muglogo.gifIn the last few weeks in class, we’ve been discussing popular culture, religion, and the media, so Jeff Sharlet’s (of The Revealer) recent article in Rolling Stone and his comments on NPR come at an opportune moment. (BTW, JakeB has a good thing going over at his blog, and Sharlet even responded, so I encourage you to check it out.)

Sharlet’s article documents the alarming growth of a new evangelical youth movement known as Battle Cry, whose mission is to destroy “pop-culture terrorism.” Battle Cry strikes me as being a combination of Billy Graham Crusades, Promise Keepers, and Campus Crusade, only for kids. The leader of the movement, Ron Luce, is hell-bent (literally, it appears) on making sure that the “culture wars” survive at least one more generation. Apparently Luce is terrified that today’s youth will have nothing to contest when they grow into adults. Rest easy, Ron, there’ll be PLENTY, but you may be right that the issues that you think are life and death issues won’t be nearly as interesting or important as they were 15 years ago.

What we’re seeing here is the manifestation of fear, specifically the fear of losing a worldview that was so absolutely central to an earlier generation of a specific “community.” The Evangelical Community has prided itself on being the watchdog of morality since the 1950’s and was ideally placed (historically speaking) to confront what it perceived to be the secularist assault of subsequent decades. However, evangelicals are turning more and more to the more pressing issues that involve ethics and stewardship and justice more than they do individual morality. People like Ron Luce are feeling absolutely betrayed by their heritage, and it takes a media master like Luce to fuse this watchdog-mentality with the flotsam and jetsam of Evangelical Crusades, Billy-Graham and Campus style, and the Promise Keepers into a jihad like Battle Cry that targets the only real audience that has the emotional and hormonal capital to spend on stuff like this: today’s youth.

I’m certainly not going to deny that there is a whole lot of dehumanization and objectification of much of the pop culture that Luce and his Battle Crying minions feel they need to combat. The women’s lingerie industry, a favorite whipping boy (girl?) of Battle Criers and of the evangelical right in general, is a case in point, as Sharlet and Luce both recognize. (As would be the cover of the latest issue of Rolling Stone, where Sharlet’s article appears!) Objectification of women: bad. But, to deny women the right to take a little pride in their physical appearance, as Luce would seem to advocate, is absurd. Sure, there is wisdom in Jesus’ hyperbolically metaphoric injunction to cut off what causes you to sin, and if —if!–your latest issue of the Victoria’s Secret catalog causes you or your brother to sin, by all means, cancel your subscription, especially if you object to the fetishization of the sex goddesses in the thing. If drinking leads you or your brother/sister/neighbor into a life of sin and debauchery and violence, then cut it. But taken to the extreme, you get brainwashed kids who swear off A+W Root Beer (See the Stones article, referenced above). Reminds me of a fellow my dad once met years ago. Dad: Hey, can I get you a Pepsi? Friend: Nope, thanks, though; gave it up, gave it up when I found the LORD, when Jesus saved me. (pauses) But, I’ll take a beer if you got one of those…

In any case, while Luce’s furious criticism of the “secular media” and of the usual suspects of secularists, abortionists, liberals, Muslims, gays and lesbians, and so forth who are “conspiring” to destroy Christianity is the same schtick we’ve been hearing now for decades, he completely refuses to consider that there are more important issues we need to confront today. And as I’ve said, I think this stems from his own feeling of betrayal by the greater evangelical community. He cannot identify with the contemporary evangelical ethos that is growing on a daily basis, and so, like a jilted lover starving for the eros of his old passion or, like a former community member without a community to return to, (and we’ve all been there), rather than identify with another community he undertakes to practice jihad against his former confreres and form his own.

I use the word jihad here deliberately. Ron Luce and Battle Cry represent the mirror image of militant jihadist movements within Islam, which appeals to the young, the jilted, and the emotionally ideological who believe that everything their leader(s) believe in is under attack by some outside force. It fosters hate for those who are unlike them, and is violently antithetical to Christ’s injunction to love our enemies and to do good to those who hate us. For those of us who come from an evangelical heritage and who are participating in the growing movement of neo-evangelical ethics centered on justice, stewardship, and compassion, indeed, the culture wars aren’t over, but the site of the battle has shifted. For these neo-evangelicals, the battle for the minds of today’s youth isn’t going to be fought over lingerie and rootbeer and MTV, but over the ideologies of hate and injustice that, knowingly or unknowingly, Ron Luce and his Battle Criers promote in our young people. The trick is to engage without using the weapons of the enemy.