No Punk In Public: How Christian Bookstores and Independent Record Labels Saved My Life.

No Punk In Public: How Christian Bookstores and Independent Record Labels Saved My Life.

I spent a lot of time standing in the corners of concert venues as a kid.

I remember standing in line in front of the NorVa in the poring rain, the sweltering heat, and the freezing cold all throughout middle and high school. Local bands made up of friends and classmates, national acts, big venues or house shows; if there was music, I was probably somewhere close.

But before I was too teenage to care what my parents wanted me to listen too, there were only two places where I was allowed to by music; The Family Christian store in Virginia Beach and Lifeway Christian Store in Chesapeake (the latter I ended up working in for a few years after leaving college); two chain bookstores with, as the name implies, products marketed at Christian families and churches. Remember that one kid in your math class who couldn’t watch Pokemon and always wore XL punny “Lord’s Gym” tee shirts and a WWJD bracelet? Their parents probably shopped at your town’s version of these stores.

The christian music scene in the early 90s to early 2000s was an… interesting time to be a kid developing your musical tastes. The broader evangelical culture seemed to be on the attack; anything that felt too “worldly” was out. This put kids who grew up in christian households on the margins; after all, we’re supposed to be “in the world, but not of it”, right? That means no hip hop, no hard rock, no punk or emo, nothing “demonic” or “Satanic”. In the view of the church culture of the time, anything that clashed with the politics and Theology (but mostly politics) of the religious right was dangerous, and it was coming for the soul of your kids. It seems like a direct predecessor to the binary group-think that we fall so easily into these days, but with much more immediate consequences. Failure to conform meant a one way ticket to hell, with no grace to pull you back.

I was fortunate that my parent’s personal ideas about religion and child-rearing were different than those of my contemporaries’. While they, like all good parents, monitored and regulated what I could watch and listen too, I was allowed significantly more freedom of choice than some of my peers in the same community. But finding music I enjoyed outside of the soul, yacht rock, and funk my parents played was difficult. Enter Family Christian Stores.