The people behind BattleCry, veteran Christian youth organizer Ron Luce and his backers (who include Charles Colson, Ted Haggard, and Pat Robertson) don't like the America where I grew up. And it's more than just the separation of church and state. They don't like the fact that my parents let me watch TV without any supervision. They don't like the fact that I listened to Howard Stern on the radio, that my parents bought me Neil Young records, and that I used to find it easy to sneak into R rated movies like "The Life of Brian" by Monty Python. One thing that always makes me chuckle is remembering Christmas in 1978. My parents had bought my 12-year-old brother the album "Jazz" by the British glam rock group "Queen". Imagine their surprise when my brother unwrapped it under the Christmas tree and a poster depicting 300 naked women on bicycles fell out of the album jacket, a photograph of an all girl nude bicycle race that Freddie Mercury had staged to promote the single "Fat Bottomed Girls". It still makes them laugh. For Ron Luce and the parents and Christian youth leaders who brought their kids to BattleCry's 2-day extravaganza of militarism, racism, and Christian music in Philadelphia last weekend, this kind of thing is deadly serious.
Now don't get me wrong. Looking back on my childhood there are a lot of things I would have changed. Perhaps "The Collected Works of Shakespeare" would have been a better Christmas present for my brother than "Fat Bottomed Girls". I would not have let my children eat fast food, and no, I don't think Freddy Mercury is a terribly good role model for a 12-year-old boy. Ron Luce, on the other hand, has no objections to mass culture in and of itself. He has no real objection to the manipulative techniques of the advertising industry. Luce's problem with Columbia Records or Disney isn't that they do in fact manipulate vulnerable kids. It's that that they do for the wrong reasons, to make money and not to push them in the direction of fundamentalist Protestant Christianity. In fact, he likes them so much he's decided to adopt them for himself.
BattleCry Philadelphia was certainly as vulgar and manipulative as anything I've ever seen from Howard Stern or Freddy Mercury. A two day carnival of militarism, racism, and loud, boring rock music, we were treated to a "sex expert" named "Lakita Garth" who mixed her scare routine about sexually transmitted diseases and the need to remain abstinent until marriage (she's in her late 30s and recently married) with hateful impressions of stereotypical dumb teenagers designed to make us all feel superior. It didn't work. I'm not a young black male and I'm not a California valley girl, the two main targets of her "satire", but her routine left me feeling angry and depressed anyway. There were the usual ridiculous "Christian Rock" bands, a group that kind of looked like Duran Duran, one that kind of resembled Godsmack or Pearl Jam, and another reminded me nothing so much as a bad imitation of Matchbox Twenty. There was a spectacularly offensive segment about the Ecuadorian Indian tribe that was recently the subject of the movie "The End of the Spear". I hope I never have to suffer through anything like this again. It resembled a Victorian imperialist freak show from the 19nth Century complete with the simpering, tamed native, once violent but now gentle, friendly and willing to serve the white man after his conversion to Christianity brought up on stage like a trained pet while they read passages from something called "The Pidgin Bible". Hey mon. You find Jesus. You feel good.
But BattleCry Philadelphia was more than just a vulgar carnival designed to suck donations into the coffers of Ron Luce's corporation "Teen Mania". Indeed, it had a point, to recruit the future elite "warriors" in the coming battle against the separation of church and state. It turned dark and frightening on Saturday afternoon. After Franklin "Islam is a Wicked Religion" Graham came out to thunder against the evils of homosexuality and the Iraqi people (whom he considers to be exactly the same people as the ancient Babylonians who enslaved the tribes of Israel and deserving, one would assume, the exact same fate) we heard an explosion. Flames shot out on stage and a team of Navy Seals was shown on the big TV monitors in full camouflage creeping forward down the hallway from the locker room with their M16s. They were hunting us, the future Christian leaders of America. Two teenage girls next to me burst into tears and even I, a jaded middle-aged male, almost jumped out of my skin. I imagined for that moment what it must have felt like to have been a teacher at Columbine high school. 10 seconds later they rushed out onstage and pointed their guns in our direction firing blanks spitting flames. About 1000 shots and bang, we were all dead.
I then followed the select group of Christian youth out into the corridor into the tent where we were told about Teen Mania's "Honor Academy", some type of Christian fundamentalist boot camp designed to replace the first year of college for 600 dollars a month. This is about the same price that I paid to go to Rutgers way back in the 1980s, but considerably less than it would cost to a decent private university today. I'm assuming this is half the point, that the kids who wind up attending the "honor academy" will be evaluated according how useful they'll be to the Christian right. The select will be given some type of financial help going to college. The financially well off will be fine in any case and the rest will be funneled into the military, Walmart, and various places where they can thump the Bible and act as the foot soldiers in the army for the coming Christian revolution.
Finding myself bored with this, I went back into the atrium of the Wachovia Center and was approached by a young Asian man in his 20s for a project called "The Bridge of Hope," a campaign designed to convert the Indian untouchables (a doe eyed uncharacteristically light skinned example of an "untouchable" graces the cover of their pamphlet) and eventually all 2 billion people in Asia to evangelical Christianity. I chatted him up for awhile. (Got anybody in Pakistan? Nope. But we hope to. How about Iraq? Soon. The Muslims really need the Bible to overcome their wicked, satanic religion. How about Israel? Not at the moment). I went back into the arena and watched a few minutes of a musical group called "Piller", a dark, pseudo grunge band with the usual heavy power chords and a stage show full of pyrotechnics so powerful I felt the heat licking up against my cheeks all the up in the bleacher section. Well, having watched the coverage of the Great White tragedy the previous week, I was in no mood for indoor fireworks, so I shoved my way through the crowd out of the doors and onto the sidewalk where I joined the small group of counter protesters handing out literature and engaging the conventioneers in debate.
This is where I figured out that I had finally had enough of BattleCry 2006, that they were nothing but a gang of right-wing extremist bullies hiding behind teenage kids. Getting into a long debate with someone I thought was safe and relatively moderate (a man in his 30s who looked a bit like George Constanza) I found out that there was no real difference between Nambla and the gay rights movement as a whole, that the ACLU and Moveon.org were both plotting against Christmas, and that my grandmother, a devout Catholic who attended a Latin mass, lit candles for sinners, and raised one son who grew up to be a Jesuit priest, hadn't really a Christian at all and was probably in hell. I moved onto the next man, who told me about a book called "Saddam's Secrets" by an ex Baathist general (whom I have never heard George Bush mention but don't quote me on it) proving that the weapons of mass destruction were in a big hole somewhere in Syria.
I ended up in a shouting match with a large, ex con who showed me his scars, talked about his days as an addict (yeah, just the kind of guy you'd want watching over your teenage kids), and kept grabbing me and screaming in my face that I was a "salad bar" every time I brought up the fact that Ron Luce seemed very uninterested in the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount (which was never mentioned the whole weekend) or about why Franklin Graham spent so much time talking about the wicked Babylonians and not, for example, the Parable of the Good Samaratin. This man had a real bad concept of personal space since he couldn't really understand it when I kept asking him to let go of my arm. It was getting to the point where there was only going to be one possible outcome, him getting kneecapped or me getting lynched, so my companions pulled me out of the debate and we beat a hasty retreat to my car where we sped up the New Jersey Turnpike back to New York.
Finding myself, at long last, in Orthodox Jewish Crown Heights, then Godless, secular Park Slope, I almost wept for joy. But I didn't. We're much closer today to Belfast than we were in 1981.