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O Scum all ye faithful: Christianity gets the punk-rock treatment at this Denver church

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"They see Christianity as part of the machine, the man, the oppressor," Joshua Dylan responds. He says he sympathizes with criticisms of his religion (many Scum members spend just as much time complaining about Christian culture as anyone else, he notes), but does not see his faith and his identity as an anarchist as being at odds with each other. Dylan cites scripture that teaches man to "follow no law but God's law" (although he also supports the division between church and state), and also says he finds Jesus's message of anti-materialism and charity to be perfectly aligned with anarchist ideals of individualism and non-hierarchical fellowship.

Aaron Pott, who lives on the second floor of the Scum building, agrees with Dylan. He plays drums for the evening church services and volunteers each Sunday in the bicycle workshop. His band, Munster Boogie, is firmly integrated with the secular punk community — yet many members also attend Scum and play music at the services. Coming from a Christian community in suburban Denver, Pott says he's benefited a lot from the oasis that Scum provides — a quiet place to reflect on his life and his spirituality without his parents looking over his shoulder. He's a quiet, unassuming young man who is well-liked in the anarchist scene, despite his pro-Scum alliance. But then, like Dylan, he has his frustrations with some of the ideas that come out of it. "In that community, there's a strange way that people will push to be accepting and open-minded about the things that are outside of normal society," he says, sitting in a thrift-store chair on the second floor of Scum, a dog-eared copy of The Hobbit on his lap. "But whenever something falls within 'normal society' [like Christianity], then these walls come up."

"But they're the majority!" Maria says. She's fond of Pott, but tired of this argument. "They are the white-male majority. You can't be oppressed as a Christian white male. Christians are responsible for so much queer oppression. They have to account for that."

"I can totally relate to them not liking Christianity," Marcus Hyde says of the secular anarchists. Hyde is a regular fixture at Scum of the Earth, volunteering at the weekly bicycle workshop and services. Accepted by the secular punk community, Hyde lives at the L7 collective. Raised in a conservative Christian family in Colorado Springs, he rejected Christianity as a teenager; in a moment of desperation, his parents pleaded with him not to give up on church, and to "just go to the weird church." They were referring to Scum, of course. In time, Hyde expanded his view of Christianity, tapping into that same radical message of peace and tolerance that Jesus spoke of and eventually realizing that "if more Christians read the Bible, they wouldn't be such assholes," he says.

At one time, the residents of L7 were evenly divided between atheists and members of Scum. "They never tried to push anything on us. They're not preachy," Maria remembers. "They're our friends." Like Scum, L7 encourages debate within the community — but last fall, when some of the Scum roommates wanted to turn L7 into a literal monastery, the debate got heated. "Some people felt weird about it," Maria says, "like they were being pushed out. They definitely didn't want to live in a monastery."

Most of the Scum members wound up moving out; only Hyde stayed. He says he often gets questioned regarding his beliefs by others who live at L7, many of them wanting to know where he stands on the issues that concern them. "Christianity has been used to promote homophobia, bipartisan politics, patriarchy — all of the things that I don't identify with," he says. "They ask me what I believe, and my answers are pretty simple: I believe in a living God and his love."

L7 hosts the Wednesday afternoon Food Not Bombs, and often will donate leftover food to Scum for the free Sunday night meals. "We have a good relationship on a personal level," Dylan says. "When we go over there, there's smiles and we hang out and we're nice to each other — and the same when they come over here. But there's still that tension."

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Josiah M. Hesse
Contact: Josiah M. Hesse