I t’s closing in on midnight on a drizzly Monday, and Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Faye, is having a spiritual moment of sorts on a pleather banquette in the back recess of the Williamsburg bar Union Pool. On the concert stage in front of him, his best friend, the Reverend Vince Anderson, fronts a band called the Love Choir. The woman playing sax wears dark sunglasses under the stage lights, the trombonist looks like a trippy Jesus, and the music has a funky soul sound that Jay refers to as “dirty gospel.” Already, Anderson has shed his black suit jacket, and sweat drips from his bangs onto the keyboard that’s programmed to sound like a church organ. He begins the set with a Tom Waits–style incantation, growled out over the packed house:
I am an atheist.
I am a Jew.
I am a Muslim.
I am a Christian.
I am whatever you have a problem with … tonight.
Tonight’s message—that religion is divisive, a bane rather than a balm—is one that Bakker, the fallen scion of American’s most infamous Christian family, knows his way around. But Bakker isn’t thinking about himself right now. He’s thinking about the country seething over the “ground-zero mosque,” about the umpteenth round of Middle East peace talks, about the soldiers who are finally returning from a war in Iraq that’s been considered an American crusade. He’s thinking about just how much RELIGION DESTROYS, as a tattoo close to his armpit reads, and how seriously, seriously fucked up that is. He’s thinking, too, about Revolution, the church–cum–religious movement he helms, part of which is unfolding right now, whether or not the Williamsburg waifs who’ve packed themselves into the dark concert hall realize it.
The Love Choir is the unofficial musical component of Revolution. For those seeking a more explicitly religious experience, sermons are held Sunday afternoons in Pete’s Candy Store, another bar a few blocks away. Most people out tonight have come for the music and the cheap drinks; they haven’t come to find Jesus. But then again, Bakker isn’t out to save any souls or be a beacon of Christian light in the moral morass of New York City. He’s trying to do something of the opposite: to use New York City to save Christianity from itself and its rigid ideas of identity, faith, and worship.
In a manner that borders on proselytizing, Bakker, an Evangelical Christian, has mounted a multifaceted attack on the Christian Establishment. In addition to his Brooklyn ministry, he travels regularly to churches and festivals, appears on television news, and has a large online following (his Twitter feed has over 4,000 followers). Both because of his lineage and his strong language, he has become an unofficial spokesman for a growing group of young, disaffected Evangelicals attempting to splinter from the mainstream church—and call it to task in the process. “Christianity has been on the wrong side of a lot of issues,” Bakker says—and this, he believes, has gone on too long to allow for niceties. “We like to just kind of rip the friggin’ Band-Aid off. We’re about as subtle as a bull in a china shop.”
As if to prove the point, Anderson is now pacing the proscenium, his hands raised over his head in the manner of an old-school revival preacher, howling lyrics about turning water into wine. “I wouldn’t be drinking so much if I didn’t go to church so often,” one guy says, sidling up to the bar as Anderson slides down a banister into the crowd and screams, “Tonight, this is a temple! Hallelujah!”