Oak Ridge Boys live, but don't preach politics & religion

by Kimberly Pennington, National Correspondent |

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) -- "We believe it's imperative that prayer and Jesus Christ be at the forefront of our thinking and in the way we live our lives," writes Oak Ridge Boys tenor Joseph Bonsall in his new book On the Road with the Oak Ridge Boys.

"When we branched out into newer musical horizons in the mid-seventies, we had no idea that a legendary career lay ahead of us. But I assure you, Jesus Christ is still first and foremost in our lives. We are thankful for His constant blessings. We give Him honor, praise, and glory in all things," he shares.

Harvest House Publishers

The Oak Ridge Boys' act of giving God glory during a 2013 Christmas concert led audience member and Harvest House Publishers Senior Editor Nick Harrison to approach Bonsall about a book project.

"They all spoke openly of their faith and I wondered if there was a book that could come from their long history together," Harrison told Christian Examiner.

Asked by Harvest House to share behind-the-scenes stories of their four decades together as a multi-award-winning American music phenomenon, Bonsall reveals how his personal faith in Christ and that of fellow Oak Ridge Boys Duane Allen, William Lee Golden, and Richard Sterban permeate a nearly half-century career that landed them memberships in both the gospel and country music halls of fame.

"We don't get on stage and preach politics and religion," Bonsall told Christian Examiner about the conservative-leaning musicians. "We don't preach it; we live it," he said.

Trusting Christ in matters ranging from safe travel to strength to perform when ill to choosing songs for their albums, readers experience how living their faith translates into numerous offstage decisions by "The Boys" who first began performing together in 1973 as a gospel music group.

Some of their decisions have far-reaching implications, such as:

  • A work ethic Bonsall calls the ORB Doctrine which requires all team members, including behind-the-scenes personnel, to give their best from the moment a concert is booked until the bus departs from a venue en route to its next location:

"The four Oak Ridge Boys were taught to be honest, to honor God in our lives, to treat other people the way we want to be treated, and to work hard every day . . . It shines through in our work ethic and may very well be the single biggest reason why we're still around today," Bonsall said.

  • The decision to earn a living performing music genres other than gospel music when their progressive style met with rejection from more traditional groups in the early 1970s.

"The Oaks just wanted gospel music to be as forward thinking and as popular and as well performed as any other kind of music – and why not? Shouldn't the message of Christ be presented in a fun and first-class way?" Bonsall writes. The move catapulted the group to international fame and, as Bonsall explained to Christian Examiner, opened doors for them to share the gospel in avenues normally unavailable to gospel music performers.

  • The choice to serve as spokesmen for numerous children's charities and to decline corporate sponsorship from a cigarette manufacturer at the height of their popularity in 1983.

"You can't sing 'Thank God for Kids' and 'Check Out the Boy Scouts' in front of a cigarette poster, and if it doesn't feel right, it's not right," Bonsall wrote just before quoting Matthew 25:34-40 – a biblical passage in which Jesus claims actions done to others are actually actions done to Him.

  • The production of an annual Christmas show which closes by emphasizing music portraying Christ's birth as the true meaning of the season.

"In this politically correct day and age, when many loud voices speak out against the very word 'Christmas,' we're honored to unashamedly stand tall, proclaim the Gospel, and sing about the birth of Christ, the Lamb of God, our Lord and Savior," writes Bonsall.

  • A prayerful decision by group members and their manager to perform as scheduled at Branson, Missouri's Grand Palace Theater on September 12, 2011 – one day after terrorists took the lives of 2,980 Americans in areas along the East Coast. Bonsall told the audience they were all relying on Jesus Christ to lift them during that dark time.

Continuing to encourage people rather than retiring is what the Oak Ridge Boys still feel called to do.

"God will tell us when it's time to stop," he writes. "We need to be a light. In Him there is no darkness at all, and if there's ever a time to me around the world that we need light, it is now," Bonsall said to Christian Examiner. "What's going on now in the world is so barbaric in so many places, and it's going to get worse. I always hope people can see that light we're talking about."

Harrison was pleased with Bonsall's effort. "Joe really reached back into his memories and found just the right stories to tell with the right amount of human interest and humor. I found out much about 'The Boys' I hadn't previously known. Joe is not only a fine writer, but very easy to work with. My admiration for Joe and The Oak Ridge Boys increased by working on this book," he said.

Following numerous references throughout the book to Christ's death on the cross as payment for human sin, Bonsall closes his work by inviting readers to start their own journey with Christ while thanking God for his own.

"We must commit ourselves to Him in all things, and fear and sorrow and sin and chaos will dim in His light," Bonsall writes. "I'm so undeserving of all He's done for me. Mostly I thank Him for the cross and for making my many sins vanish into the light of His forgiveness and amazing grace. I'm standing on the promises of Christ my King! I love You, Lord!"