The Common Good

Battle for a Wholesome Generation?

Sojomail - March 29, 2006

Quote of the Week : Uruguay, Argentina, say 'no' to the SOA
Batteries Not Included : David Batstone: Battle for a wholesome generation?
Sojourners in the News : Faith and politics in America: Two evangelical perspectives
Faith in Action : Illegal hospitality: A church's guide to civil disobedience
Globe Watch : Democracy in Afghanistan?
Iraq Journal : Details of Christian Peacemakers' ordeal emerge
Boomerang : Readers write
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"From the beginning of the conversation, Minister Berrutti told us that there was no need to explain the atrocities of the SOA, as she, and the people of Uruguay, were fully aware of this reality, having experienced first hand the horrors of the tortures, detentions, imprisonments and 'disappearances' caused by its graduates."

- Lisa Sullivan, member of a School of the Americas Watch delegation that met with Uruguayan Defense Minister Azucena Berrutti, a former human rights lawyer who defended political prisoners during that country's military dictatorships. Uruguay and Argentina have decided to stop sending soldiers to train at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of the Americas. They are the second and third Latin American nations to do so, Venezuela being the first.

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Battle for a wholesome generation?
by David Batstone

What cause do you suppose could bring more than 25,000 evangelical Christians together in San Francisco this past weekend: Immigration? The Iraq war? Climate change? Nope, a celebration of "virtue."

The two-day rally branded itself as Battle Cry for a Generation and fits into a broader national campaign to provide Christian youth with alternative entertainment - Christian rock and rap - and teach clear values.

The moving force behind the campaign is Ron Luce, host of the cable television show Acquire the Fire and author of literature geared for Christian teens. Luce freely uses the language of warfare to express how youth are under attack from a culture that celebrates wanton violence and sexual promiscuity. Corporate commercial centers target youth with a "virtue terrorism," Luce charges, and are winning the battle for their souls. Luce frames his efforts as a culture war, and wants to arm Christian youth with Bible-based solutions for life. The red flags and slogans he uses for Battle Cry for a Generation are revolutionary chic and emotive. Luce is savvy enough to realize that if you are going to resist mainstream pop culture, you have to provide youth a compelling alternative.

Despite my misgivings about the onward Christian soldier motif, I share the concerns that inspire the Battle Cry movement. As a father of four children quickly moving into adolescence I am painfully aware of how advertisers and entertainment outlets hone in on their demographic. The sexualization of youth culture is a primary tool to motivate their desires for consumer behavior. At first blush, that statement appears to be an oversimplification. It's not - titillation is the engine that drives the commercial machine.

So when Luce bemoans the MTV stereotypes of attractive young women and the celluloid images of manhood packed with violence, I am ready to raise his red flag of counter cultural resistance. I, too, do not let my kids run loose on MySpace and closely monitor the DVDs they bring into the house. So much of pop culture is a values cesspool, and I want my kids to understand how those distorted values corrupt a healthy soul.

Of late there have been some encouraging trends in pop culture. A relatively new film company, Walden Films, is making family entertainment that embeds meaningful values. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Charlotte's Web are two of their initial forays into the theaters. And at a time when marketers tell us that only promiscuous sex and violence sell, a rather wholesome "High School Musical" has become a pop phenomenon. These successes hopefully will spawn a new wave of media that I will be happy to see make its way into my home.

Thus, it saddens me to see an event such as the Battle Cry for a Generation rally detour off its original path. It throws itself into the polarized debates on same-sex marriage and abortion. Ostensibly, that is why San Francisco was chosen as the site of the high profile rally last weekend. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Battle Cry invitation stated, "[Come to] the very City Hall steps where several months ago, gay marriages were celebrated for all the world to see."

Predictably, advocates for a libertine culture came out of the woodwork to host a counter-rally. The San Francisco Chronicle ran a front page story covering the conflict - protesters were quoted as calling the event a "fascist mega-pep rally." In the scuffle, the profound range of issues that the Battle Cry raises are lost. Opposition to gay marriage drowns out all concerns about greed, materialism, and the assault on our kids' innocence.

Lamentably, the media fans the flames of the conflict. The Chronicle knows which story will sell papers in San Francisco, in other words. But I also fault the narrow vision of those who stand behind the Battle Cry. If you want to make a symbolic stand, why not go to the town where Desperate Housewives is filmed? Or host the rally in New York City where Sex and the City is set. A gathering outside the studios of MTV also would be rich with symbolism.

I simply cannot understand why so many evangelicals consider same-sex marriage as the prime threat to the virtue of heterosexual families. Honestly, which has ruined more marriages: The extramarital affairs that are so brazenly celebrated on Desperate Housewives or the decision of two men or two women who love each other to make their lifelong commitment public? I don't think there is any doubt about the answer to that question. Yet most discussion of sex and values in the church veers inevitably to the gay and lesbian issues.

I have a proposal: Let's do an honest appraisal of teenage sexuality and lifestyle. Let's evaluate how the values of youth are shaped, and what forces are at play to move them in one direction or another. And let's ignore those political blocs that want to utilize vital family issues for their own agenda.

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Faith and politics in America: Two evangelical perspectives

Clips and coverage from a town hall meeting in Columbus, Ohio, Sunday, March 26, with Jim Wallis of Sojourners and Russell Johnson of the Ohio Restoration Project.

Listen to streaming audio clips:

Jim Wallis and Russell Johnson remark on the challenge of finding common ground:
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Jim Wallis on four principles for faith in public life:
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Jim Wallis responds to a question on how the Religious Right has "hijacked" faith in civic discourse:
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Read media coverage of this important event:

Faith and Politics
Cincinnati Enquirer 3-27-2006

Top Ministers Unite on Poverty Fight, Split on War
Dayton Daily News 3-27-2006

Iraq Sparks Salvo at Ministers' Debate
The Columbus Dispatch 3-27-2006

Evangelicals Seek Ohio's political Common Ground
Associated Press 3-26-2006

Evangelicals to Debate Right vs. Left
Columbus Dispatch 3-25-2006

Interfaith Group Launches Social Justice Campaign
Dayton Daily News 3-15-2006

God Doesn't Lean to Left or Right, Evangelical Leader Says
Dayton Daily News 3-12-2006

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By Robert G. Vagacs
ISBN: 1-59752-336-4

Weaving the threads of U2's lyrics, scripture, and theology into one cord, this book tracks the Irish rock band's theological insights and perspectives through their poetry. Along this lyrical path we encounter the characters of the Drowning Man, the Wanderer, and the Sojourner. Though seemingly different, they are one and the same, and they represent each of us. If you're a U2 fan, a theologian, or both, Religious Nuts, Political Fanatics: U2 in Theological Perspective will offer a different angle of popular culture and theology.

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Illegal hospitality: A church's guide to civil disobedience
by Melissa Bixler

...Abram and Sarai, the mother and father of Israel, are now planted in my imagination as possible protestors and rabble rousers. Their act of potential civil disobedience is found in Genesis. Abram's welcome of three strangers is the quintessential hospitality story in the Bible. It is marked by a flurry of activity as Abram rushes about ordering food, cleaning up the tent and entertaining the mysterious newcomers.

But Abram welcomes the three without knowing where they came from or where they are going. He asks for no identification and requires no answers about the strangers' country of origin. As such, if Abram lived in the U.S. in 2007, these actions would have made him a potential crime suspect. If the strangers turned out to be undocumented workers a bill passed by the House in December would have allowed law enforcement to arrest the holy couple for harboring illegal aliens.

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The Romero Memorial Tree Project Oscar Romero, spiritual patron of the Americas, was martyred for speaking out for the poor and oppressed in El Salvador. He ministered for a peaceful, wholesome life that included respect of nature. His legacy lives on through the at the Foundation for Self Sufficiency in Central America. In celebration of his memory, FSSCA will plant 50,000 trees in the communities of El Salvador.

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Democracy in Afghanistan?
by Charles Strohmer

So this is what the democracy experiment in Afghanistan comes down to. You may be executed for converting from Islam to Christianity. Well, maybe not. But then again.... This stunning juridical ambivalence in Kabul the past two weeks in the story of Abdul Rahman has clarified as nothing else for Americans what their tax dollars and their soldiers lives may be paying for in the "new" Afghanistan.

Abdul Rahman, 41, the former Afghan Muslim who was arrested in February and had been facing trial and the death penalty for converting to Christianity, was released from jail Tuesday and "acquitted," according to Sarwar Danish, the justice minister. While extremist protestors in Afghanistan still demand his death, Rahman flew to Italy Wednesday, where the government granted him asylum, the Associated Press reported.

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This Summer...Practice What Jesus Preached

The Beatitudes Society is offering internships for summer 2006 in the San Francisco Bay area and in Washington, D.C. (including Sojourners).

If you are a seminarian or student currently enrolled in college or graduate school, you are invited to apply for an internship that expands your experience in ministry, develops your community organizing skills, serves God in the world, and inspires your heart and soul. Applications are being accepted now.

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Details of Christian Peacemakers' ordeal emerge
by Celeste Kennel-Shank

In the week following the end of the Christian Peacemaker Teams hostage ordeal in Iraq, pieces of the three men's nearly four months in captivity - and the death of their colleague Tom Fox - are coming to light.

Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, James Loney, 41, and, Norman Kember, 74, freed on March 23, have now returned to their homes and families. Sooden, a Canadian, flew to New Zealand, where he is studying and where his closest family resides, said Claire Evans, delegations coordinator for the Chicago- and Toronto-based Christian Peacemaker Teams, an international violence reduction organization, in a phone interview. Kember landed in London on Saturday, and made a short statement thanking supporters and his nation's soldiers and intelligence, who worked to free them without use of force. "I do not believe that a lasting peace is achieved by armed force, but I pay tribute to their courage and thank those who played a part in my release," Kember said, according to Ekklesia, a British religious think tank. In a longer interview Tuesday, Kember said their treatment by their captors varied, and included acts such as being given a Christmas cake and being shown the life of Jesus on DVD in Arabic, reported Ekklesia.

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Readers write

CLARIFICATION: Sojourners thanks readers who pointed out the mixed uses of the words "rescued" and "released" in our special issue about the return to safety of the Christian Peacemaker Team members in Iraq last Thursday. The statement from Christian Peacemaker Teams' co-directors was made public before they had information on how the three captives gained their freedom. As Sojourners' Rose Marie Berger wrote that day in her article, "We pray for the soldiers who risked their lives to free Jim, Norman, and Harmeet.... Like the soldier in Matthew 8:5-13, they too were able to participate in the moment of God's liberation."


Rev. Herman Keizer writes from Grand Rapids, Michigan:

I am a retired army chaplain and now the director of Chaplaincy Ministries for the CRCNA. I am delighted that these peacemakers were rescued by the British troops and that no one on either side was wounded or killed ["'Free at Last,'" SojoMail 3/23/2006]. I find the use of the word "released" a political word and not accurate to the events. I am glad that at least Rose Marie Berger, in her statement acknowledged the work of the military and the soldiers. Christian morality demands accuracy and honesty. Thanks to Rose Marie for at least an acknowledgement of the role of the troops. I continue to pray for peace.


Andrew Jenkins writes from Nottingham, United Kingdom:

Praise God for the Evangelical Climate Initiative ["The Religious Right is losing control," SojoMail 3/23/06]! Not only is this initiative timely, vital and extremely encouraging, but it opens a new chapter in terms of a positive relationship between religion and science. We need science to understand the crucial issue of anthropomorphic global climate change and we need religion to inspire and drive the essential changes in our lifestyles and societies which must bring it under control. Thank you, Jim Wallis, for covering and encouraging this initiative; please continue. There is a long way to go before we can say we are seriously engaged and really tacking what our chief scientist (in Britain) is calling the most important threat facing the planet.


Randy Gabrielse writes from Ames, Iowa:

I enjoyed Jim Wallis' piece on the emergence of evangelical creation care. I would have enjoyed more if Wallis had not written or titled it in terms of winning and losing, and one side against another. I do believe that the resistance which Wallis mentions comes from leaders who are more interested in power than in the gospel. But the tone of some sections of Wallis' piece, and the title both make it difficult to share with some people who might see themselves as part of or close to communities that see themselves as part of a Religious Right.


David writes from Los Angeles, California:

Granted I'm no expert on the Religious Right, but one thing is to note a rift among older and younger evangelical leaders, and quite another to conclude the Religious Right is losing control. I suspect the old guard still has considerable influence among rank and file evangelicals, unlike the academics in the movement. And this base is what makes Dobson and crew powerful and an asset to the GOP. Unless this has changed, the celebratory tone of Wallis' article may be premature.


Tyler Thorne writes from Louisville, Kentucky:

Jim Wallis writes: "The call to overcome extreme poverty abroad and at home, in the world's richest nation, is becoming a new altar call around the world - a principal way Christians are deciding to put their faith into practice."

Though I will always admire and applaud any attempt to fight the "extreme poverty abroad and at home," I pray that we might not lose sight of the central message of Christ and the cross when preaching the gospel. A social gospel is no gospel at all. Jim Wallis seems to lose all eternal perspective when he applauds the replacement of a true altar call (one that might result in salvation and eternal hope) with one that will only bring temporary relief. It is not my purpose nor my goal to only preach the gospel and not provide abundantly for the needs of the poor. However, an empty stomach, once full, will soon become empty again. Christians are to provide living water and the bread of life to all. Thank you for your concern for the poor, those dying from AIDS, and the earth. Yet please, please do not belittle the true gospel by applauding an impotent altar call.


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