Exvangelical Musings: Acquire the Cult Fire

Ron Luce is the founder of Teen Mania Ministries, a foundation that recruits teenagers to accept Jesus as their Savior as the first step in battling the “powers of darkness” that have infiltrated America through pop culture, the media, and liberal politics. “This is war,” Luce insists, “and Jesus invites us to get into the action, telling us that the violent—the ‘forceful’ ones—will lay hold of the kingdom.”

“Acquire the Fire” events surged throughout the 90s and were the entry point for Luce’s recruitment of his teenage army. I attended two of these rallies while in two separate youth groups. Described as “a mix of pep rally, rock concert and church service,” these events (which often featured major CCM rock bands like the Newsboys) were held in over 30 cities across the United States and Canada each year. They were structured just like every other big youth event and camp I ever attended, in which emotionally-charged praise and worship music was sung as repeated chants, with lyrics reinforcing that we were absolutely incapable of value apart from God’s grace.

Both Acquire the Fire rallies I attended were in packed-out stadiums, in which Luce used every trick in the book — from the aforementoined praise and worship music to riveting stories about missionaries leading countless to Christ, to clever dramatic sketches and highly manipulative calls to mission work — in order convince his young audience into thinking that if we didn’t hear God compelling us to join Teen Mania Ministries, then maybe we weren’t really “saved.” Volunteers and staff (mostly teenagers recruited from previous rallies) were waiting to get our contact information to sign us up.

Give yourself 45 minutes to watch this documentary about what Ron Luce was trying to recruit us into. Several kids in my youth groups got as far as the signing up stage. Luce’s tactics worked on me too — I had to prove to God that I was a loyal servant by going on a mission trip to spread the gospel. I just hoped God would forgive me that I didn’t have the 8k to sign up for Luce’s version.

In brief: Parents sent us with our youth groups having no idea what we were being told at these events. We were children being recruited for emotional and physical abuse, in which Ron Luce employed gaslighting techniques to whip us all into an emotional frenzy and join, donate, and then recruit others for the empire of teenage ‘warriors for Christ” he was building.

Reminder for you today: you are worthy of love because you are a human being. You have value for the same reason. You don’t need ancient creeds or cultist religious gurus masquerading as God’s Annointed to tell you what is God’s will for your life. Trust your intuition. Seek perspectives from loved ones who accept you just the way you are. Listen to your own heart and experience. You are enough, and I love you.

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