Onward, Christian Soldiers

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

"They're going after our babies!" he cries, painting a bleak, sex-obsessed picture of today's teenage generation sure to stick with the couple hundred senior pastors and youth ministers at the Battle Cry Leadership Summit.

"How about we just make it really hard for teenagers to go to hell?" Luce asks the nodding, grunting audience.

Now, he's winding down. Luce has already hit the high points, referencing everything that gets people stirred up about things these days: September 11, the divorce rate, penguins.

Man cannot live by bread alone, but it helps: Interns grab lunch at the Honor Academy cafeteria between leadership classes and their required volunteer hours.
Eric Mackintosh & Jason White
Man cannot live by bread alone, but it helps: Interns grab lunch at the Honor Academy cafeteria between leadership classes and their required volunteer hours.
In addition to a cafeteria, the Honor Academy campus looks and feels like any other small rural college, complete with dorms, a gym, a hiking course and even a small water park.
Eric Mackintosh & Jason White
In addition to a cafeteria, the Honor Academy campus looks and feels like any other small rural college, complete with dorms, a gym, a hiking course and even a small water park.

"These virtue terrorists are just as bad as Al-Qaeda!" Luce warns.

Luce rattles off a few numbers. Soft-core porn images appear on MTV 3,000 times a week, Luce says, and heads shake throughout the room. Each day, he adds, 8,000 teenagers contract a sexually transmitted disease. Teens who watch a lot of sexually oriented programming on television are twice as likely to engage in sexual activity, he says. It's not all fuzzy math. Luce's STD stats are backed up by similar findings from PBS and the RAND Corporation, though the soft-core porn numbers are all Luce's.

Then, of course, there's the Internet porn. "Point-and-click pornography," Luce calls it, wrecking marriage after future marriage for the teenagers who view it. But the clincher is the penguin metaphor. That's what will really get these adults thinking.

The clip on the projection screen is from March of the Penguins. A lone little chick waddles out into the cold, ignored not only by its peers but by Mama and Papa too. In no time at all, a bird of prey swoops down upon the helpless baby, and all is lost. At first, everyone laughs. But then, the room grows silent.

"It is time we learned a lesson from our penguin friends," Luce says. He bows his head in prayer. "Forgive us as adults for allowing this culture to build up around them," he says, softly. Then, even softer. "In Jesus' name we pray." Now, a whisper. "In Jesus' name we pray. Amen."

Then, it's back to banging the Battle Cry drum. After his suggestion about making it difficult for teens to suffer eternal damnation, Luce drives home his solution: the Battle Plan. Double your youth group size. He tells these church leaders, "Jesus didn't die for 10 quality people."

Get their parents involved in monitoring media consumption, he says, and get a TiVo while you're at it. That way, parents can lock out the nasty influences of shows such as Family Guyand the gay-friendly Will and Grace, recording only that which is wholesome. Battle Cry folks even get a special discount thanks to a partnership with the company. "To bless you," Luce tells the crowd.

And there is, of course, the "rocket-propelled grenade disguised as a book," Luce's own Battle Cry for a Generation, complete with a glowing endorsement from the fallen former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard, smack dab on the first page. But don't worry, Luce tells the audience about buying his book. "Nobody's making money off this." Of course, that might depend on how you define the phrase "making money."


According to Teen Mania's IRS reports, Luce paid himself $127,500 in 2004. His wife, the Teen Mania secretary, came away with just $35,000. The organization's chief operating officer, former marketing executive Rick Brenner, made more than both of them combined: $180,455.

Those numbers aren't unheard of in the nonprofit sphere, particularly considering Brenner's background, handling brand management for Noxzema skin care, Green Giant and Procter & Gamble. In the corporate world, he'd probably be making much more. And Luce does travel a lot, working nonstop hours as head of what claims to be the largest teen ministry in the United States.

Teen Mania cycled through almost $25 million in expenses in 2004 and took in more than $26 million in revenue, leaving a meager $1.5 million for a rainy day. For all his powerful rhetoric against the evils of making profit off teenagers, Luce draws a thick line between what he's doing and what the mass media do.

"It's not strictly anti-capitalist," Luce explains after the leadership summit lecture. "Capitalism's great, but capitalism with no morals whatsoever, that's the issue." Anyone's welcome to make as much money as they can, in Luce's view, so long as they're not doing what companies such as Viacom, MTV's parent corporation, do with "cradle to grave" strategies for luring in youth. "They're preying on our kids, making money. Laughing at them as they eat the poison candy they give them."

Now in his mid-40s, Luce says he was a hard-partying 16-year-old from a broken home in Fresno, California, when he got saved after visiting an evangelical church with a friend. Up until then, it was hymns and polite attention during sermons at the no-frills church he was raised in. The boisterous evangelical experience, says Luce, was like someone finally speaking English to him from the pulpit. At 25, he founded Teen Mania with his wife, Katie, and drove cross-country preaching to youth and building his ministry. He has bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology from Oral Roberts University and the University of Tulsa. Luce also attended the Owner/President Management program at the Harvard Business School, an "executive education" branch of the Ivy League university.

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