Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Mmm... Holy War...

Well, my friends, Jeff Sharlet has done it again. Sharlet, who teaches journalism at NYU and edits The Revealer, a daily review of religion and the press, has written extensively about conservative Christianity in the United States. I have made a habit recently of recommending his work to my fellow religion/politics geeks, as he always seems to be examining organizations and trends in the evangelical church that fascinate me. His most recent article takes a look at the Battle Cry Campaign, an initiative of Teen Mania Ministries. The first few pages of the article are available online (see link below), but I still have to go buy the magazine to read the rest. I would be interested to hear people's gut reactions on a few counts:


1) For those of you who have a background in conservative evangelicalism, have you ever taken part an event like this? (At age 16, I did, although it didn't use the military motif as much. Perhaps our minds are more captivated by war in the post-9/11 world than we were in 1997...) Do you resonate with Sharlet's descriptions of Battle Cry, or do you suspect that, as a skeptic, he was unable to get inside his subjects' minds as deeply as he might have thought? Do you think he treats his subjects fairly?

2) From any and all faith perspectives, does anyone have reflections on the good and the harm that could potentially occur as a result of crusades such as these? Try to speak to both, unless you truly believe that Battle Cry is pure fascism or pure revelation.

3) For readers who have either an inordinate amount of time on your hands or an obscene fascination with the influence of the evangelical church in the U.S. political process, try comparing the following two Sharlet interviews: one from New York Public Radio this week commenting on his current Rolling Stone article...


...and the other from a 2003 chat with the Guerilla News Network, discussing his Harper's Magazine piece on the The Fellowship Foundation, the secretive evangelical organization that sponsors the National Prayer Breakfast each year.


Here's a fun exercise. Sharlet concludes that one of these groups is a force for fascism and the other is not. Google search Battle Cry Campaign & Fellowship Foundation to dig up a little dirt on each, and then try to guess which one he thinks are fascists.


Sven! said...

Follow-up -- Jeff Sharlet responds to Sven's query on conservative American Christians and fascism...

Mr Sharlet,

I have read several of your articles on conservative Christianity in the United States with great interest, as I grew up in an evangelical church and have spent the past several years attempting to cultivate a worldview broader than what I was taught as a child.

With that in mind, I was curious about a remark you made in your On the Media interview about Battlecry. When describing Ron Luce's methods, you make the point that he "isn't a facist, but (his media strategy) is the aesthetic of fascism." This seems to be in contrast to your description of the Fellowship Foundation in an interview with the Guerilla News Network in 2003 as "definitely a force for fascism" (http://www.alternet.org/story/16167). At my first glance, these two organizations seem to have very similar ideologies. Each seeks power in the name of Jesus, the Fellowship at the level of government and Battlecry at the level of media. What would you say distinguishes the two in your mind, as you seem to be convinced that one is a fascist movement while the other is not? Is it simply that Doug Coe & friends are in a more powerful position than Battlecry, or would you say that these two movements are actually fighting different battles?

Keep up the good work! I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts in the years to come.

Seth Farber
Tacoma, WA

Thanks for your note, Seth. That GNN interview contains a lot of misquotes and paraphrases, but that said, SOME members of The Family have facilitated fascism in the past. That's the key difference -- Battlecry hasn't actually done anything fascist, while some members of the Family have.

I should add, too, that seeking power in the name of Jesus doesn't make one a fascist by any means. It's claiming that divine imprimateur and combining it with violence, nationalism, a rhetoric of purity, and a loyalty to laissez-faire capitalism or a syndicate of big business that adds up to fascism. That's not BattleCry, but it sure was Indonesia's Suharto, a Family client.


Jeff Sharlet
The Center for Religion and Media at NYU
Contributing Editor, Rolling Stone
726 Broadway, Suite 554 - Rm. 557
New York, NY 10003

Anonymous said...


I'm happy to be contributing to what I think is a very important discussion in our nation and our world. We seem to be caught in a "growing" (perhaps that adjective is somewhat misleading and a-historical) dilemna in our country around religion and public life.

I am hoping this conversation will be a place that we can explore how people of faith can recover (or find?) the ethic of tolerance and celebration even as we have individual and even exclusive religious convictions. In the same vein I hope that we can shed light on the naive and fragmented belief of many secular and religious liberals that somehow we can seperate religion and public life. There is no way to seperate public life from religion because there is no way to seperate religion and spirituality and what it means to be human. Public life is connected to our history and our history has been formed by religion and spirituality. Not to mention, the questions that religion and spirituality ask are the kinds of foundational questions I believe humanity should be asking and encouraging dialogue around; a tolerant and peaceful dialogue but spirited nonetheless.

I appreaciate Mr Sharlet's remarks and insights. I resonated with his assertion that "searching for power in the name of Jesus" is not in itself facism but combining with nationalism, viloence, rehtorics of purity, etc...leads us quickly down these roads. It does seem to me however that Jesus Camp certainly does fit the bill of facism or dangerously close to it becasue of its brand of political and idealogical flavor that it adds to its understanding of God.

I look forward to the conversation that ensues in this community of ideas, opinions, and candor.