Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Battle Cry

“How are you doing, Scott?” I said. We knew each other a little--- He was just a couple of degrees of separation from my circle of closest friends. But he was a good guy, and we always got along when our paths crossed.

“Excellent, praise Jesus,” he answered. “Has our Lord been good to you?”

I grew up in the South, so I’m certainly accustomed to talking to Christians. But you can talk to a Baptist minister for at least ten minutes without hearing the overwhelming displays of religiosity that I’d heard out of him in ten seconds.

“Um… I can’t complain too much,” I said, wondering what was going on. “How have you been?”

“Let me tell you, buddy,” he said. “I became an alcoholic. I drank so much that I was even going to work drunk. Finally, I got a DWI and got fired. Thankfully, Jesus entered my life.”

“Uh huh,” I nodded, resisting my overwhelming urge to tell him that was way more information than I needed.

“You should come to my church some time,” he said, fishing a tract out of his pocket.

I wanted to say something witty, like “Thanks, but I’m a Jesus-holic, and my life was empty until Jack Daniels entered my life”. Instead, I politely took the tract and deposited it safely in File Thirteen once I got home. I shudder to think of how many trees are killed every year so that people of religion can shove tracts that they know will go unread into your hands.

“Thanks. Well, I’ve got to go,” I told him, politely lying so as to neatly avoid saying “I don’t care to continue this conversation”.

“It was good seeing you, praise Jesus,” he said, shaking my hand. “May the Lord be with you.”

“May the Force be with you, Scott,” I said before I walked away.

That encounter puzzled me a little bit. Some days later, I mentioned it to another friend.

“He’s replaced one addiction with another,” she told me. “This one’s healthier—It won’t get him fired or arrested unless he chains himself to the door of an abortion clinic. But it’s all surface. He’s done nothing to address why he has an addictive personality in the first place.”

“First real temptation he encounters,” she continued, “and he’ll be back on the sauce. Until he addresses his real issues, his life will consist of bouncing back and forth between the bottom of a bottle and church to confess and pray for strength.”

She was right. The very next time I saw Scott, he was so drunk he could hardly stand. And he was crying, bemoaning the fact that his faith wasn’t powerful enough to overcome his love of alcohol.

I thought of Scott and his struggles today as I read an article from the upcoming issue of Rolling Stone about the “Battle Cry” movement. I thought of him as an eighteen-year-old girl talked about how her faith has lifted her out of a life of drug use and premarital sex.

On the surface, it sounds healthy enough. You’ll never find me anywhere saying that keeping teenagers off of alcohol and drugs, and encouraging sexual abstinence (Okay, at least now that I’m not a teenager anymore) is somehow a bad thing.

But Battle Cry founder Ron Luce has taken it far beyond any healthy level. If this is such a healthy thing… Then why does he feel the need to scare teenagers into buying into it?

He tells them allegedly true stories; The girl who left Christianity and wound up being date raped; The girl who dated a non-Christian and is now a bisexual working in the porn industry, supposedly due to his corrosive influence.

He tells them that life on the streets of America has become so decadent that a woman can be raped on the streets, and that Americans will walk blithely past.

Now, I don’t know much about where Luce lives--- But if a woman was being raped on the streets of Memphis (It does not, as some might incorrectly believe, matter which neighborhood), she would be in as much danger of being trampled by the people turning out to help her as she would be of the rape continuing. I’ve lived in many cities; None are any different.
Luce doesn’t simply tell impressionable children about the word of God. In fact, he spends so much time railing against secular targets that God and his Son almost become a corollary to his sermon.

He encourages children to confront the managers of lingerie stores (Apparently, in his mind, God insists on women covering their womanly parts with garments from Wal-Mart). He works hard to instill the children at his events with a “warrior mentality”, telling them that not only secularists are out to kill them, but that nonfundamentalist Christians are their enemies too.

"The devil hates us, and we gotta be ready to fight and not be these passive little lukewarm, namby-pamby, kum-ba-yah, thumb-sucking babies that call themselves Christians. Jesus? He got mad!"

"I want an attacking church!" he admonishes the crowd.

Jesus did get angry. But not at those who hadn’t accepted the word of God, as Luce seems to believe. It was at those who claimed to believe, yet did not live up to Christian ideals.

He was angry at the Pharisees for neglecting “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith”. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which do indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanliness,” He told them.

“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.’”

In his fervor to work up an anti-secularism jihad, Ron Luce has preached of love of God without actually managing to love what God stands for.

To date, he has sent 53,000 “teen missionaries” to foreign countries, so that they may preach about the things he believes God loves--- Teen abstinence, sobriety, and laissez faire capitalism.

And despite his complaints that the secular world has “branded” teenagers by having them wear clothing from name brand designers, he has sent them forth with “Battle Cry” themed t-shirts, purchased from any of the dozens of vendors dotting the landscape at every corner at a Battle Cry event.

Have we not already seen how this movie ends? Have we not seen the product of youth stirred into a fundamentalist fury?

I am a Christian. And I am proud to be one of the people that Ron Luce hates. If the rock band POD believes appearing at Battle Cry events is a good thing, then give me my U2 any day of the week.


'Coma said...

And I mean it.
Thanks Rick for writing this because it conveys a lot about what I ponder over.

Freedonian said...

Thank you, Tracy! That's quite a compliment coming from you.

vibinc said...

The whole "warrior mentality" in evangelical circles has been expanding over the years. I have the "pleasure" of doing many events every year for groups that espouse this belief, and always find their reliance on narrow rhetoric and allegedly true horror stories as a testament to the weakness in their message.

It's sad to me, because I think there is so much good that COULD be learned if the individuals who espouse these narrow beliefs, would look to the good of the flock over the good of the shepherd.

Ian said...

Nice piece you've written.

Wow, some of these kids must have terrible home lives. I have never believed in blaming media and madison avenue for the supposed corruption of a generation. I have always believed that problems start in the home. Without proper parenting children have no sense of right and wrong. Instead of blaming a "secularist and non-christian society" they should look at the way these children were raised.

Also notice in the video when she is asking Luce about his marketing, he immediately puts his hand to his face, a clear indication someone is either A) lying or B) extremely uncomfortable with the question that is being posed to him. He knows what he is doing and should be ashamed.

I always love these fundmentalists who claim to spreading Jesus's message, yet they always seem to forget about "love thy neighbor" and "those without sin cast the first stone". When will the Christian right realize you get more done by telling someone you accept them for who they are than telling them their choices are wrong, berating them for daring to use their free will, and trying to change people who do not wish to be changed?

That segment was truly scary.

Freedonian said...


I've got to go to one of these things one time. I'd love to write about it from the inside.

Their perversion of Christianity sickens me. Sane Christians should look at these people and understand how sane Muslims feel about al Qaeda.

Freedonian said...


Thanks! Good to hear from you.

I'm with you--- When a kid has problems, I think it's generally time to look at the parents.

But we're in a world where everyone looks for someone to blame for their problems.

The same temptations face kids today as faced us (If you're the Ian I'm thinking of, we're also in the same age bracket) as we grew up.

Militarizing youth with a fundamentalist belief system--- This guy would have fit in perfectly in prewar Afghanistan.

I didn't notice that about the body language in the video, but you're right. I just noticed that he never really answered the question. Very weaselly on the subject.

Fundamentalism is never about the message of Jesus. It's simply a means for one group of people to feel morally superior to another. It's never about who's going to heaven--- It's about condemning those who are not.