One recent weekend at San Francisco's AT&T Park, almost 25,000 teens gathered to proclaim their faith and devotion to God, all while rejecting the negative influences of today's pop culture. The two-day concert event is known as BattleCry and takes place almost every weekend around the country.
"The media is just cramming garbage down their throat. … It is absolutely immoral. I wish it was illegal, but the whole idea is we have people making money, not caring what they are doing, what they are doing to kids," said Ron Luce, the founder of BattleCry.
Charlotte Rose Hamilton attended her first BattleCry event last year, and the 18-year-old said it changed her life. "When I came to San Francisco last year … my life was just a downward spiral -- I was depressed, I was having sex, doing drugs, like, it was bad, and when I came to the BattleCry event, it changed my life," Hamilton said.
"And I don't understand how there's opposition to abstinence and being sober, like where you would disagree with having hope in your life," she said.
'A Spiritual Battle for Their Heart and Soul'
A 45-year-old married father of three, Luce began his youth ministry, known as Teen Mania, 20 years ago.
"It's a battle, it's a very real battle, it's a spiritual battle for their heart and soul, so we tell them about how they can come close to the Lord, but it is also a cultural war, and essentially we live in a Christian country with a very un-Christian culture," Luce said.
If you didn't know any better, you could mistake a BattleCry concert for any rock concert, minus the sexy clothes and alcohol. There's plenty of loud music, fireworks and contemporary self-expression, but there's also praise and prayer.
Saturday morning the teens gathered in groups around the stadium and prayed before the entertainment and speakers began inside.
When Luce talks about the "un-Christian culture," he makes it clear that he is on a crusade against all the influences bombarding kids today.
"We have what I call secondhand sex -- it's all over in the media and it's so ubiquitous, it's everywhere, we don't even notice it," Luce said. "It's like when you go into a dark room and your eyes can't see but then they adjust. Well, we've gotten used to the dark. We think it's normal like this. We don't understand what it's doing to our kids."
Hamilton said the Spice Girls were her role models growing up, and gave her a false representation of how women should act and behave. Now, she said, her sister may be getting the wrong idea from music groups like the Pussycat Dolls. Their videos, Hamilton said, are "a televised striptease."
Besides the large attendance at this San Francisco BattleCry, there is something else that sets it apart from the almost weekly events around the country. The teens held a rally on the steps of San Francisco's City Hall to kick off the event, which is something they don't do in any other city.
"It's a great place to send a message to the world," Luce said.
What's the Message?
San Francisco, is, after all, one of the most liberal cities in the country -- the place where the mayor broke new ground by performing same-sex marriages. And the protestors were at the rally in number and spirit with their own message about BattleCry.
"This is a hateful and narrow and bigoted brand of Christian fundamentalism, which does not represent Christianity, and they do not know and understand the agenda that is behind it," said Giovanni Jackson of World Can't Wait, a nonprofit political activist group.
Last year, the San Francisco board of supervisors condemned the event and took some heat for it. This year they issued the following statement: "BattleCry's efforts to spread the intolerance and bigotry promoted by its leadership to our young people are reckless and irresponsible. We need to increase understanding of our human differences, not teach our kids to be suspicious and hateful toward people unlike them."
"There are few people that epitomize things that they can't stand more than the mayor of San Francisco right here, and I'm not particularly offended by their point of view, and I just hope they are respectful and they don't hurt people in the process," said Mayor Gavin Newsom.
Hamilton led the rally and did not engage any of the protestors; in fact, none of the evangelicals responded.
"We're not here as a political agenda. We're just here to gather a group of people who have the common interests to help rescue our generation who's dying and suffering and in pain," Hamilton argued.
However, in addition to the prayer and Christian rock music, BattleCry is also about unbranding -- casting away all those negative influences they find in pop culture. At most events, Luce has the teens write down the names of items that negatively influence their lives and then has them throw the slips of paper away. Into the bin go the names of TV shows, video games, CDs and designer labels.
"I threw out sex, I threw out drugs, I threw out depression, I threw out neediness. The list goes on and on," Hamilton said.
Honey, Not Vinegar
However, for some of the teens, the battle is about more than just throwing away a slip of paper. One teen, 16-year-old Anthony Orsillo, is fighting his own battle against homosexuality.
"I turned away from my lifestyle -- I took Jesus into my heart. I do not believe you can be a homosexual and go to heaven. There is redemption for us," Orsillo said.
Evangelical Christians believe that homosexuality is a sin, but the BattleCry teens objected when an outside group of Christians showed up with a banner that read "homosexuality is a sin."
"It's just so hard to have people who have claimed to be on our side having that 'homosexuality is a sin' sign," said Orsillo. "I believe that you're gonna attract bees with honey and not with vinegar. And I believe that's vinegar."
Hamilton says that BattleCry and Luce's youth ministry helped her understand that she didn't need others to help her feel good about herself.
"I gave my life to God. … I'd never felt joy, a true genuine joy and a sense of knowing how I was worthwhile. I was important to someone. Even if no one on this Earth cares about me, the God of this universe looks down and says, 'That's my Charlotte. I love her,'" Hamilton said.