The latest release from the Christian heavy-metal band Stryper has again placed the group in the eye of controversy. Responding to the band’s efforts to extend their platform to the secular world through vague lyrics and a more aggressive posture, the Benson Company announced it will no longer distribute Stryper’s albums.

Benson’s prepared statement reads in part: “The band has taken a different approach to lyrical content, one that does not contain overtly Christian lyrics. This indicates a new direction that does not conform to the mission of The Benson Company.”

It was not so long ago that the group seemed intent on presenting themselves as sort of “The Gideons of Heavy Metal.” Their logo included a reference to Isaiah 53:5, “By his stripes we are healed,” from which the band’s name was derived, and they made a habit of throwing Scripture portions into their concert audiences.

At the time, even though they were on a secular label (Enigma), few questioned their evangelistic zeal. Album releases with titles such as In God We Trust and To Hell with the Devil clearly positioned the band in the minds of both secular and Christian audiences. It was their intent, they claimed, to use their music to gain a platform for witness in the secular world. Their music sold in regular record stores, their videos had some measure of air-play success on MTV, and they garnered a fair amount of coverage in secular music magazines, the interviews clearly delineating their claim of Christian faith. Many in the church criticized their dress, their hair, their style of music, their method of evangelism; but there was little question of their agenda.

Is That Rum In Your Cola?

Earlier this year, however, secular music magazines began publishing stories suggesting that the foursome had forsaken their religious roots. Rolling Stone, in particular, claimed that the band was growing weary of Christian fans checking their drinks for alcohol, and that they had begun to “openly smoke and drink.” While admitting a weariness of judgmental Christians, the band claimed that their views had not changed, that they did not endorse drunkenness, that they did not smoke, and that they were, in fact, misquoted by Rolling Stone.

What has been accurately reported is Stryper’s decision to take a “more aggressive” musical approach, and a less-direct lyrical approach on their latest recording, Against the Law, released this summer. Gone are the overt Christian messages. In their place are positive, moral statements and indirect references to Christian ideas. The band has always insisted they were a “mainstream band,” not a gospel music group, and therefore claim this departure is consistent with their mission.

Contemporary Christian Music magazine quotes the band as saying, “You won’t pick up this record and hear anything that says ‘God’ or ‘Christ.’ That was intentionally done. We are tired of [secular music] people coming back with excuses, saying, ‘Sorry, we can’t play this.’ MTV’s got to play this and the radio’s got to play it or it doesn’t serve the [band’s] purpose. If the record is big we have a bigger platform to stand on and say, ‘Look, what’s wrong with believing Christ?’ But if you don’t get the platform, you can’t make the statement.”

Stryper’s experience raises the question—at least in the band’s mind—of whether Christian musicians can attempt to influence the world through secular music without being abandoned by the Christian community.

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