The Gospel of Hip-Hop

'Culture Shock [a San Diego--based hip-hop organization] is not Christian, but a kind of youth organization," says Tommy Moseley, associate pastor at Rock Church. "Ours has a purpose, and that's to be a gospel." Moseley's new ministry and company of professional dancers, called "Rock Steady," offer their first class in Christian hip-hop on Tuesday, April 3.

A pastor from another church was quick to express concern over the choice of material. "He said he'd just finished doing an eight-week sermon series on hip-hop and the bad effects it has on our kids," says Moseley, and goes on to explain that he replaces the lyrics of popular hip-hop songs with messages from sermons.

One churchgoer told Moseley via e-mail that he believes the church is no place for hip-hop dance. "The reason I was such an advocate for starting this ministry is because, when I danced for Culture Shock, everyone wanted to be in [the troupe] -- they would have done anything. They would have sold their souls." Moseley is hoping the dance classes will draw the "subculture of kids that follow hip-hop religiously."

Of his mixed martial arts ministry, called "Right Cross," he says, "Because it's a really good team of instructors, [students] will put up with ten or fifteen minutes of preaching and say, 'Okay, let's get to working out.' We get to share the message of Jesus Christ, but it's not a church. I grew up in a Catholic church, and there's nothing cool about the church. The church kind of gives Jesus a bad name -- the hope is awesome, but it gets caught up in people's rules."

Brandon Henschel, a professional dancer and choreographer, will teach most of the classes. He describes secular hip-hop as "an environment that isn't really friendly" but considers Christian hip-hop to be stress free. "You don't have to worry about hearing profanity, going to clubs, getting crunked [drunk] and all the bling bling," he says.

Henschel has danced with Britney Spears, Usher, and Beyoncé. His brother, Sean, created the sermon-dubbed mixes. "To label hip-hop as a sexual genre is a purely ignorant statement," says Henschel. "We could take 'Amazing Grace' and put a kick drum, a high hat, and a snare behind it and create a melodic beat. We think hymns are very holy and good today, but 'Amazing Grace' was a bar song. We've taken what Satan is trying to use for evil, and we're using it for good."

Henschel realizes that some Christians are not embracing this ministry. "People are afraid of change," he says. He explains his frustration that "on some levels, [the church] is a corporation" and that, because financial support comes largely from the traditional, conservative base, the church sometimes hesitates in efforts to appeal to a younger, nontraditional demographic. "There are certain Christians that, when worship music comes on, they don't want an electric guitar."

Henschel is hoping to use his reputation as an experienced dancer and choreographer to attract non-Christians. "We want Christians to bring their nonsaved friends. That's where we can get them in our environment and talk to them and get them saved as they're going out. We'll do that through influence, just by being their friends; talking to them after class, hanging out, that's where a lot of evangelizing happens."

On the Rock Steady web page, Henschel explains the long-term goal of the dance troupe: "To save and equip people with the Word of God and the foremost professional training in dance and send them back into the industry as soul winners for Christ, eliminating the promiscuous performing we see so prevalent in the industry today."

Henschel says his dance class is advanced. "If you've had no training period, this is probably not the best class to take. Someone with no dance experience wouldn't survive. It will be professional choreography taught at a slower pace." All seven current members of Rock Steady are dance professionals. "One of the reasons we wanted to have the class is because we have a lot of people interested in performing with us, and we want to see them first before we give them the okay." -- Barbarella

"Rock Steady" Christian hip-hop dance class Tuesday, April 3 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. The Lord's Gym 4153 Market Street Downtown Cost: $7 per person per class (packages available) Info: 619-226-7625 ext. 293 or www.therocksandiego.org/ministries/hiphop

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