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Saving souls-with a rock n' roll edge

Perham's Pastor Dirk Currier, left, attended the Jimmy Swaggart Bible College in Louisiana during the 1970's, where Currier won a weightlifting title as a student. Currier is pictured here with Rev. Donnie Swaggart at Northwoods Assembly of God Church.

The line separating old-time rock n' roll and old-time religion gets a little blurry when a fire and brimstone preacher raises your temperature and moves your soul.

Just ask wildman piano-rocker Jerry Lee Lewis. Or Jerry Lee's cousin, country singer Mickey Gilley.

Or ask another cousin, Louisiana preacher-man Jimmy Swaggart-one of the most charismatic broadcast evangelists of all time.

And you could have asked Jimmy's son, Donnie Swaggart last weekend in Perham where he shook the rafters of the Northwoods Assembly of God Church during three awe-inspiring sermons over two days.

"Get ready for Donnie to preach our socks off," beamed Perham Northwoods Pastor Dirk Currier Sunday morning, March 21.

A nearly-packed sanctuary was on hand for an hour-and-a-half of Bible-banging by a member of Louisiana's first family of rock-and-roll-and-save-your-soul show business. For ministers like the Swaggarts, being labeled a "Bible-banger" and a showman is more compliment than criticism.

"On my Dad's side of the family, we're all either a preacher or a heathen--with a capital 'H'," said Swaggart, introducing himself before his Sunday morning sermon March 21.

Pastor Jimmy Swaggart invested years of prayer in his wayward cousin: Jerry Lee Lewis. And, cousin Jerry Lee may have returned the favor for cousin Jimmy-who himself had to repent over a sinful scandal or two, which we won't rehash here.

Jimmy, Jerry Lee and singer Mickey Gilley were all cousins, growing up together in Louisiana. All three of the cousins are musical, spent time together in their when growing-up years.

It's unclear whether Donnie was also referring to Gilley as a "heathen," but he was a country singer and owner of the Gilley's night club, a popular booze-slinging dance joint that served as the setting for the 1980 movie "Urban Cowboy."

As for the musical prowess of the younger relative, Donnie Swaggart: "Well, I can't even play the radio in tune," he laughed.

The world according to the Swaggarts

The Swaggarts are controversial preachers, who usually offend at least a few people and institutions per sermon.

"Jesus also offended people," said Pastor Currier. "If Jesus had preached like a lot of preachers today, he would still be here today...he never would have been crucified."

The Swaggarts are Biblical gunslingers. Like-father-like-son, Donnie takes aim at other churches and denominations; political figures; and social reformers:

-Former vice president Al Gore is a "scam artist...It snowed twice in Louisiana this year! Where was Al Gore?"

-Climate change and global warming are bogus. Paraphrasing here, Rev. Donnie believes the environment will be restored by Jesus.

-Like his dad, Donnie fires potshots at other religious institutions. "I don't watch Christian TV, because I'd have to get a new TV set every week...The only time I watch Christian TV is when I travel, because I know I can't damage it."

-"One of the worst things that can happen to a saved convert is to go to church," said Donnie, an indirect criticism of mainline religious denominations-further suggesting they these churches are guilty of "spiritual adultery."

-The media was always a favorite target for Rev. Jimmy, and Donnie follows his footsteps. An avid reader of several newspapers and a student of history, Pastor Donnie acknowledged that a free press "is one of our great freedoms." He did cancel his subscription to the New York Times, however, because the opinion page writers were on "stupid pills."

-Like his father, Donnie also criticized mainstream churches for legitimizing homosexuality; though he didn't dwell on the subject-like Jimmy often did.

-And, just like Rev. Jimmy, Donnie is a fiery orator. He paces the floor; raises his voice to a shout; delivers the Word in your face (literally); works himself into a sweat; wipes the perspiration from his forehead with a handkerchief; and defiantly waves the Bible in the air, like a rebel flag-carrier at Gettysburg.

It wouldn't be a Swaggart sermon without a few controversial passages, but overall, he preached a message that resonated strongly with the audience. There were moments of laughter, as well as quiet and thoughtful reflection.

He also preached that evil is real and Satan is at work in the world.

"The devil knows the Bible better than you do," said Pastor Donnie. "The problem is, the devil doesn't believe it."

Perham's Pastor Dirk was student at Swaggart College

Perhaps most thrilled with Donnie Swaggart's appearance here was Perham's Pastor Dirk Currier-who attended the Jimmy Swaggart Bible College back in the 1970's.

People drove more than 400 miles to worship with Rev. Donnie, noted Pastor Currier. One of the faithful traveled all the way from Omaha, Nebraska, for the weekend revival.

Northwoods' impressive six-piece, eight-voice praise band warmed up the congregation. Hand-clapping, amens and hallelujahs filled the sanctuary.

"Not bad for a bunch of Yankees!" said Donnie, unabashedly proud of his upbringing below the Mason Dixon Line. "I'm an American by choice-and a southerner by the grace of God!"

"The Word" is not the only common thread between Pastors Donnie Swaggart and Dirk Currier. Both of them are musically challenged.

"I can't keep a beat for the life of me," said Pastor Dirk, introducing and applauding the Assembly's praise band.

A common thread with Lutherans, Catholics?

Even though the Northwoods Assembly folks would probably be bored stiff with the sedate worship services down the block, at the Perham Lutheran and Catholic churches-these brothers and sisters in the Lord have more than the Bible in common.

Number one: They're all Minnesotans.

Number two: Like most Minnesotans, they're rhythmically challenged. Unlike those musically raucous, spirit-filled churches of the south, the Germans and Scandinavians up here can't figure out whether to clap on beats one and three-or beats two and four. (Musically-inclined readers understand what this is about.)

The worst offender was Rev. "Can't-Keep-A-Beat" Currier himself.

When Pastor Dirk coaxed those couple hundred hands a-clappin' to the lively gospel hymn, it was a jumbled, rhythmic cacophony. Sort of like "clapping in tongues," for which Assembly and Pentecostal folks are famous. Thank God for the capable Northwoods band: They did all they could do to maintain the beat and avoid a musical trainwreck

Salvation from this mess might ultimately require a visit by Donnie's musical old man, Rev. Jimmy Swaggart hisownself.

If anybody could straighten out such a discombobulation, it would be piano-playing Brother Jimmy.

And if he could fit them all under one immense revival tent, Preacher Jimmy would probably whip those Minnesota Lutherans and Catholics into rhythmic shape, too. Theologically, they almost certainly would be at odds-but by God, they'd be clapping to the beat of the same drummer.