Teens for Je­sus

Chris­tian youth want more whole­some pop cul­ture

The Covington News - - Religion - By Hil­lary Rhodes

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.”

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