Mother Jones Magazine Reports on Teen Mania/Battle Cry
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Mar 26, 2007 at 04:19:06 PM EST
Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones magazine has a fresh report on the recent rally staged in San Francisco by the Christian Right youth group, Teen Mania that is worth a read for many reasons.

This is a highly political, wave of the future movement, that as the article points out, effectively taps the spirit of youthful rebellion and crafting a kind of Christian right coolness chic. There is a further lesson in this as well: Teen Mania/Battle Cry effectively uses the antics of counter protesters to energize their cadre. Opponents of the religious right need to get a lot smarter than using mere counter protests, (especially those that include Christian-baiting and edgy anti-social behavior) in order to be politically and culturally effective. This article   points out some of the ways that counter protesters play into the hands of rally organizers by becoming caricatures of the adversity the group feeds off of.

Check out an exerpt on the flip:

Hundreds of teenagers in hoodies and fauxhawks gathered on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, holding placards that said, "I have a voice!" It would have been a rather boring thing to say, here in this agitprop-saturated city, except that their voices were nearly drowned out by angry boomer hippies. The kids had just launched a "reverse rebellion" against drugs, sex, and ungodliness--in San Francisco, sort of akin to kicking a puppy.

"Say it again so everyone in San Francisco can hear you," a teen activist yelled as a driver in a passing car flicked her off. "We won't be silent! Our voices will be heard!" The crowd primed, she handed the mic to rally organizer Ron Luce, a youthful preacher in a casually hip, Euro-cut blazer who would be bringing some 20,000 teens into the city's baseball stadium that weekend for a Christian rock rally called BattleCry.

"A man in a gray ponytail began yelling at Luce through a megaphone; in response BattleCry cranked up its speakers. "This is a battle," Luce intoned as someone blew an ear-splitting whistle, "and we are not going to take it anymore! We are not going to let these guys shape our generation!"

The teens erupted in cheers. Some crossed their arms in gangsta poses. One sported a sweatshirt that read, "I (heart) hardcore Christianity."

Luce, the charismatic leader of the $25 million, Texas-based Teen Mania Ministries and a veteran organizer of rock-fueled revivals, created BattleCry as a Christian-rock youth movement that channels the slick, pop-culture militarism of a Che Guevara t-shirt. (He declined to be interviewed for this story.) At the debut event in San Francisco last year he rode onto a sandbag-lined stage in a Humvee. The event sparked a roaring counter-protest by gay activists, catapulted Luce onto the "O'Reilly Factor" and united the conservative blogosphere in outrage. Some critics believe Luce is a brilliant provocateur who is using San Francisco as a foil for recruitment--the more people protest, the more teenagers flock to his controversial campaign. "Protest has an inherent appeal to many teenagers," notes child psychiatrist Tom Jensen. "And protest is more interesting if the people you are protesting respond."

Activists with the Maryland-based anti-Teen Mania group, Acquire the Evidence, had tried to convince San Francisco organizers to avoid the protest. Lauren Sabina Kneisly of Acquire, who has tracked Teen Mania for eight years as part of a wider effort to investigate religious fundamentalists, noticed that Teen Mania filmed the counter-protests last year and quickly spliced images of the rally onto the rock concert's JumboTron. Teen mania also peppered its recruitment and fundraising drives with images of cross-dressers and quotes from city Supervisor Mark Leno, who'd said of BattleCry, "They're loud, they're obnoxious, they're disgusting, and they should get out of San Francisco." Kneisly observed: "They basically used San Francisco as set dressing in their script.

"They're painting San Francisco and queers as a dominant culture, which we are not, and then they are saying to these kids: 'You are rebelling.'"  

that organized opposition to the religious right and its various sub sets, evaluate the efficacy of the things that they do; and how they do them.

The politics of gesture is often counter-productive, as we can see in episodes like this. This does not mean that all demonstrations are necessarily counter-productive. Quite the contrary. But each action needs to be thought through as to whether it is the best thing to do, or is counter-productive.  

More importantly, it is helpful to have a wider range of well thought potential responses.  This requires some knowledge and longer term committment to figuring out how to better contend with the religious right, one of the largest and most successful political and social movements in American history.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Mar 26, 2007 at 05:04:17 PM EST

to enlist the gay-friendly congregations to welcome-wagon them at one of the meeting sites with some info (chamber of commerce stuff, and flyers inviting them to services at said gay-friendly congregations)  and free bottled water and snack. Of course this would require a bit of planning, as I would expect the Luce organization works hard to keep outsiders out and would bounce anyone handing out free stuff at private venues - but you can't control the streets in front of City Hall, and you can't control kids' curiosity and hunger either.

by NancyP on Tue Mar 27, 2007 at 06:16:45 PM EST

There's a growing concentration of attention on Battlecry, ranging from this Mother Jones piece to the toothless NYT piece to Sarah Posner's piece. My own two cents -- and then some -- will be out in a few weeks in a long feature for Rolling Stone. I don't believe in the myth of objectivitiy -- I'm a critical journalist -- but I did write it as a piece of narrative description, not an activist response. Nonetheless, I'll gladly admit that I hope this increased coverage gets to the parents of kids involved in Battlecry. There are plenty of Christian conservatives who'd be very unhappy with the anger and rhetorical violence of Battlecry if only they knew about it.
Author of THE FAMILY: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (Harper, May 20)
by Jeff Sharlet on Tue Mar 27, 2007 at 02:20:04 AM EST
I am looking to read your upcoming article, Jeff. Your writing is always concise, insightful, and informative.

by Lorie Johnson on Tue Apr 03, 2007 at 12:18:51 PM EST

This is yet another of the many articles on Teen Mania Ministries' "BattleCry" campaign that once again, continues to perpetuate Teen Mania's bogus framing, that of teens "rebelling", a completely false paradigm put forward in the "BattleCry" marketing and to which we strongly object. It also continues the framing that this is some kind of "rock concert." Did anyone ever seriously call Billy Graham's "crusades," which are a not dissimilar evangelistic event, a "rock concert?"

The article also continues the habit of getting basic facts outright wrong, such as the incorrect claim that in Philly, Force Ministries members shot "blanks" at the audience (they were stage weapons, not in any way real, with small bursts of fire coming from the tips with sound effects while aimed at the audience). We specifically corrected the reporter on details such as this - important in conveying the contrived non-reality of the event when dealing with matters such as war - yet the debunked mythological "non-facts" continue to find their way into articles like this. Even the characterization of Force Ministries as "Christian Navy Seals" is at least in part incorrect, as we pointed out to this reporter, in that at least one of the men on stage often identified by writers as a 'Seal' is in fact nothing more than a part-time actor who never claimed to have military experience.

This article's characterization of the website  my partner Mike Doughney and I co-author, is likewise, an example of the common practice of seeing "groups" where none exist. We are no more than two individuals, who research what we consider those working towards a restructuring of America; to characterize our website as "part of a wider effort to investigate religious fundamentalists" is equally his words not ours, another point we brought up with him before this piece was ever posted.

In short, we feel there are a number of factual and conceptual errors in this piece, and that it continues the next iteration of misinformation that is already being repeated over and over. And once again, there is nearly zero reporting on the actual content of the stadium event, and what is being communicated from the stage - some of which, we think, is of far greater importance than the staged, theatrical conflicts at City Hall.

by Lauren Sabina Kneisly on Tue Mar 27, 2007 at 05:26:27 PM EST

Glad you are on the case. Your analysis of issues of framing as well as facts, is important.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Mar 27, 2007 at 09:09:50 PM EST

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