PHILADELPHIA — Questions are being raised over the decision by Greg Laurie’s Harvest Crusade to invite a band whose members dressed as women for Halloween to perform at their city-wide evangelistic event this past weekend.
NEEDTOBREATHE is a multiple Dove Award-winning band from South Carolina, and is comprised of brothers Bear and Bo Rinehart, who grew up in the church as preacher’s kids. While initially overtly Christian, the group now considers themselves a crossover band, meaning that they sing for both the Church and the secular world, keeping their lyrics non-religious for the most part.
Signed to Atlantic and Sparrow Records, NEEDTOBREATHE released their first album, Daylight, in 2006, to critical acclaim. Their song “Signature of Divine (Yahweh),” from their second album, The Heat, was nominated for “Rock/Contemporary Recorded Song of the Year” in 2008, and the following year, they took home the award for “Rock/Contemporary Song of the Year” for “Washed by the Water,” a song about baptism.
NEEDTOBREATHE’s third album, The Outsiders, released in 2009, featured a song entitled “Girl Named Tennessee,” a secular tune that speaks of falling in love with a girl on the dance floor.
“Lights came down and the room spun slow/Started saying she had to go/Don’t go baby, I didn’t get your name,'” the song rings out in a gritty Southern style. “I was blind as I could be/Thinking love was not for me/Till the night I met that girl named Tennessee.”
Last year, NEEDTOBREATHE appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien on Halloween night. The taped broadcast featured the band performing the song “Girl From Tennessee”–but all dressed as women. The men decided to dress as some of the most popular female musicians from Tennessee: Taylor Swift, Dolly Parton, Tina Turner, Reba McEntire and Minnie Pearl.
“They have embraced the Halloween spirit by dressing as some of their favorite gals from the volunteer state,” Conan announced, introducing the group.
The camera then swung over NEEDTOBREATHE, who were donned in dresses and skirts, wigs and makeup. Lead singer Bear Rinehart, who dressed as Dolly Parton, also utilized fake breasts and tied his shirt off at his midriff.
Some viewers expressed concern upon viewing the gig, while others characterized the video as being “hilarious.”
“What a great way to draw more people to Christian music,” one viewer wrote. “Though this particular song of theirs is not spiritual, it will have plenty of people searching for more of NEEDTOBREATHE’s music.”
“Disappointed,” another stated, posting a frown. “I thought they sang for our Lord. This is totally against Christianity.”
The group is currently in the middle of its “Stomping Ground Tour,” performing at festivals, clubs and bars–among other venues–including the Bourbon Street Bar in Auburn, Alabama.
This year, NEEDTOBREATHE was also invited to perform at Greg Laurie’s Harvest Crusade in Philadelphia, which was held this past weekend at the Wells Fargo Center stadium. Over 27,000 people packed the event, who were reported to have welcomed NEEDTOBREATHE and other guests with enthusiasm.
During the crusade, Evangelist Greg Laurie also preached a sermon from Scripture in regard to the American pursuit of happiness, and spoke of how men pursue that which cannot satisfy.
“Everybody, even the atheist, has a god or some altar they bow before,” he declared. “Your god might be your stuff, a relationship or success. But here’s the question: Can your god save you on the last day of our life? No, only God can save you.”
However, an evangelist that has conducted outreach in Philadelphia for over the past decade expressed concern that NEEDTOBREATHE, not having expressed regret for their actions, was invited to the event. Michael Marcavage of Repent America reached out to Harvest Ministries in Riverside, California to urge Greg Laurie to rethink the invitation.
“They told me that it is a way of attracting people to the crusade,” he stated. “They said that they did watch the video and that Greg Laurie was aware, but that they had agreements and were moving forward.”
Marcavage stated that inviting NEEDTOBREATHE to perform in light of their actions on the Late Night Show with Conan O’Brien, and the band’s decision to shy away from singing overtly Christian lyrics, provided the wrong example at the evangelistic event.
“It’s sending a message to everyone at the crusade that it’s okay to live this way–that it’s okay to be like the world,” he explained. “That’s totally opposite of Greg Laurie’s heart and message, as far as I understand it.”
“The people who are invited to be on stage should be God-honoring in their ways,” Marcavage continued. “When you’re standing before people to preach or to worship, it’s a serious responsibility in representing God.”
He noted that churches and evangelists nationwide are increasingly subscribing to the philosophy of using carnal methods, such as entertainment, to attract the world to their services. In 2010, Rick Warren invited the Jonas Brothers to perform at Saddleback Church, he cited. Marcavage stated that this ideology is a form of unBiblical pragmatism.
“We’re seeing pragmatism across the board–using carnal means to get large numbers of people in the door. I couldn’t support the crusade because of that,” he said. “It’s the Spirit of God that should draw people to Christ, not carnal bait and switch tactics.”
In recent years, pragmatism in evangelism has been a concern for a number of Christian leaders. In the documentary Divided, which discusses modern American churches and the means by which pastors seek to win the lost, Paul Washer of the HeartCry Missionary Society likewise condemned using carnal means to fill the seats.
“If you use carnal means to attract men, you are going to attract carnal men,” Washer outlined. “And you’re going to have to use greater carnal means to keep them in the church. So, what has happened is this: We have these large churches filled with many unconverted carnal people.”
Calls for comment to Greg Laurie’s Harvest Ministries and NEEDTOBREATHE were not returned.