By Sunsara Taylor
Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of columns about the Christian fundamentalist movement BattleCry, which has produced several massive Christian rock shows across the country this year. For more info on BattleCry and its activities, check out: column 1, column 2)
In this column, Truthdig contributor Sunsara Taylor reports on the second and final day of BattleCry’s rally in Philadelphia, where a “sexpert” claims that “condoms don’t work,” Navy SEALs stage mock assassination raids in the name of Christ, and evangelist Franklin Graham suggests that HIV/AIDS is a punishment from God.
?Do you care more about the pigs around you or God?? BattleCry leader Ron Luce roared at the crowd of more than 17,000 youths gathered at Wachovia Spectrum Stadium in Philadelphia on Friday, May 12. No, this wasn?t a metaphor: After reading a passage from Luke 15 that mentions pigs, he actually brought several squealing, pink farm animals on stage. Got it? You either get with Luce?s hateful, hyper-patriotic, woman-bashing, racist god or ? you?re a pig.
What?s more, it became clear during the rally that all the rhetoric about battles, warriors and war was not just metaphorical, either.
White Man?s Burden
Early on the second day of the Christian evangelical rock concert?s two-day run, a tribal drumbeat filled the stadium and a voice boomed out from the speakers: ?The most violent people in human history.?
Which race of people, you?re probably wondering, might fit that bill? The Nazis during World War II? The U.S. slave traders? How about the George Bush White House?”
In answer to that question, grainy images of indigenous Ecuadoreans running around and throwing spears appeared on the stadium screens. Proof of their ?barbarism?? Forget for a moment that their land and way of life were destroyed by oil prospectors; these ?savages? had killed five missionaries who came to destroy their belief systems decades ago. One of the supposed killers was brought on stage. He had been ?civilized? by the Bible and called on the assembled youths to sign up for missionary trips to convert others in Ecuador.
News flash to Luce?s audience: These indigenous people, whose very existence is hanging by a thread?threatened by the encroachment of a ?modern world? of exploitation, racism, environmental destruction and cultural genocide?are at least a hundred million people short of being ?the most violent people in human history,? even if they did what Luce accused them of.
The reality is that over a hundred million indigenous people were killed by the Europeans who followed Columbus to the ?new world.? And let?s not forget that the genocide against natives was blessed by people carrying Ron Luce?s Bible.
Finally, after being programmed with these racist lies, Luce?s flock flooded down to the floor of the stadium to sign up for missions this summer?to Africa, Latin America, the urban U.S., Australia, the Mideast and beyond. As they went, Luce offered odd encouragement: ?You guys are freaks of a whole different breed?.You guys are a bunch of wild animals. Man!?
Ignorance and Patriarchy
Next up on the agenda: woman bashing. If you?re no fan of misogynist lyrics in heavy metal or hip-hop but you still want to see women degraded, insulted and dehumanized, Luce has just the thing for you.
Lakita Wright, self-proclaimed ?sexpert? who has spoken to members of Congress and more than half a million young people in the past year, stepped up to preach the ?naked truth? (get it?) about abstinence and purity. Her specialty seemed to be the shameless promotion of racist and sexist stereotypes that only a black woman trying to outdo Bill Cosby might be able to get away with.
Wright began with a parable that portrays ?Lies? as female and ?Truth? as male; she then launched an attack on all the established truths about safe sex and resurrected all the old stigmas against people—especially women—who engage in sex outside patriarchal marriages.
Wright reserved special derision for the ?stupid? young women whose lives are disrupted because they have babies. ?Don?t blame him [the baby]. It?s your fault. You should have zipped it up. Locked it down. Clank. Clank.? She drew chuckles from many men when she ?slipped? and called women ?flea-males,? saying, ?Did I say that? Well, if you lie down with dogs?.?
Wright led a call-and-response about sexually transmitted diseases and listed, with great drama, the pain and disfigurement they can cause. Then, while claiming to care about these diseases, she went on to assail one thing that is proved to prevent them: ?Condoms don?t work.?
Wright bemoaned the fact that judges in the U.S. today aren?t required to study the Mosaic books of the Bible. (These are the parts of the Bible that celebrate taking your enemies as slaves, killing their babies and forcing women to be concubines, traded and controlled as possessions and subject to the most horrific of abuses.)
Reality check: Condoms save lives. Preaching ?abstinence? as a way to prevent STDs kills people. Luce and his clan don?t give a fuck about young people?s lives?this war on condoms is driven by literalist messages from a book that demands death by stoning for those who engage in sex outside of wedlock.
Holy War?for Real
After what amounted to a celebration of genocide against Native Americans and a pep rally for death by STDs, things got really gory: Evangelist Franklin Graham took the stage.
Graham began by tossing out the despicable canard that HIV/AIDS is a punishment from God. ?We get outside of marriage and there are consequences,? he told the crowd.
He went on to assert that God sees marriage as a ?relation between a man and a woman. Not a man and a man or a woman and a woman.? This drew him his loudest applause of the day, never mind that the Bible celebrates many instances of marriage between one man and many women. Maybe the next time I go to one of Luce?s gatherings I?ll take a bunch of bumper stickers that read: ?Man + 1,000 Women = Marriage.? People can put them on their cars to promote a model of marriage in the Bible?a model in which King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (and for some reason God never gave him AIDS as a punishment).
The heart of Graham?s speech was a call for holy war. He preached about the ?battle for souls of men and women from north to south, east to west, over the entire Earth.? There is, he declared, ?No way to God but through Jesus Christ.?
Now, I believe that economic and political forces—not religion—are the root causes of most wars. But how long must we put up with a world where religion plays a role in whipping up people to kill others, as in the case of Christian fascist general Jerry Boykin, who said in speaking about his Muslim opponent in Somalia: ?I knew that my God was bigger than his.? (Boykin?s troops lost that battle, by the way.)
Graham next told the biblical story of Daniel ?taming the Babylonians.? After celebrating the U.S. troops who are killing people by the thousands in Iraq right now, he preached that there is ?no difference between the Iraqis today and Babylon 1,000 years ago.? In the Bible, Babylon is the epitome of evil and decadence. All manner of bloodlust and plunder against it is not just condoned but celebrated. As Psalm 137:9 spells out, even the babies are to be dashed against the rocks.
While calling on the youths present to engage in this ?battle for the souls of men,? he declared: ?No souls can be saved without the shedding of blood. Blood must be shed!?
Shortly thereafter the large screen above the stadium lit up with images of Navy SEALs making their way from backstage. Dressed in camouflage, carrying automatic weapons, kicking down doors and firing blanks into empty rooms along their way, they seemed like the embodiments of the house-to-house raids and indiscriminate killings that have been seen in rare footage that made its way out of Iraq.
Fireworks exploded and flames billowed as Ron Luce greeted the warriors, bragging that all of them had been involved in real battles. They are part of FORCE Ministries, a Christian organization composed of current and retired Navy SEALs, law enforcement members and other military personnel who evangelize at events like these and conduct Bible study sessions at military bases around the world. Among those on stage was a SEAL just back from Afghanistan and a member of a police SWAT team. All of them are trained to kill, and they apparently do so or have done so in the belief that God sanctions their actions.
One of the SEALs recounted how, at boot camp, he had been forced to surrender his entire will to the demands of his instructor. Luce stepped in to tell the audience: ?That is your youth pastor. He?s going to make you a SEAL for Christ.? Of course, the great Commander of this religious army is God, who issues his foot soldiers armor??a shield of faith, a belt of truth, and boots of preparedness,? according to Luce?as well as ?offensive weapons? like the ?sword of the spirit? and the ?word of God.?
This merging of God?s army and the U.S. military echoed the event that opened the day: the reading of a letter of greeting and blessing from George W. Bush. After the reading, a minister led thousands to bow their heads and thank the Lord for giving them George Bush, the commander in chief of America’s military.
The Two Faces of Christian Fascism
BattleCry keeps this bloodthirsty holy war madness in the closet. You won?t find it on the group?s website and you won?t hear it in the major media appearances. For all his onstage bluster and his stacks of books laced with militarism, when Ron Luce debated me on television?s ?The O?Reilly Factor,? he sounded more like a wilting flower: ?Well, there are young people all over America and they are realizing that they are caught in the middle of this culture war?. They are saying, ?You know what? We want our voices to be heard. We love the Lord and we?re not mean.? ?
I wonder how many of the youths gravitating toward these Christian fascists have any idea that their agenda is as gruesome, bloodthirsty and horrible as the hell myth that they are being scared into submission with?
But whether or not you realize what you are signing on to, when you make your pact with Luce and his bunch, you?re not only signing on to a brain-deadening fantasy that robs you of your ability to understand and change the world, you may end up being led to fight?and shed blood?in a ?holy war? for Bush and all that he represents.
BattleCry founder Ron Luce speaks with a man he identified as a U.S. Navy SEAL at the Philadelphia BattleCry rally on May 12.