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Teenage Holy War
« on: 2007-05-26 07:35:37 »
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[Blunderov]"Suffer the children to come unto me." Definitely, this is what Jesus would do. Enlist them in the Army of God so they can learn to kill people. "This is not a metaphor."

"Teenage wasteland
It's only teenage wasteland
Teenage wasteland
Teenage wasteland
They're all wasted"

The Who

Teenage Holy War

Jesus is really, really pissed -- at Hollywood, at the media, even at most Christians. But BattleCry, the nation’s largest and most radical youth crusade, is recruiting a new generation of Christian soldiers to fight back.
JEFF SHARLETPosted Apr 03, 2007 8:35 AM

>>This is an excerpt from the new issue of "Rolling Stone," on newsstands until April 19th, 2007.

This is how you enlist in the Army of God: First come the fireworks and the prayers, and then 4,000 kids scream, "We won't be silent anymore!" Then the kids drop to their knees, still but for the weeping and regrets of fifteen-year-olds. The lights in the Cleveland arena fade to blue, and a man on the stage whispers to them about sin and love and the Father-God. They rise, heartened; the crowd, en masse, swears off "harlots and adultery"; the twenty-one-year-old MC twitches taut a chain across the ass of her skintight red jeans and summons the followers to show off their best dance moves for God. "Gimme what you got!" she shouts. They dance -- hip-hop, tap, toe and pelvic thrusting. Then they're ready. They're about to accept "the mark of a warrior," explains Ron Luce, commander in chief of BattleCry, the most furious youth crusade since young sinners in the hands of an angry God flogged themselves with shame in eighteenth-century New England. Nearly three centuries later, these 4,000 teens are about to become "branded by God." It's like getting your head shaved when you join the Marines, Luce says, only the kids get to keep their hair. His assistants roll out a cowhide draped over a sawhorse, and Luce presses red-hot iron into the dead flesh, projecting a close-up of sizzling cow skin on giant movie screens above the stage.

"When you enlist in the military, there's a code of honor," Luce preaches, "same as being a follower of Christ." His Christian code requires a "wartime mentality": a "survival orientation" and a readiness to face "real enemies." The queers and communists, feminists and Muslims, to be sure, but also the entire American cultural apparatus of marketing and merchandising, the "techno-terrorists" of mass media, doing to the morality of a generation what Osama bin Laden did to the Twin Towers. "Just as the events of September 11th, 2001, permanently changed our perspective on the world," Luce writes, "so we ought to be awakened to the alarming influence of today's culture terrorists. They are wealthy, they are smart, and they are real."

Luce is forty-five, his brown hair floppy, his lips pouty. On the screens above the stage, his green eyes blink furiously. "The devil hates us," he exhorts, "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!" Luce considers most evangelicals too soft, too ready to pass off as piety their preference for a bland suburban lifestyle. He hates what he sees as the weakness of "accepting" Christ, of "trusting" the Lord. "I want an attacking church!" he shouts, his normally smooth tones raw and desperate and alarming. He isn't just looking for followers -- he wants "stalkers" who'll bring a criminal passion to their pursuit of godliness.

Cue Christian metal on the mammoth screens flanking the stage: "Frontline," a music video produced at Luce's Honor Academy in east Texas for the band Pillar. It opens with a broken guitar magically reassembling itself, a redemptive reversal of four decades of rock & roll nihilism. Then comes the gospel: "Everybody with your fist raised high/Let me hear your battle cry!"

In the hall outside the arena, kids line up to buy BattleCry T-shirts and hoodies and trucker caps, a dozen designs scrolled with goth and skater patterns. A brown tee for boys features a white silhouette of a kid with a baseball bat, a devil behind him rubbing his horns after a beat down. no more lies, reads the legend. On the second day, when the time comes for even the youngest to enlist in Luce's army, I find myself sitting on the main floor of the arena next to a couple of twelve-year-olds, Hanneh and Mallory. Hanneh has straight blond hair; Mallory's a redhead with curls. Mallory wants to borrow my pen. "I have to write a message to MTV," she says. She hunches over in her seat, her hair hiding her hand as she scratches it out. "Dear MTV," she reads aloud, "leave those kids alone!"

Then she adds a kicker: "Repent." I ask her what she means. She giggles as if I'm teasing her. "Ron Luce said so!"

Luce knows that most of the kids who attend his shows come for the music (P.O.D. headline his biggest events; a screamo band called Flyleaf gets top billing in Cleveland), but he also knows that from their numbers, he's growing a new hard core for American fundamentalism. Luce recruits the politically powerless -- kids too young to vote. "That makes 'em want to fight," he tells me backstage after one of his events. "They get so livid. They're mad. They've been very cleverly marketed to. Kids started finding out that we cannot just stand back and let these people do this to us."

Luce calls his crusade a "counter-rebellion" or a "reverse rebellion" or sometimes simply "revolution." The Cleveland event, Acquire the Fire, only one stop in what is becoming Luce's permanently touring roadshow, is not meant to save souls -- most of the kids say they accepted Jesus when they were four or five -- but to radicalize them. He's been doing this for two decades, but it didn't take off until days after the Columbine shootings of 1999, when Luce rallied 70,000 angry, weeping kids at the Pontiac Silverdome outside Detroit. In 2006, he brought his rallies to more than 200,000 kids. Overall, he's preached to 12 million.

They're the base. Of that number, Luce has sent 53,000 teen missionaries around the globe to preach spiritual "purity" -- chastity, sobriety and a commitment to laissez-faire capitalism -- in Romania, Guatemala and dozens of other "strongholds" that require young Americans to bring them "freedom" -- a Christ they believe needs no translation. Luce selected more than 6,000 for his Honor Academy, some of whom become political operatives, media activists and militant preachers who then funnel fresh kids into the Academy. It's a vertically integrated movement, a machine that produces "leaders for the army," a command cadre that can count on the masses Luce conditions as its infantry.

Luce says only four percent of the U.S. will be Christian, by which he means "Bible-believing," when the current generation, the largest in American history, comes of age. To understand how a nation more actively Christian than at any point in its past is about to become some vast Sweden -- Luce's archetypical wasteland of guilt-free sex and socialized medicine -- you have to know that his antagonism toward secularism is dwarfed by a contempt bordering on hatred for what he dubs "cultural Christians." He considers them traitors.
At Acquire the Fire, Luce tells the kids to make lists of secular pleasures they'll sacrifice for the cause. Hanneh starts with Bow Wow and Usher, bites her pen, and then decides to go big: "Music," she writes, then "Friends" -- the nonfundamentalist ones -- and "Party." This, she explains, is a polite way of saying "sex." Not that she's had any, or knows anyone her age who has, but she's learned from Luce that "the culture" wants to force it upon her at a young age. "The world," he tells her, is a forty-five-year-old pervert posing as another tween online.

Luce sometimes brings a garbage truck onto the floor to cart the lists away, but this is a relatively small event, so Hanneh and Mallory trot over to one of the trash bins stationed around the arena and drop theirs in. "I feel so much better," Mallory tells Hanneh. Hanneh nods, smiling now. "I feel free," she says.

Later, one of Luce's PR reps takes me backstage to sift through the bins of rejected affections. Most kids mention music, movies, girlfriends and boyfriends, sex or, surprisingly often, just condoms, but a number of new warriors are oddly precise about their proposed abandonings. They cast into perdition Starbucks (multiple votes), Victoria's Secret (ditto; Luce encourages kids to confront the managers of lingerie stores), cereal (Special K and Cap'n Crunch), hip-huggers, "smelling amazing," "vengeance," "medication" and A&W root beer. "I would say it's ridiculous what they are doing to root beer," wrote the boy who will drink A&W no more.

"This is a real war," Luce preaches. When he talks like that, he growls. "This is not a metaphor!" In Cleveland, he intercuts his sermons with videos of suicide bombers and marching Christian teens. One of the most popular, "Casualties of War," features an elegiac beat by a Christian rapper named KJ-52 laid over flickering pictures of kids holding signs declaring the collapse of Christendom: 1/2 OF US ARE NO LONGER VIRGINS, reads a poster board displayed by a pigtailed girl. 40% OF US HAVE INFLICTED SELF-INJURY, says a sign propped up over a sink in which we see the hands of a girl about to cut herself. 53% OF US BELIEVE JESUS SINNED, declares the placard of a young black man standing in a graffiti-filled alley.

Luce lays out cooked statistics, images, assertions. He doesn't explain -- he warns. To the crowd of watery-eyed teens he recites letters he says their peers have sent him, souls lost to what he calls, over and over, the "pigpen" of secularism. It's a reference to the sorry fate of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke, who wound up tending hogs until he submitted to the authority of God and was restored to his riches. There's an unnamed girl who left Jesus and then "got date raped." There's "Emily," who dated a non-Christian boy -- "now she works in pornography and lives a bisexual lifestyle." Luce sneers: "pigpen." There's "Heather," who wrote to Luce to complain that "my father is passive, and my mom is controlling." "Pigpen," Luce says, his voice filled with sorrow for the girl with the sissy dad...

>>This is an excerpt from the new issue of "Rolling Stone," on newsstands until April 19th, 2007.

>> See it now! Judge America's crusade yourself: Watch footage from a recent BattleCry rally and see one teen's haunting testimony.

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