Teens for Jesus
Christian youth want more wholesome pop culture
NEW YORK — Hundreds of teenagers huddled together on a chilly February afternoon in Times Square, not far from where the crowds pack in to see “ Total Request Live.”
The name they were chanting was no pop star — instead they jumped up and down yelling “ Jesus, Jesus!”
The group, organized by the Texas- based Christian group Teen Mania Ministries, was in the Big Apple for an event called “ Recreate,” during which participants announced a desire to “ recreate” music, film, fashion, television and other media to remove explicit language and imagery.
The teens waved signs with slogans like, “ Life doesn’t have any makeup tests” and, “ If God seems far away, who moved?” There were singers, dancers, artists and speakers who announced eight questions to be sent to the presidential candidates, including, “ What should be done to stop glamorizing the things that are destroying my friends, like drugs, alcohol and sex?” And, “ How will you ensure that my freedom to practice Christianity will not be taken away?”
Rebecca Bjerke, 21, from Phoenix, explained why she came to the rally on Friday: “ To make change for our generation, to just stand up and say, ‘ We’re tired of all the filth. ... You know, music and songs that are constantly so negative — just making us numb to the abuse of alcohol and drugs and sex and pornography and all that kind of stuff.”
Bjerke came to the rally, which kicked off a two- day Christian event for teens, with two other young women who once banned together to protest the sale of “ pornaments” — pornographic Christmas ornaments — at the gift store Spencer’s in Phoenix.
Bjerke said she’s concerned the entertainment industry puts too much emphasis on negative world views, explicit language and sexual imagery, and that innocence is being taken away from her generation. She said America saw happier, more wholesome times 50 years ago, when the problems were different and, in her view, less serious.
“ Maybe you were talking in class or chewing gum or something,” she said. “ But now you have people who show up to class with drugs or guns. I mean, how much worse does it have to get before somebody says or does something?”
Ron Luce, president and founder of Teen Mania, says the main difference between then and now is that marketing has gotten way more sophisticated, and the younger generations are courted for their brand loyalty by any means possible.
“ Why does somebody have to dress up in a bikini to sell a hamburger to somebody?” he said, giving an example of how an advertiser might use “ very non- innocent ways” to market to young people.
Protesters staging their own demonstration across the street from the “ Recreate” rally said Luce’s organization encourages young people to toss aside critical thought and follow their Christian leaders blindly.
They held an almost blocklong sign that said, “AWAY WITH ALL GODS!” Megaphone in hand, they were at times louder than the hordes of “ Jesus”- chanting teens, though far fewer in number.
“ They think the problem is that people are disconnected and alienated in society because they don’t believe in Jesus,” said Debra Sweet, one of the protesters, and national director of the group World Can’t Wait, an anti- Bush organization.
“ These are hard- core Christian fundamentalists leading youth — highschool students — really, on the moral equivalent of a crusade,” she said.
Luce said a Christian belief system is a better place for teens immersed in pop culture to look to when shaping who they are and how they should behave in the world.
“ Instead of going to drugs, instead of cutting yourself, instead of jumping into a gang or something, instead of getting immersed with every little toy you could possibly get in our materialistic society, look and see what the Bible has to say about those issues of the heart, that really, every human being has.”