Fear and Loathing at Philadelphia's BattleCry It began with fireworks so loud and startling I screamed. Lights and smoke followed, and a few kids were pulled up on stage from the crowd. One was asked to read a letter. This was the letter that opened the event. Its author was George W. Bush. Yes, the president of the United States sent a letter of support, greeting, prayer and encouragement to the BattleCry event held at Wachovia Spectrum Stadium in Philadelphia on May 12. Immediately afterward, a preacher took the microphone and led the crowd in prayer. Among other things, he asked the attendees to Thank God for giving us George Bush. On his cue, about 17,000 youths from upward of 2,000 churches across America and Canada directed their thanks heavenward in unison. Throughout the three and a half hours of BattleCrys first session, I thought of only one analogy that fit the experience: This must have been what it felt like to watch the Hitler Youth, filled with self-righteous pride, proclaim the supremacy of their beliefs and their willingness to shed blood for them. A man of imposing size sat down next to me and my friends and asked us if we were planning any disturbances. And lest you think this is idle paranoia, BattleCry founder Ron Luce told the crowds the next morning (May 13) that he plans to launch a blitzkrieg in the communities, schools, malls, etc. against those who dont share his theocratic vision of society. Blitzkrieg. Nothing like a little Nazi imagery to whip up the masses. *(see editors note at bottom) But back to the first rally, on May 12. Shortly after we sat down, Tom, a man of imposing size who appeared to be a BattleCry security staffer, sat down next to me and my friends and asked us if we were planning any disturbances. I dont know how BattleCry & Co. knew I was here; they apparently had recognized me from my appearance on The OReilly Factor (video link) in March. I told Tom that we werent planning any disturbances and that, no, I wouldnt like to meet with BattleCry founder Ron Luce after the rally, nor did I want to give him my phone number. Seemingly satisfied, he ambled off. But later on, as I rose to go to the bathroom, I caught sight of another BattleCry security-type following me. It was very unsettling, to say the least. (While in the bathroom, I saw something equally unsettling--a preteen girl wearing a shirt being sported by many attendees that night: Jesus on the cross, robes waving, and emblazoned across the front the words Dressed to Kill.) After my bathroom break, Tom, my helpful minder, was replaced by an eerily cheerful young woman who was also obviously one of the BattleCry personnel. She claimed to be simply making sure that my friends and I were happy. She would stop by several times over the course of the concert. I wonder if all attendees got that kind of VIP treatment. But on to the show. The first rock band that performed, Delirious, got the crowd festive and up on their feet with lyrics that were projected on large screens so that everyone could join in: Were an army of God and were ready to die.... Lets paint this big ol town red.... We see nothing but the blood of Jesus.... Between musical acts, Luce, the BattleCry founder, hammered away at the dominant theme of the night: his contention that pew-sitters ... passive Christians ... the Christians who just want love, joy, peace ... were the problem, and that the world needed more radical and extreme God-worshippersthose who would be obedient and fully submit to Christ. Luce would have us believe that everything went off track when the Bible-toting people of my grandparents generation were replaced by the pew-sitters of the Baby Boom generation. These are the people who, according to Luce, just wanted to passively benefit from the love, joy and peace message of Christianity without actively surrendering their wills and their selves completely upon Christs altar and working in His name. Yeah, if only people would stop practicing love, joy and peace. Wouldnt that make the world a better place.... Luce used this critique of pew-sitting Christians to assuage the doubts of the youths at the rally who may have been feeling uncertain about their commitment to the Church. Dont worry, he was telling them, youve been amongst pew-sitters--watered-down Christians. Welcome to the reign of total submission to the Lord. It was a mantra Luce repeated all through the night: the need to submit ones self fully to Jesus, to belong completely to Him. He doesnt just want to be in your heart, He wants to own your heart.... Theres only one good reason to come to Christ: because Hes the rightful owner of your life.... You dont have to know much about Jesus, just enough to surrender your whole life. Throughout this section, a loud crowd from the back of the stadium would periodically erupt, We are warriors! Some of the youths said it was OK that Bushs lies have killed thousands--because God put Bush in power. After tugging at countless emotional strings, Luce insistedwith the humility of Taliban members who submit to Allahs command to stone adulterersYou are the one talking to God, I am just going to help you with the words. There was a session when, after a great crescendo, the stadium was brought to silence. Luce instructed individuals to stand up when they felt the spirit and cry out, I want the cross! The voices of hundreds rose up over the course of 10 minutes. These young people, declaring death unto themselves and rebirth in Christ, were called down to the floor of the stadium and directed to get on their knees and put their heads down and pray some more. Luce put great emphasis on following every word in the Bible, treating it as an instruction book, even when a person doesnt understand or agree. This is, of course, the logic that leads to the stoning of gays, non-virgin brides, disobedient children and much morebecause the Bible says so. Chillingly, when I confronted Ron explicitly about these passages, he refused to disavow them. During the afternoon preceding the May 12 rally, Luce and about 300 BattleCry acolytes (almost entirely youths) rallied in front of Philadelphias Constitution Hallthe location having been chosen because Luce wants to restore the Founding Fathers vision of a religious society (never mind that the Founders enshrined in the Constitution an explicitly secular framework of government). I and about 20 people representing various anti-Bush, atheistic and anti-Iraq-war factions made our way into the rally and began interacting with the youths assembled. Some said openly that it was OK that George Bushs lies have cost the lives of thousands of Americans and Iraqis. Why was it OK? Because God put him [Bush] there. We then decided to ask them a little about this God, and his instruction book, as Luce calls it. Specifically, we asked them if they supported the parts of Deuteronomy and Leviticus that spell out, for example, death sentences for women who dared to enter the city while menstruating. The most memorable response came from Luce himself. (We were standing face to face in the plazahe had recognized me from my OReilly appearance.) This is your Bible, I told him. You have to defend this. He smiled, smugly, and almost looked taken aback that I would challenge him like this. You cant defend this, I continued. A biblical literalist, Luce couldnt disavow something in his instruction book, but neither did he want to appear (I imagine) to condone Iron Age barbarity. So he stayed quiet, until, after I prodded him further, he changed the subject. Why are you so angry? he asked. My point made, I walked away. http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20060513_battlecry_philadelphia/ -------------------------------------------------------------------------- After watching a brief documentary on this organization, I decided to do a little research. The above was just one of the articles that I found. When I saw the teenagers who participate in these rallies on tv, many of them looked like the gothic kids who destroyed Columbine. In other words, they were outcasts who were now purified by the message of Christ. As someone of their age, it hurt me to watch them "submit" themselves. Why would they do this? They are looking for structure and acceptance, a codified set of behaviors that determines their worth. It's easier to be accepted by God for following the Bible, than to be accepted by your peers for who you are. There is no formula to being popular; yet there is a formula to heaven. They've sought the latter because they can't discover the first. Ron Luce is a predator-- he is capitalizing on feelings of loss, anguish, and unworthiness to promote a POLITICAL agenda. The group has petitioned state legislators to restore Christian values. They haven't submitted themselves to Jesus, they've submitted themselves to Ron Luce. On top of this, the shows that they have contain spectacular lighting effects, fireworks, and everything else that a loud rock show would have. What is the need this? Last I checked, Jesus wore a robe and sandals. Do they really need these effects to praise him? Couldn't those thousands upon thousands of dollars have gone to charity instead of frivolous appeal. The purity of Christ's message should be good enough to stand on its own. Instead, Luce is riling them up for, as he calls it, "a religious war," or as I call it-- jihad. And I seem to remember God giving us Clinton as well. Their explanation for Bush's presidency is insane...that's what they used to call the "divine right of kings." They caused a lot of bloodshed as well.