After class, I found myself driving to a McDonalds on Interstate 87 to meet with Tony — a former member of an outlaw biker club. He told me a story that would change my life. Tony said he met God when he was in a coma, and there was a point in the afterlife where he had to choose between heaven and hell. In his vision, God asked him, “Do you want heaven and me, or do you want hell?” Tony chose God.

I first met Tony at Broken Chains Biker Church, a church devoted to worship that aims to save bikers from the sinful life. Tony wished to withhold his last name. 

His testimony is similar to many who ride with Broken Chains — a path of redemption. Most in attendance of the Burlington-based church have walked a path between hell and the soul’s paradise, between the sacred and the profane. 

The church is an 11-minute drive from Elon University’s campus. The service takes place in an unassuming building in downtown Burlington. Here is where the sacred and profane mix every Sunday. 

It doesn’t seem like this at first. The interior has a subdued suburban atmosphere, plus a few Harley-Davidson decorations. A design on the wall reads, “We stand for the flag and kneel for the cross.” Each member’s arm is tattooed. The audience converse with the preacher. They crack jokes with personal religious commentary in low, Alamance County drawls.  It is like a direct conversation with God. To these men, God is a voice in their  head. 

Not everyone rode a motorcycle. The service was open to all. The church is both a religious group and riding club. 

I decided to write a column on this biker church to explore the distant voice of religion that I’ve always heard. I’ve lived my life largely distant from it, but how could I completely ignore that voice in my head? As I reported, I kept a biker Bible they offered me in my car. Now is the time to ask questions. 

Pastor Steve Hinton started the church in 2015. It grew out of a “biker Bible study” that he used to host. He lived fast as a biker in his youth. He would smoke, fight and cut, sometimes keeping a loaded shotgun on him. Now he lives a life as a family man. As I spoke with him at his house, he kept checking on the casserole he had in the oven for his wife. 

“If it wasn’t for being saved, at the rate I was living at, I would have ended up dead or in prison,” Hinton said. 

Hinton found God in 1979 after leaving an Elon bar with his best friend’s girlfriend. He started drinking that night and couldn’t stop. Hinton said at the time, his intentions were “less than pure.”  He thought of his death, and as he understood it, if he died suddenly, he would go to hell. He said he felt broken.

Hinton, who used to make a habit of getting into fights and thrown out of bars, sold his motorcycle to fund his studies in the ministry. Hinton said his anger has since left him and he’s become his truest self. 

“This transformation has really been a lifetime,” Hinton said. 

According to Hinton, Alamance County has a considerable population of bikers. Part of Hinton’s job is meeting the bikers where they are. He goes to the roughest biker bars, seeking to spread the work of God. And like Jesus who preached to the lepers and the beggars cast outside the city walls, Hinton preaches to the bikers. 

“I've sat right there at the bar with them drinking a beer, and I'm drinking my bottle of water or my Diet Coke,” Hinton said. “We talk about faith.”

Hinton said he found freedom in a relationship with God. He didn’t like the term religion. To describe Christianity. He is centered on an individualistic idea of God.

“Jesus has called us to freedom,” he said, “just don't let your freedom be an excuse for your sinfulness.”

Hinton said that part of what makes someone a biker is the distrust in the establishment. I saw that pattern in his faith.

To Hinton, a pastor in the biker ministry cannot be judgemental. He sees Broken Chains as a refuge for those who would be less welcome at other churches. Hinton said bikers can sometimes “fall back into an old lifestyle.”

In his work, he has had to offer spiritual guidance to crash victims and addicts.

“The biker ministry is very demanding,” Hinton said.

Hinton has recently retired, and the church looks for a new pastor. There was a prospective candidate at both of the services I attended. Both preached differently from Hinton. One wore a suit and sang a song with his wife, including choreographed hand movements. The other made a joke about Jesus avoiding hanging out with Democrats and went off course talking about the Israel-Hamas war.

I felt a wave of disappointment wash over me. How could a Christ-like man cast judgment like that? Is religion just a behavioral weapon? I talked to the people of Broken Chains instead.

The people of Broken Chains make the church what it is. Each one I talked to seemed so willing to give me their testimony. A testimony is essentially a life’s religious story. Every member of 

Broken Chains Biker Church had a rebirth of some sort. 

God is such a personal force to them that it has dramatically altered their lives to the point of total devotion. How do you get to that point? In Tony’s case, one way is to die. 

Tony put out his cigarette and shook my hand. He had been waiting for me with his wife. He said he had a story “like you wouldn’t believe.” He used to run and sell cocaine, had six wives and died twice. 

He found God the second time he died. Tony had a drinking problem and his resulting pancreatitis progressed into a coma. In the coma, he saw a white ball bouncing and he followed it. Tony said he met God and begged for 15 days to decide if he wanted to follow a Christian life. 

According to Tony’s testimony, hell is not what most people think it’s like. It appeared to Tony as a door with darkness in the middle. He said he could feel it's simmering heat. Tony claimed that God then showed him everything he’s done wrong in his life.

“He showed me selling cocaine—and some of them being homeless—selling cocaine and some of them who [overdosed] OD’d. He showed me selling cocaine, and some people gave me their rent money,” he said.

Tony said his religious journey took him to heaven. After walking through a tunnel, he witnessed a structure within, and he summited it. He later woke up, committed to God and never drank alcohol again.

He shunned the term religion. To him, God is something personal, like someone to talk to. He told me his story with a warm and severe gaze. His wife verified every aspect of the story. When I got up to leave, he gave me a hug.

After hearing his story, I walked back to my car and picked up the biker themed Bible I kept in it. It’s a Bible with a motorcycle emblazoned on it. Is this Bible everything? I guess that’s for me and the voice in my head to figure out. The voice in my head that I think God is.