Onward, Christian Soldiers

Look out, evil Madison Avenue, these Jesus warriors have a battle plan for you

The main hub is BattleCry.com, a social networking site with the technological potential to rival MySpace. On it, kids create their own profiles and add "trench mates" in the fight for Jesus rather than "friends." They become part of online church coalitions. They can print out pages of statistics about sexually transmitted disease infection rates, availability of pornography and prevalence of violent crime that would strike fear into the heart of any warm-blooded human with a sense of decency.

The whole thing smells faintly of the average anti-capitalist, anti-corporate college movement, the kind of thing kids wake up to the first time they take a couple of political science or media classes at their liberal arts college of choice. The war theme gives Battle Cry a powerful front, appealing to the same sense of rebellion that makes beret-clad Che Guevara T-shirts so popular. In theory, at least, it is a long way from the kickball-pizza-God method of saving teenage souls, in which I'm something of an expert. It's time for full disclosure.

When I graduated into the youth group at my United Methodist church as a seventh-grader, I was sure I'd reached heaven on earth right then and there. I spent the next five years attending practically every mission trip, Sunday-night youth program and weekend retreat sponsored by my church. I preached morning services on youth Sundays. I toured with the youth choir. I knew the layout of our church camp better than that of my own backyard. I pledged that True Love would Wait. Eventually I made the ultimate sacrifice: the prime skin real estate on my lower back was dedicated on my 18th birthday not to an inked flower or a butterfly, but to the cross and flame, the symbol of my Methodist church.

Two interns man the phones--and an iPod--at one of the Honor Academy's many cubicle-lined call centers.
Eric Mackintosh & Jason White
Two interns man the phones--and an iPod--at one of the Honor Academy's many cubicle-lined call centers.
Interns run the missions, administration and Battle Cry hubs as well as organize the yearly Acquire the Fire rallies, all under the supervision of a small staff of adults.
Eric Mackintosh & Jason White
Interns run the missions, administration and Battle Cry hubs as well as organize the yearly Acquire the Fire rallies, all under the supervision of a small staff of adults.

Five years ago, I would have been Battle Cry's target audience, the kind of Bible-quoting, pro-life, Christ-filled teenager they could use to grow their flock against that dreaded 4 percent. As smoothly produced as any MTV news segment, Battle Cry videos preach to teens—without, of course, preaching to teens—about the indoctrination of their generation: the constant exposure to sex, drugs and subversive lyrics in popular music that eats away at morality. The premise is simple. If there's one thing that unites all teenagers, it's the need to rebel. It doesn't really matter against what, so long as there's something to contradict with mind, body, soul and black nail polish. Convince kids that the media is making their friends sick, stupid and submissive, and you've got the stuff of a cultural revolution.

So if the Casualties of War video on BattleCry.com had found its way to me way back then, I would have been incensed. One in four "of us" uses drugs? One in 10 "of us" has been raped? Half "of us" are no longer virgins? Screw The Man. I don't want my MTV.

But what happened to me is what happens to so many obedient, churchgoing kids who leave home for the big, wide world: college. When I graduated I had not only a bachelor's degree but a firm belief in gay marriage and a woman's right to choose and absolutely no faith in abstinence education. Today, I am one of those millions of Americans who practice what Luce calls "liberal theology," happily jumping into the hell-bound handbasket and bringing America with us.

The lax, inclusive views of what Luce and his group constantly refer to as "cultural Christians," the kind of folk who profess a belief in Christ but don't consider the Bible the final, literal truth on all matters of life, death and everything between, are the slippery slope down which American values are swiftly sliding, Luce says, and the consequences are dire. Not only might we slip into an amoral post-Christian America, but we could be suffering the same fate he sees for Europe: one nation, not under Yahweh or even My Super Sweet 16, but Allah.

"Something will come to fill the vacuum," he warns, when Christian values no longer hold families and cities and states together, and it might be Islam.

But for all Battle Cry's grassroots appeal and doom-filled threats about the future of our nation, it faces the same challenges confronting every movement, be it political revolution or Nike ad campaign: getting people moving in step on the ground.

Silicon Valley, Hollywood and Madison Avenue are powerful opponents. Despite Battle Cry's well-packaged trappings, the youth groups I met with are hardly teeming with culture-immune, Scripture-quoting Christian warriors. They're kids who like pop music, struggle with popularity and want to be prettier and thinner. They forget about the whole God thing sometimes, and honestly, they'd still really like it if their youth minister would get some pizza.

Luce believes that between teenagers and the marketers, advertisers and entertainment outlets that want their attention, "it's not even a fair fight." But Luce says the Battle Cry package, in the hands and hearts of a dedicated church, can even the playing field, taking the average kickball-and-pizza youth group to a whole new evangelical level...or else.

Lecturing at a giant, high-tech nondenominational church on Central Expressway, Luce has more than just PowerPoint holding his audience's attention. Flanked by projection screens playing videos of little girls doing their best Britney Spears sexy dance that give Luce a prime opportunity to look scornful and scandalized, he is backed by a display table full of Battle Cry paraphernalia. But Luce's real weapons are his sound bites. Every other sentence out of Luce's mouth is ready to be sampled on television news, and right now, he's riffing on pornographers.
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