America’s youth and holy war

by Kathryn Joyce
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New York, New York - “This is war,” declared Ron Luce, author of the evangelical youth manifesto Battle Cry for a Generation and founder of the Teen Mania movement. He was speaking to a stadium audience of young Christian activists who’d gathered for one of Luce’s high-gloss faith events, held across the country: part rock concert, part altar-call confession and part anti-gay marriage rally -- topped off with a large and unsettling militant call to arms. “Jesus invites us to get into the action, telling us that the violent – the ‘forceful ones’ – will lay hold of the kingdom…You don’t have to know much about Jesus, just enough to surrender your whole life…Welcome to the reign of total submission to the Lord.”

Couched between pyrotechnics and war stories was the deeper message administered to the teens: that real rebellion was not to be found in acting out or independent thinking, but in full submission and obedience to Christ and his authorities on earth. This is a counter-intuitive truism about radical obedience that has become a staple of fundamentalist Christian restoration movements whose strategy is to challenge the remnants of 60s-era individualism and self-determination.

Luce’s message has a blunter counterpart in the writing of Mary Pride, a self-described former feminist turned fundamentalist Christian who became one of the leading grassroots advocates for the conservative home-schooling movement in the mid-1980s with her book, The Way Home: Away from Feminism, Back to Reality. The book is an anti-feminist instruction manual for restoring biblical, patriarchal, self-contained families which helped direct the energies of a ground-level Christian restoration movement. And unlike earlier cultural revolutions which emphasised individualism and independence as the keys to social change, Pride promotes obedience to authority and tradition, and an utter submission to God that was displayed by knowing one’s place and keeping to it with the diligence of a soldier.

“Submission”, she writes, “has a military air.” Describing the proper biblical roles for husband and father, wife and mother, she explains the martial analogy. “For the greater good, the soldier is subject to his commanding officer, even if he disagrees with him…This generation is in danger of forgetting that the Christian life is still a war…When the private is committed to the war, and is willing to subject his personal desires to the goal of winning, and is willing to follow the leader his Commander has put over him, that army stands a good chance of winning.”

In this metaphor, and in the theology of the pro-natalist, large family movements which flourish within the home-schooling community, the rankings are as follows: God as Commander, the husband as God’s designated authority on earth and leader of the family, and his wife as a soldier beneath him. The children, spoken of in scriptural metaphors as arrows filling their father’s quiver, are to be employed against the enemies of their parents -- a sacrifice, but one made willingly by an army mobilised against a common enemy, raised and taught to place obedience to a higher goalabove its own interests.

It’s this fervour of submission, obedience and self-sacrifice taken to the level of self-annihilation that informs youth fundamentalist movements across the religious spectrum, from the young Christian warriors of Ron Luce’s Battle Cry generation, to the Muslim adolescents recruited to serve as human weapons for a different system’s holy war.

In his book, The Use and Abuse of Holy War, scholar of Islam James Turner Johnson suggests that historical differences between the Western and Muslim worlds have led to contrasting cultural positions on “holy war.” The secularised West viewed wars fought on religious grounds as disheartening, while in Muslim countries, religious warfare is unifying for the culture, overriding secular differences between people now joined in submission to their God.

But among more constructive youth movements, service programs like Habitat for Humanity, activist organisations like Teen Peace and the Sierra Student Coalition, or inner-city outreaches like Homies Unidos, obedience as a virtue takes a second place to the development of individual consciences, informed activism and dedication to a goal. Similarly, stadium rock shows for God are bypassed for the quieter, more adult lesson that social change takes time and work, not frenzied enthusiasm. And the focus on war as a cause that can bind youth together is traded in for a more thoughtful commitment to peace. Parents and community leaders share a joint responsibility in steering our youth away from robotic commitment, to a life of more meaningful choices.

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* Kathryn Joyce is a writer living in New York City. This is the fifth of six articles in a series on religious revivalism and Muslim-Western relations commissioned by the Common Ground News Service (www.commongroundnews.org).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 10 October 2006, www.commongroundnews.org.
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.
 
 
 
 
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Other articles in this series

Counter religious extremism with religious compassion by Marc Gopin
Searching for the roots of Islamic fundamentalism by Nader Hashemi
Muslims are paramount allies in fighting “jihadism” by Abbas Barzegar
A perilous present and uncertain future by Amina Rasul-Bernardo
Religion as a common denominator by Faiz Khan