George Perdikis is probably an unfamiliar name to those who have not experienced conservative Christian culture. However, for those who grew up in households where musical genres such as rock and pop were questionable unless they had been sanctified with lyrics praising God and quoting Scripture, mention of Perdikis might spark some memories. Perdikis, along with Peter Furler, was a founder of the popular Christian rock band, Newsboys. Known for songs like “Shine” and “Jesus Freak” and recently featured in the atheist-bashing Christian movie God’s Not Dead, Newsboys are something of a staple of Christian music. Their songs are frequently played on Christian radio stations, and they are in the top nomination slot for the 2015 K-LOVE Fan Awards.
So many Christian fans were shocked a couple weeks ago when Perdikis came out as an atheist on the blog Friendly Atheist. Despite having quit the band way back in 1990 and the fact that Newsboys currently contains none of its original members, some fans felt affronted by Perdikis’s confession. The offense may not come so much from Perdikis’s atheism as it may be due to his harsh words for Christian entertainment. In his guest post on Friendly Atheist, he criticizes the film God’s Not Dead as demonstrating “the pervasive attitude of Christians. They demonize everyone…making themselves look like fluffy white angels with perfect, synchronized lives.” He also takes a stab at the Christian music industry, writing, “The truth is—from someone who knows what went on then and what goes on now—the Newsboys aren’t as holy as they profess. Instead of wearing a mask of ‘righteousness,’ they should acknowledge that they are struggling as much as everyone else.” Perdikis’s turn to atheism has made some Christians uncomfortable, but his hard-hitting assessment of the Christian music businesses exposes the hypocrisy of an industry that claims to be based on principles, not profit.
Perdikis is hardly the first person to call out the Christian music industry on its failure to live up to the morals that it claims to promote through its songs. In fact, some of the most damning critiques of the business have come from Christian musicians themselves. In an interview with Sojourners, Trey Pearson, frontman for the Christian band Everyday Sunday, states that in terms of values and lifestyles, the Christian music industry is hardly different from the mainstream music industry: “I thought that what [Christian] musicians were doing was somehow sacred, distinct from the ‘secular’ music that other artists were producing…The Christian music industry has the same struggles with drugs, sex and power as the secular music business.” Christian rapper Lacrae criticizes the consumerism of the Christian music businesses. In an interview with The Atlantic, he condemns “the exploitation of believers just to turn a profit,” stating unequivocally, “I have a problem with that.” While the Christian music industry claims to promote faith and values over money, these comments reveal that it is hardly different from the mainstream pop industry in its desire for increased revenue.
Frankly, these criticisms of Christian music should not be surprising. The Christian music industry is, after all, first and foremost an industry. That is, its bottom line is not to convert the masses or save lost souls but to turn a profit. It is a business that brings in more than half a billion dollars annually in music sales alone from over 80 million listeners, and its size well eclipses that of secular markets in jazz, classical, and Latin music. Many “Christian” labels are also divisions of secular record labels, which sign major pop stars. For instance, Sparrow Records, to which Newsboys belongs, is a division of Capitol Christian Music Group, which is owned by Universal Music Group (UMG), the largest music corporation in the world. UMG has signed numerous secular bands and singers, many of whom sing pop and hip-hop songs referencing drugs, sex and materialism, from which the Christian music industry claims to separate itself.
Since there’s money to be made, the claim that only one in 10 so-called “Christian” bands are actually Christian and that many people in the industry are actually closeted atheists or agnostics, isn’t surprising. After cultivating an image as a devoutly religious individual and rising to fame, someone in the industry could have difficulty admitting her or his doubts and perhaps even coming out as an atheist. In his post, Perdikis discusses being plagued by the pressure to conform, and he was likely not alone in his struggles. By openly discussing these inconsistencies, Perdikis not only tells a brave and deeply personal story about leaving Christianity for atheism but also exposes the hypocrisy of the Christian music industry and the ways in which it exploits religious faith and values for profits.