By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Around the time the city sued his father over the shelter "was about the time that I got my calling," Wiley Jr. explains; he was then a junior in high school. Dad says he did not prod his son to go into the family business. Wiley Jr. concurs, "There have been times when other people have said you really have to follow your dad's footsteps, and I've said, 'No way.'" He had been more interested in scuba diving or "being some big, important person, like all kids do."
He was away at camp as a counselor when he prayed to God and the Big Guy let him know he would be working in the church with people on a daily basis. He had experience with the homeless and disaster victims, having run a Southern Baptist shelter for victims of the Northridge earthquake of 1994—at the ripe old age of 15. But he ultimately decided he'd best fulfill his calling by working with kids. He officially became the youth minister at his father's church in August 1998.
Wiley Sr. recognizes how lucky his congregation is. His son could easily have gone away to college instead. Wiley Jr. only gets a small church stipend, not a full salary. "We get a lot for our money," says the elder Drake. "He's had a lot more on-the-job training than theological training."
Like the homeless, the church youths teach Wiley Jr. about life. He appreciates their "brutal honesty" and the brutal honesty they expect from their elders in return. In fact, they are so honest that they can't help but ask about the controversy swirling around his father. He doesn't encourage such talk, but he doesn't shy away from it, either. It surprises him how conservative the kids are without having been actively pushed in that direction. When it comes to issues that teens are confused about, such as alternative lifestyles, Wiley Jr. makes it a point not to flat out say they're right or wrong. Instead, he'll point them to the Bible to discover the answer on their own.
"In our time of talking, we don't say marriage between homosexuals is wrong," he says. And even though he clearly believes gay marriage is wrong, he will not tell a kid who looks at those scriptures and comes up with a different opinion that he or she is wrong.
"We see it very much as Jesus did," he says. "If someone's doing something that is wrong and is a sin, you should not in any way condone the sin. But you don't condemn the person. We all sin. It's God's job to work on their hearts and make them see what is right and what is wrong."
If you're thinking he doesn't sound like dear old dad, he and Dad would be the first to agree. Both say they hold pretty much the same conservative values, but Wiley Jr. denies they were programmed into him. "Where I have the same opinion as my father, I almost hate to say I agree with him because I have come to those conclusions on my own," he says.
What largely distinguishes the two is ministerial style. Carefully picking his words, Wiley Jr. explains he is often at odds with the divisive way his father and the church's conservative wing spread their messages. That disagreement came to a head when his father led the Disney boycott.
Wiley Sr. is blunter. "Our compassion is the same," he said, "but we're very different in that I'm sort of a media hound and he's not."
First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park. Friday night at "Ground Zero," a semiregular evening of games, movies and concerts in the youth-ministry room. A teen with spiked, bleached hair is challenging all comers at the foosball table. A girl is in the bathroom for what seems like an eternity, doing her hair. A copy of a flier that's been distributed around town is taped to the front door. "Are you 13-18?" it begins before mentioning the music, the food, the drinks. Across the bottom, it reads, "Free with this flier." Ground Zero has obviously stolen a page from concert promoters.
Indeed, some Ground Zeroes feature live music—from Christian ska and punk bands. Those nights have drawn up to 200 kids. Tonight, the 20 or so who are scattered about will have to make do with loudspeakers blaring out what sounds like Reel Big Fish, complete with herky-jerky ska horn breaks, but the singer is singing, "Hallelujah to the King of Kings." A few prerecorded songs later, a Brian Setzer-sounding guy repeatedly shouts, "You are the devil, and the devil is bad."
Despite such faith-affirming lyrics, it's odd to hear rock music here. History and movies like Footloose portray a different Southern Baptist church, the church in which pastors did not allow dancing. This is the church in which rock & roll records were smashed. Indeed, even today, Wiley Jr. encounters "some people who see what we do as extreme." They can't fathom churchgoing kids in baggy jeans and spiked hair jumping around like maniacs to loud music one moment and then quietly worshiping God the next. "They say [rock and faith] should be separate from each other, but we don't agree," Wiley Jr. says. "We think it's all part of what makes it a church."