The Righteous Brothers - Christian Biker Gangs

Hard-drinking womaniser Ponsford feels his 'calling' and joins the Christian biking scene. But can they offer him redemption?

And entering in, he walked through Jericho. And behold, there was a man named Zachaeus, who was the chief of the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was, and he could not for the crowd, because he was low of stature. And running before, he climbed up into a sycamore tree, that he might see him; for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus was come to the place, looking up, he saw him, and said to him: Zachaeus, make haste and come down; for this day I must abide in thy house. And he made haste and came down; and received him with joy.
    LUKE, CHAPTER 19: 1-10

The Bible. A way of life to some, a load of old cobblers to others. But why, you may ask, is a chunk of it being quoted in a motorcycle mag?

Well, it's important to set the correct tone when dealing with important issues. Issues that go beyond the realms of our usual subject matter - stuff like top speed, handling, wheelies etc. For we are about to spend some time with a bunch of individuals who ride bikes, but have far more important things to think about. Like the nature of creation, redemption and the unanswered questions of the Universe. And in order to get their answers, they look to the Man Upstairs. In a big way...

But I too want answers. Why do these people do what they do? Why am I so very wary of them? Why do they all ride Harleys? And who is this Zachaeus guy?

I start my quest for truth by venturing to wet and windy Canterbury to meet a select few members of the Christian Motorcycle Association (CMA) - Kent branch. Surely they will show me the Light. Without, hopefully, trying to convert me. As I'm Jewish that just wouldn't be a good thing. This lot have put their faith in Jesus. I'm still waiting for my messiah...

But it seems I have little to worry about on that particular score. "While we are passionate in our own beliefs, we don't seek to convert or recruit others," states Dan Harris, secretary of CMA's Kent branch. Well, that's a big relief. It's good to know that I won't return home as a brainwashed Bible botherer. So if the CMA isn't out there press-ganging unwary bikers into serving Jesus Christ, what exactly is their purpose? What do their 500 UK members seek to achieve? "It's fairly simple," continues Dan. "As well as being a club for Christians who enjoy riding bikes, we pass on information regarding the Christian faith to the biking community. If people express an interest in the faith, or wish to look further into it, we are there for guidance. If people are struggling, we're there to help them." So they're sort of an outreach group, with an added tablespoon of God.

But exactly what kind of bikers do the CMA make themselves available to? Are you likely to find them up Box Hill or hanging around your local track day? Well, no. "The Kent branch deals mostly with the backpatch clubs," says Dan. That's outfits like the Hells Angels, in case you were wondering.
And by the very nature of the Angels' devilish name, it would seem like a very bad idea indeed to preach to them. "A few of our members have come from the outlaw scene," continues Dan cautiously, "but they approached us for guidance. We never recruited them. We'd probably get a smack in the mouth if we tried that."

Have the CMA got a good relationship with the Angels? Apparently so. "We're going to a party with them next weekend. Just to enjoy ourselves," Dan tells me. Pardon my profanity, but bloody hell - rather him than me. Surely the CMA and the Hells Angels have different ways of enjoying themselves. Doesn't Dan have strong views on the thorny issue of sin? He refers me back to the CMA's policy of not passing judgement. Individual friendships and trust are what they're after. And being around Jesus, I'm assured, helps build that trust.

CMA & God's Squad

I'm starting to buy into Dan's way of thinking. If I was partying with the Hells Angels, I'd definitely want to have  the Son of God in close proximity.

Dan gives me a Bible quote to sum up his work with the backpatch clubs:

"Before you remove the speck of wood from your brother's eye, pull the plank out of your own eye."                     GOSPELS (MARK)

In modern speak, that means 'sort out your own problems before you try to solve the problems of others'.
And that's the CMA down to a tee. They wear big white crosses on their leathers and quote freely from the Bible, but they're a lot more moderate than I expected them to be. Religious zealots they may be, but preachers they're not. Instead of bashing you over the head with the Good Book, the CMA is far more concerned with carrying out positive charitable work.

Among a host of other noble deeds, Dan runs a motorcycle tuition course for young offenders to ensure that they don't get into biking illegally. He also provides tents at motorcycle rallies which dish out free coffee and biking advice to possibly troubled youngsters.

And to top it all, the CMA members I meet are just so impossibly nice. I kind of want to take the piss out of them. After all, they're all Bible-wielding nutters; they're probably going to try and drag me away from my Semitic roots, aren't they? No, they're not. And ridicule is out of the question.

The CMA are, quite simply, a force for good. And you just can't knock that. On my way back from Canterbury I ride through a storm of truly biblical proportions. I think I will most likely die. But on arriving home the rain and thunder clears and I dismount unscathed. Has Jesus saved me? My God, I think I'm starting to see the Light!

But I need further proof that my redemption lies with Jesus. I must venture west to Swansea, in order to hook up with the God's Squad Christian Motorcycle Club.

While the CMA members were far more leathery than I expected, the God's Squad members are somewhat more terrifying in their appearance.

President Sean Stillman bears a striking resemblance to Jesus, but some of the other members - or 'brothers' - appear to have been fired into South Wales direct from the flaming core of Hades. A brief chat with Sean, however, reveals the club to be just as nice, if not even nicer, than the CMA members I met in Canterbury the previous evening.

Working solely within the 'one-percent' outlaw biking community, God's Squad members have a 'mission outreach focus' and ordained minister Sean offers the full range of Christian services, including weddings, christenings and 'full immersion' adult baptisms. "We're very serious about our work within the outlaw biking community," says Sean. "We're not a sideshow and we're not groovy vicars." After hearing of Sean's work in getting people off drugs and alcohol, as well as visiting troubled souls in hospitals and in prison, this soon becomes clear.

The God's Squad CMC started in 1972 in Melbourne, Australia. The UK chapter has been in existence since 1994 and has only a dozen members. Joining the club is a three or four year process. Someone has to 'feel' a calling to the club and, like with the CMA, the emphasis is placed upon gaining trust from fellow brothers.
Unlike the CMA, however, the God's Squad is run along similar lines to the Hells Angels. Full members wear top and bottom 'rockers' on the backs of their leather waistcoats to signify their membership of the club. Prospects are not full members and wear only bottom 'rockers', while associate members are at the start of their three-year joining process and wear no identifying colours. And, like the Angels, several of the members are not keen on revealing their identities or backgrounds. Sean advises me not to ask too many questions of the other brothers.

The God's Squad are intriguing rather than threatening. They're friendly and well accepted within the mainstream church, but there's a definite edge to them. Just by appearances, they demand respect. And looking at the un-named member with a tattooed head, I'm happy to give it to them.

"We've had to work hard to be accepted by many of the motorcycle clubs," states Sean. "We've gained a lot of trust by learning and listening rather than forcing our views, but early on we did get beaten up and ridiculed a few times." Oh, which clubs did that to you? "No comment," smiles Sean.

Now widely accepted among outlaw clubs, Sean has set out his stall without fear of it being knocked down. "Jesus Christ came to save sinners, and he came to be a friend of the outcast," he opines. And that's where our friend Zachaeus (remember him?) comes in. He was an outcast due to his wealth and the fact that he was a Jew. But while others rejected him, Jesus befriended him. Sean sees parallels between this biblical tale and his work with those who live at the very fringes of society.

Like the CMA's Dan Harris, Sean is a good guy. His religious views are certainly extreme, and I certainly don't read from the same hymnbook, but you can't knock his - or the God's Squadders' - good intentions.
They're better people than me. The last good thing I did was helping an old lady across the road in 1987. I use the Lord's name in vain, occasionally drink a lot of beer and sometimes I don't care about the misfortune of others. But I'll live with that.

While I may briefly have seen the Light, I'll leave hardcore Christianity to the CMA and the God's Squad CMC. I went into their world, but I won't be turned. My Rabbi will be so proud...