By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Sares and the musicians bonded instantly. The band they started, Five Iron Frenzy, would soon grow into one of the biggest Christian rock bands in the country, even though their lyrics included heavy criticism of Christian culture. The kids loved them — the adults weren't so sure. "We had far more acceptance outside of the church than inside the church," says Roper. "Early on, we played a lot of bar shows, and the Ska Against Racism tour with Less Than Jake and Mustard Plug. And the church was pointing fingers, saying, 'Why are you playing in bars?' But that's what Christ was about. He wasn't hanging out with religious people in the temple. He was hanging out with prostitutes and thieves and tax collectors."
Even as Five Iron Frenzy's fame spread, its members and Sares were dreaming up their ideal church. They wanted a place where the homeless were welcome, where making money was not the focus, and where there definitely was no dress code. Their combined vision was everything Sares had dreamed about since he was a young Jesus freak in the '70s — but he also recognized that there would be no financial security in starting a church that courted a congregation with no money. Sares had two daughters about to enter college, and the offers he was getting to pastor at the mega-churches blooming around Colorado at the time were looking pretty good.
In Pure Scum, he compares this time in his life to the gospel story of Peter seeing Jesus walking on the water during a horrible storm. Peter's boat was in the middle of a lake, and when Jesus invited him out onto the water, Peter conquered his fear and stepped off the boat and into the chaos. Sares was terrified to put himself and his family in financial peril, but eventually he came to the conclusion that "Peter was actually safer on the lake in the storm with Jesus than on the boat with the rest of his friends."
The thunder only grew louder when Roper suggested they call the church Scum of the Earth. The name comes from the writings of the Apostle Paul, describing the persecution of his ministry. Sares wasn't sure that a church with such a name had a chance, but he was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm that young people had for the project.
He stepped out onto the lake.
Over the years, Scum of the Earth has attracted a large following of young people — around 250 today — most of whom have outgrown their suburban homes and are looking to find their own identity as Christians. "If you can come to a place called Scum of the Earth and that pisses your parents off enough, a place where people look and act and think like this," Sares says, referencing the anarcho-punk stream flowing through his church, "then you're far enough away that you can think about Jesus and whether you are really a follower of his."
"We're more mission-driven than doctrine-driven," says Joshua Dylan. "We welcome discourse at Scum. It can be frustrating at times but has a lot of value."
"It's not my job to tell someone what to believe," says Liann Dylan. "It's our job to show God's love to people, and he can take care of the rest." She and her husband are showing God's love by hosting the free Sunday bike workshop in the garage by the church. As she speaks, a handful of kids — some Christians, some not — work on bicycles. The Dylans' dog sleeps on the ground as tools clank, cigarettes burn and Wu-Tang Clan plays on the stereo. The Dylans, like almost everyone else at Scum, insist that they don't want to push their ideals on anyone; unlike most evangelicals, they say, they aren't zealots.
But even with the wide collection of ideals and personalities that are encouraged at Scum, when it comes to issues like sexuality or abortion, the church swings to the right. "I think we're probably more conservative than we want to be," says Liann, who adds that she has many gay friends and is not necessarily 100 percent pro-life, though she also is not a liberal.
"Theologically, we're very conservative," Sares explains, "but we're far, far away from being fundamentalists." Still, he becomes somewhat uncomfortable when these controversial issues are brought up. He and other members of Scum worry that the church will be lumped in with gay-bashing, abortion-clinic-protesting groups like the Westboro Baptist Church (best known for its "God Hates Fags" signs). "Sometimes [people] will talk to me about their sexual struggles," he explains. "And they're in the struggle already; it's not like I'm causing the struggle. They're conflicted and they want to talk about it." Sares says he often points these sexually questioning young people to the scripture, though at times he will also direct them to Where Grace Abounds, a counseling center for what it describes as the "the sexually broken."
"WGA seeks to be a third voice within a culture that often leans toward the extremes of 'blanket acceptance' or 'blanket condemnation' of homosexuality," explains WGA executive director Roger Jones. "On the continuum between these two extremes, WGA is positioned in the middle: 1) God accepts everyone as they are. As for all of humanity, He has a plan for us, which includes how we express our sexuality. 2) God's standard for sexual expression lies within the boundaries of heterosexual marriage, but homosexual behavior is not better or worse than any other sexual activity that lies outside these boundaries."