On a particularly blustery and gray Motor City day, several dozen Christian teenagers are freezing their blessed butts off in front of City Hall. They're here for Battle Cry (battlecry.com), a teen Christian "reverse rebellion" against the sinful, corruptive, unstoppable monster of pop culture. Per their press release: "Fueled by their faith, young rebels rally for return to time when teen sex, drug & alcohol abuse and porn wasn't cool." (Um, when exactly was that?)
Now, to be fair, making fun of Christians for being uncool is like shooting fish in a barrel; it's an easy target and a cheap laugh. But the concept of making God cool? There are just some things that shouldn't attempt to be "cool." Politicians. Public service announcements. Jesus.
Battle Cry is allegedly a grassroots teen-organized nonprofit, but, according to press accounts, it's led by 44-year-old Ron Luce, the founder of Teen Mania Ministries. The San Francisco Chronicle identified Luce as an author, cable TV program host and a President Bush appointee to a federal anti-drug-abuse commission.
The PR for this thing is freakin' slick: an onslaught of press releases, opportunistic spins on press clips GM doesn't even have campaigns this savvy. And their press kit is something so obviously conceived by a boardroom of out-of-touch fiftysomethings: a school binder scribbled with "teen" drawings that are horribly rendered and corny (a kid tossing a devil CD into a fire, an arrow shooting through a teen-suicide noose).
Battle Cry is on a nationwide tour. Their first stop was in San Francisco, where they were met with an official condemnation from the city and a cavalcade of protesters, citing them as anti-gay and intolerant.
Detroit is their second stop, but there are only three protesters when they convene at City Hall (one would assume all the heathens were hitting happy hour at the strip club).
Hoisting his God sign high in front of the Spirit of Detroit, Jimn (like hymn, get it?) Kyles is from Texas, and one of the organizers. A twentysomething, his metrosexually stylish shirt complements his spiky, blond-tipped Backstreet Boy hair. He's cool, he's hip ... he's pretty damn hot the perfect poster boy.
"We're here to pray and to rally people together against the culture war," he says, repeating the buzz words and phrases that litter the group's press releases. "We're here to make a statement, to say that we have morals and believe in Christian values."
The kids are all waving red flags and God-ly signs ("They won't let you smoke but they don't care if you watch porn") and look completely terrified anytime they're approached by a bum.
Amanda Hughey, 19, is from Orange County, and the love of Jesus Christ our savior may fill her, but it isn't enough to keep her warm, as she shivers in the wind. A pretty girl with bright eyes and braces, she says Teen Mania changed her life.
"A year ago, I was doing cocaine and partying all the time," she says. "I got to a point where I was so low and so broken, I could either end up dying or get out of it. I knew I couldn't do it myself, so I turned to the Lord."
She also regurgitates the Teen Mania buzz words: "This is an organization by teens for teens," she says. "It's about being able to empower teens and help them stand up against drugs, sex and the things that are 'cool.'"
Hughey was in San Fran; here's her take on the protesters: "It was pretty intense. But we wanted to show them that we love them, we didn't want them to think we were after one agenda. We're not here for hate. A lot of them think it's 'turn or burn' preaching, but that's not what we're all about."
A few hours later, some 32,000 teens and parents have convened at Ford Field. On stage is a Christian band that sounds like a bad version of Bono, and the big screens are broadcasting every Jesus-licious lyric. The band does nothing to dispel the myth that Christian rock bands kick it as hard as Michael Bolton; but several thousand teens are jumping, clapping and singing along. Again, easy to make fun of but, hey, at least they're not out raping, killing, mailbox-bashing or shooting up.
Most of the teenagers I approached were very sweet; they were well-spoken, polite, and didn't stare at my chest, which is far more than I expect of most adolescent boys. Still, it freaks me out that they're perhaps just puppets for a right-wing propaganda machine fueled by very experienced and very business-minded conductors with a very specific moral agenda. But, then again, they'll one day be old enough to speak and think for themselves ... pretty soon.
Not to mention, teenagers seem to get more worldly with every passing year; one 13-year-old girl from Ypsilanti that I interviewed told me a girl just got expelled from her school for having sex in the bathroom; a 15-year-old boy from Waterford told me there had been a gun scare and a bomb threat at his school in the same day.
The whole thing weirds me out, but these kids have every right to convene and worship whomever they want ... and protesting it just makes you look like a big ol' liberal douche bag, and adds more fuel to their holy fire.
Please, for the love of whomever, don't give Bill O'Reilly a reason to gloat.Sarah Klein is Metro Times culture editor. Send comments to [email protected]