either. "I am just a Christian," he said. "Basically, we're just going to ignite all of this garbage."
Frank Bogazzyk, 12, and his friend Paul Swick, 13, both members of the church, were helping to break records before throwing them into the dumpster. They weren't paying much attention to the titles of any of the albums, either.
"The records stand for wrong things," Bogazzyk said.
All of them?
"They all stand for wrong things. All records that are not Christian records that are rock are wrong.