In 1970, Tom Coomes was a typical, long-haired California kid, who played guitar in a rock-and-roll bar band. But when he and his bandmates converted to Christ and changed the name of their group to Love Song, they brought their folk/rock music along to church. A year later, their songs helped launch Maranatha! Music, which, through 20 years and 300 releases, has provided a new hymnody of praise and worship choruses for churches of all styles.

Maranatha! Music’s contributions were recognized recently when the National Religious Broadcasters presented the company with its President’s Award, only the third to be presented (the two previous awards went to Billy Graham and Charles Colson). Its beginnings, however, were far more obscure.

“One afternoon, those of us in the band went to see Pastor Chuck Smith,” Coomes recalls. (Smith was pastor of the Costa Mesa-based Calvary Chapel, a focal point for the development of the Jesus movement.) They told him, “We’ve been coming to church for about a month now, and we’ve written some songs and were wondering if we could sing them in church.” As Coomes remembers it, “Chuck said, ‘Would you mind if I heard a couple of them first?’ So we came in with a couple of acoustic guitars and sang, ‘Think About What Jesus Said,’ and he just began to weep. He said, ‘I’ve been praying for something like this for a year.’ ”

The impact that bands like Love Song had on the people at Calvary Chapel was profound. Their songs were unmistakably Christian and—at least for that time—startlingly contemporary. Unchurched young people hearing the bands during one of the weekly Saturday Night Concerts heard the gospel in a new and exciting way. At one concert, 600 came forward to give their lives to Christ. Christian kids were affected, too. Coomes says, “People would see Love Song and say, ‘You know, I can write songs, too. I can get in a band.’ ”

In 1971 Smith took $2,500 out of his own pocket to enable Love Song, Children of the Day, Debby Kerner, and other Calvary Chapel musicians to record an album entitled The Everlastin’ Jesus Music Concert. The album, which was sold from trunks of cars on the West Coast and by mail order to the rest of the country, was the beginning of Maranatha! Music.

Mirroring the growth of the Jesus movement, Maranatha! grew and profited, releasing 31 successful albums by 1977. “Music had become the lingua franca of the Jesus movement,” said Chuck Fromm, a nephew of Smith’s and Maranatha!’s current CEO.

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Maranatha!’s first all-praise recording was its popular The Praise Album, released in 1973 and produced by Coomes, who now serves as the company’s president. “We were trying to document the songs we had heard and had been using at church during worship,” said Coomes, “but we were trying to record them in such a way that you could listen to them over and over again.”

Fromm describes the music that came out of the worship services at Calvary Chapel as being akin to music that has sprung from earlier periods of revival in the church. “Christian music is the response of people in faith to God’s revealed truth, and for music to be relevant it has to be highly contextualized.” He cites the early Love Song hit “Little Country Church” and says, “That song, with its references to long hair and coats and ties is meaningless today. If the next generation picks up a song like that and sings it as a hymn, they’re sick!”

“For music to be relevent, it has to be highly cotextualized.”

On the other hand, millions of people have latched on to Maranatha! praise songs such as “Seek Ye First,” “Glorify Thy Name,” “Father, I Adore You,” and “Open My Eyes, Lord.” One market survey showed that Maranatha! owns the copyrights to 30 of the 100 songs most used in worship today. “That’s our greatest contribution to the church,” Fromm says.

When the Jesus children of the seventies started having children of their own, they began to focus on making music they could give to their children. Maranatha!’s first kids praise album in 1980 “went right through the roof,” says Alex MacDougall, a former drummer with the group Daniel Amos, who now serves as vice-president of Maranatha!’s Kids Praise! Company. Today, children’s products, including albums featuring Psalty, the singing songbook cartoon character, account for 40 percent of Maranathal’s worldwide sales. Recently the company added a label of contemporary dance-style music for youth aged 9 to 16.

While some Christian radio stations may refer to Love Song’s tunes as “golden oldies,” the “spiritual mission” of Maranatha! Music “is more vital now than it ever has been,” says Coomes. “We’re staying true to our original vision and continuing to adapt to the times.”

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By Steve Rabey.

Morality Message

Conservative activists had some fears at the naming of Louis Sullivan as secretary of Health and Human Services, but lately they have been pleased by his preaching about the importance of personal morality and a “culture of character.” In a series of recent speeches, Sullivan has asserted that government alone cannot solve the health and social problems facing many in the nation’s underclass. Values, individual responsibility, strong moral behavior, and solid families are also factors, he says.

“Yes, the government has a role in solving the problems of violence and drugs and teenage pregnancy and AIDS. But it is far more important what we are doing to help ourselves, what we are doing to help each other,” he told an audience last month at Hampton University.

At the National Health Forum in Washington, he elaborated: “Our children will not thrive until we reverse the cultural trends that are undermining the family in America.” Included in strong families, he said, is a sense of “spiritual wellness.”

Notice Reduces Teen Pregnancy

The Congressional Pro-Life Caucus has introduced a bill that would require nationwide that a parent be notified before a minor’s abortion. Called the “Family Unity and Parental Notification Act,” the bill would require certain federally funded organizations to notify one parent of a minor girl 48 hours prior to an abortion, unless the abortion is necessary to save her life.

At a press briefing to unveil the bill, prolife members of Congress referred to a recent study by Wheaton College (Ill.) professor James Rogers that found both abortion and teen pregnancy rates “declined dramatically” for 15- to 17-year-olds in Minnesota after a parental notification law went into effect. Rogers’s study, published in last month’s American Journal of Public Health, further found that the abortion rate started rising after Minnesota’s law was struck down in court. “These data suggest that parental notification facilitated pregnancy avoidance in 15- to 17-year-old Minnesota women,” Rogers said.

Court Rules Sex Bias

The U.S. Supreme Court struck a “one-sided” balance last month in ruling against an employment policy that backers claimed provided fetal protection, according to Americans United for Life (AUL), a prolife legal group. “Anti-discrimination policies, as well as economic and employment policies, should be re-evaluated to better balance the worthy goal of employment equality with the at least equally worthy interest in protecting the health of unborn children,” said AUL public affairs associate Wendy Stone.

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The justices ruled that a Johnson Controls, Inc., policy barring fertile and pregnant women from jobs that exposed them to toxins constituted illegal sex discrimination. Although the case did not directly touch on the issue of abortion, Stone said her group was “disappointed that the majority of the Court would treat the protection of unborn children as outside the legitimate concern of businesses.”

And In This Corner …

Yet another round in the perpetual battle over federally funded art: Conservative Christian groups are protesting the commercial release of Poison, a film they say includes “brutal and erotic” homosexual scenes. Poison received a $25,000 editing grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

“Americans would be perplexed and outraged that their tax dollars are being spent for such trash,” said Jim Smith of the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission. NEA Chairman John Frohnmayer defended the film. “We are not here to be censors,” he said.

Many groups vowed to take action after watching the movie at a special Washington screening earlier this month. The Christian Coalition renewed its call for Frohnmayer’s resignation and pledged to launch a national petition drive to do away with the NEA.

Meanwhile, a group of artists has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 1990 law requiring the NEA to consider “general standards of decency” in its grant-making process. The artists charge the language is too vague and opens the way for political discrimination.

Mourners Note Atwater Faith

Lee Atwater’s confession of faith in Jesus Christ was mentioned prominently in funeral services held earlier this month for the 40-year-old Republican party strategist, who died March 29. Atwater, previously known for his brutal campaign politics, was diagnosed last year with an inoperable brain tumor. He announced his conversion and began seeking the forgiveness of his political enemies. “You can acquire all you want and still feel empty,” Atwater wrote in a Life magazine article earlier this year. “It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth.”

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Speaking at Atwater’s funeral, former Nixon aide Harry Dent related the change in Atwater’s life. “I was privileged to be a witness to that miracle, for which I will be forever grateful,” said Dent, who now heads a Christian ministry to lay leaders. South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campbell said that “over the last year during this most important campaign that he ever ran, Lee may have grown the most.” Campbell added, “He was at peace with himself, at peace with his fellow man, and at peace with his God.”

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