Evangelicalism: The tattooed generation

There's little new about the story that Jamie "Jay" Bakker -- the son of PTL Club cohosts Jim and Tammy Faye -- survived a hellish journey through teenage alcoholism, reclaimed his Christian faith and has become a pastor in Atlanta. Bakker wrote about it in his autobiography, Son of a Preacher Man (2001). Nevertheless, John Leland's 3,000-word profile in The New York Times Magazine is captivating, sympathetic and humorous. Leland, who has written frequently about rock & roll and is the author of Hip: The History, is at his finest when drawing parallels between Bakker's ministry, Revolution, and skate-punk culture:

Revolution is one of several thousand alternative ministries that have emerged in the last decade, meeting in warehouses, bars, skate parks, punk clubs, private homes or other spaces, in a generational rumble to rebrand the faith outside of what we think of as church. To travel among them is to feel returned to the alternative-rock scene of 15 years ago, just before Nirvana and Lollapalooza put it on the map. Instead of criticizing major record labels, these ministries criticize megachurches; instead of flattening the status of the rock star, they flatten the status of the pastor. They cluster in cells rather than in denominations or arenas, and connect through D.I.Y. zines online. They are a counterculture on two fronts: at odds with both their secular peers and conventional churches.

. . . On a sluggish afternoon at an Atlanta strip mall, I asked Bakker about the influence of punk rock in his ministry. We were in a shop called Timeless Tattoo, where Bakker was getting an afternoon's worth of minor touch-ups. Though the shop has no religious affiliation, a couple of the staff artists play in Christian punk bands; another had played with Bakker in the Creeps, their Social Distortion cover band. Bakker took several passes at the punk question, never mentioning music. "Those are the people that reached out to me when the Christian world rejected me and my family," he said of the punks and skaters. "That's something about punk-rock ethics. Your friends have your back. We share our lives together, and there's a loyalty there."

Leland also touches on the surprises of evangelicals dipping their toes into tattoo culture:

His biography, which forms the narrative center of his ministry, is an object lesson in what Ryan Dobson, the heavily tattooed son of James Dobson, founder of the conservative group Focus on the Family, calls "the Christian tendency to shoot our wounded."

. . . His tattoo habit dates from this period and has become a connective strand in his family life. He got his first, "Revolution," when he was 18; his father did not approve, he said, because "it reminded him of prison." His mother became interested through her son, though. Last fall, when I met Tammy Faye, she had just administered her first tattoo, on one of Jay's friends. "I thought I was going to throw up," she said, excitedly. "I was so scared that I was going to hurt him. I was shaking so bad the cross was crooked, and I straightened it out when I calmed down a little bit. And I signed it, 'TF.'"

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