Why are some Christians against rock music

It's about God and guitars, about redemption and ecstasy: In a slum in Rio, an evangelical pastor preaches the gospel with the help of Metallica and Motörhead. In Latin America the free churches are on the rise - not all are as liberal as the Metal Christians.

A brutal guitar riff makes the walls tremble. Loud rock music echoes through the room on the first floor of a neglected building in the Favela Maré in the poor north of Rio de Janeiro. The notes are heavy metal, the lyrics are deeply religious. Rogério Santos takes out a Bible and begins to pray. While all hell breaks loose musically around him, the robe wearer directs his words towards heaven.

Church is reminiscent of a cellar club

"There is a great need for spirituality in Maré," says the 47-year-old. In the evangelical church Metanoia (Greek for repentance) he finds the two most important things in his life: "Music and religion".

At first glance, the church is more reminiscent of a basement club: graffiti and historical record covers by the Ramones, Motörhead and Deep Purple adorn the walls, and in one corner there are powerful loudspeakers, drums and microphones. But there are crosses hanging from the ceiling. Someone sprayed "Jesus is the Lord of the Underground" in white paint on the wall. "Jesus won," says a coffin leaning against the wall.

"God created art and music. The devil does not create anything," says the pastor of the church, Enok Galvão de Lima. The fan of Metallica and Rage Against The Machine started the Church almost 30 years ago. "Rock is just a style. You can take control of this culture."

In Rio, evangelical Christians make up 19 percent

The hard rock church of Rio shows the creativity the evangelical churches show to attract new followers. "I especially liked the cultural offerings," says the teacher Tainá Domingues, who has been attending church services for 13 years. "I feel comfortable here."

The Catholic Church in its stronghold of Latin America has recently come under considerable pressure and is losing more and more supporters to the evangelical movements. While, according to surveys by the Latinobarometro in 1995, 80 percent of Latinos believed in Rome, last year it was only 59 percent. The evangelical Christians already come to 19 percent in the former Catholic bastion.

Abuse scandals like the one in Chile have severely shaken trust in the official church. In addition, the Catholic Church is perceived by many believers as aloof and dogmatic, while the charismatic evangelicals offer an emotional religious experience with their fiery sermons, professional music shows and lavishly choreographed services.

Catholic priests are perceived as part of the elite

"The preachers of the Pentecostal churches know how to speak to the believers, just as the people in Latin America speak to one another. And they are like their congregations. In Guatemala, for example, many preachers are Mayans, in Brazil Afro-Brazilians Catholic priests are perceived as part of the elite, "says Andrew Chesnut, professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The often ultra-conservative evangelical churches are also trying more and more to exert influence on politics. "Their agenda is geared towards defending family values. They are against abortion, same-sex marriage, divorce, euthanasia and everything that they call gender ideology," says Carlos Malamud of the Spanish research institute Elcano.

Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales is an evangelical Christian, and Chile's head of state Sebastián Piñera was elected with the help of the influential evangelical churches. Rio de Janeiro's devout mayor, Marcelo Crivella, was a Pentecostal bishop and attracted attention for his disparaging remarks about blacks and homosexuals.

Evangelical voices are in great demand among politicians

The strong increase in membership of the evangelical churches makes them more and more interesting for politicians. "The voices of the evangelicals are much sought after by all candidates and at least indirectly influence their campaigns," says analyst Malamud.

Not all evangelical movements have a conservative agenda. The Rock Church of Rio de Janeiro, for example, sees itself as an advocate for the oppressed and forgotten. "We're opening up a space for people who are turned away elsewhere," says church attendee Everton Rodrigues. There are six other evangelical churches in the streets around Metanoia alone.

For Pastor Enok Galvão de Lima, music is simply a tool to teach the gospel and to preach the good news. "I can reach a lot of people with the language of rock," says the devout heavy metal.

Isaac Risco and Denis Düttmann