Europe is in the clutch of a new religious craze. Known as the "Jesus Freaks," these pious, fundamentalist Christians are giving the established church a run for its money.
Rock n' roll religion
They don't take drugs, don't believe in sex before marriage and slam homosexuality as a disease, but for all that, the Jesus Freaks distance themselves from the idea of political conservatism. Rather than running around bashing their bibles, they are more likely to be found banging their heads to the din of trash metal.
It all began back in 1991 in a bedroom in the city of Hamburg. Three spiritual souls came clean and admitted their shared wish to make Jesus a part of their lives. United in their belief that their saviour rose from the dead 2,000 years ago and is still alive today, they made it their mission to activate him in their lives. It was the first time they had felt free enough to drop their guard and began to pray.
Rejoicing in the freedom of freaky Christianity
"In front of God, we were able to be ourselves and we wanted everything he had to give us. Most people who joined our meetings later, came because they believed in Jesus but had struggled to be accepted as they are," the freaks say on their Web site.
Real freaks or just colorful Christians?
They go on to explain that despite crucifixion, witch burning, boring church sermons and pseudo-religious fuss, they believe there is something intrinsically real and fascinating about Jesus. At first glance, their statements read a little like the words of quirky Jesus disciples, but on closer inspection, it's clear that they are serious about Christian work.
Life the Jesus way?
Tobi Kaiser is one of around 2,500 German freaks and head of the North Rhine-Westphalian branch of the movement. The 31-year-old, a lay vicar in Cologne, is absolutely dedicated to his life as a freak and believes their way of doing things is the perfect replacement for the dry nature of the official church. He credo is to "live his whole life the Jesus way."
In place of the usual liturgical fare of traditional sermons, the Jesus Freaks in Cologne offer their congregation an altogether different approach. Tobi says they have their "own language, their own music, and the whole thing in a cosy living room environment." They meet in a former bar, where they can walk about, dance or just hang out on the sofa, drinking the beer that they are free to bring along.
Out with the staid, in with the new crusade
"The Jesus Freaks fill the spiritual vacuum left open by the official church," says Klaus Farin, who runs the Berlin archive for youth culture and has written a book about the group. His analysis led him to the conclusion that "lively events are much more successful than the sometimes slowcoach church approach to youth work."
Singing the gospel
Whether through trash metal concerts or river christening ceremonies, the Jesus Freaks know how to help youngsters who are struggling to find their religious center. It's a sigh of hallelujah for those concerned, but the Protestant church feels the throb of having its nose knocked out of joint.
"There are differences of opinion in the practice of christening ceremonies and with regard to questions of style," said Reinhard Hempelmann of the Protestant Center of Ideology. But he does say that the work of the freaks, when it comes to the meaning of the Christian faith, is "commendable."
So does that mean it is time for a new ecumenical movement? Perhaps on the outside, that is what has already begun to grow, but in terms of the content being preached, the gulf between the traditional church-goers and the freaks is not as wide as it might initially seem.