Black-clad heavy metalists half singing, half screaming into the microphone and preaching the gospel to the backdrop of a searing guitar.
Rappers strutting the stage as hundreds of young adults wave their arms and sway in the worship mosh pit, aka the floor of the Consol Energy Center.
The national anthem played in screeching guitar licks, a la Jimi Hendrix, accompanied by riffs by a tattooed bassist and voice-shredding female vocals
This is not your grandfather’s Billy Graham revival, with lilting choral hymns and the soothing tones of traditional gospel crooner George Beverly Shea. But the revival service headlined Saturday night by Franklin Graham, son and heir of the legendary evangelist’s ministry, was aimed precisely at the youths in the mosh pit and others in the estimated crowd of 8,253 who aren’t reached by traditional church.
The event was the second of three days of services at the Three Rivers Festival of Hope, a combination of music and preaching by Rev. Graham. Saturday night’s youth-oriented event was heavier on the music than on the opening night Friday, when the Graham ministry recorded 412 decisions, or people committing or recommitting their lives to Jesus.
The musical acts, culminating in a concert by popular Christian rapper Lecrae, were interspersed by testimony by singers themselves.
Rapper Tedashii, between rousing hip-hop songs accompanied by bone-rattling bass, told of losing his 1-year-old son and questioning his faith.
“I didn't know how to reconcile the harshness of this world with this wonderful God,” he said, adding that he drew comfort from the biblical story of Job, a man who kept faith amid multiple tragedies
“I don't say that to minimize the pain,” he said, but took refuge in faith in Jesus as one who “steps into humanity and takes the brunt of sin on himself. He loves you all.”
Singer Lacey Sturm told of becoming an atheist at age 10 after her 3-year-old cousin was beaten to death. “I hated people for being happy because this world is so sick,” she said. Planning suicide at age 16, she said, she became a Christian after attending a church service and experiencing what she saw as genuine love and compassion.
As contemporary as the music was, it was actually in keeping with a long tradition by both Franklin and Billy Graham. The elder evangelist routinely shared stages not only with the likes of traditional gospel singer Shea but also the likes of Johnny Cash and other Christian artists.
“Wow, that’s loud,” Rev. Graham said after taking the stage nearly two hours after the music began. “This is fun.”
But he soon began a message about watching a documentary on the 1960s and seeing many parallels between the controversies then — war, racial divide, revolutions on sex and drug use.
Both then and now, he said, “people were wanting money power and sex. All of this is not enough to fill the void and emptiness in one’s life.”
“I want you to know tonight God is here,” he said. “He's telling you tonight you’ve got to be willing to repent and turn from your sin. ... He’ll give you the power and the strength to live for him.”
Peter Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1416 or on Twitter @PG_PeterSmith