REVIEW

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The Independent Culture
"God wants to lay his hands on some of you tonight," announced the pastor of the Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville. For most of the teenagers in the congregation this was the best offer they were going to get - almost all of them had signed up for True Love Waits, a celibacy pledge which aims to keep the Bible belt buckled. It seemed relatively simple - date God, not the cute guy with the wandering hands. But then things got more complicated. The pastor sandwiched one member of his flock between two young believers who had fallen from grace. They stood back- to-back and linked arms and then the pastor tied them all together with a length of yellow rope. It looked like a Sears catalogue version of troilist bondage but it turned out to be a theological argument. "Guess who had to have sex with them?" the pastor yelled. There was embarrassed laughter. Joel, caught in the middle, blushed fetchingly. He wasn't meant to be having sex with anyone, and certainly not Mike. "CHRIST has to have sex with you!" shouted the pastor, with the mild tetchiness teachers always display when the class is slow on the uptake.

The odd prurience of the scene was typical of the movement - earlier we had seen a youth teacher coaching his wards in non-sinful disco dancing. "You know when certain body parts come together something's gonna happen," he said with a southern chortle. He meant "seyux" and he appeared to be enjoying the liberty his educational role allowed him, demonstrating forbidden holds with considerable cheerfulness. Later, conducting a peripatetic session in the local mall, he roped in a hapless Muslim family to serve as an example of conjugal happiness, serenely unaware of his impertinence. But the humour of this soon began to lose its appeal. Witold Starecki's film for Witness (C4) was overlong - 15 minutes in this company was more than enough - but it did at least allow the joke to pall, so that disgust could replace disbelief. Perhaps he intended it that way - the true malevolence of the movement was most explicitly revealed towards the end of his film, by which time the viewer's queasiness was rising to meet it.

"You're not a Christian," snapped Dawson McAllister, a bible-thumping talk-show host (he actually has a sidekick who thumps it for him and then hands over the appropriate Biblical sound-bite). Dawson was talking to a young girl who had the temerity to disagree with him, an independence of mind for which she was "going to go straight to Hell". Even Dawson could tell that this sounded ugly, but he was only obeying orders - "God told me to get tough on you," he said. The spirit of sanctimonious bullying wasn't exactly unique: "All of us here are trying to live right and serve God and Jessie doesn't want to," said a mother of her confused and unhappy daughter, "it's like the force of good and evil and they don't mix." The film ended with a little orgy of destruction, over-excited adolescents sublimating their natural urges by attacking tapes and CDs with a sledgehammer. It was hateful - a religion composed of denial and hatred and fearfulness - not so much Love Waits as Love Don't Live Here Anymore.

Citizen 2000, earlier in the evening, was the latest instalment of Channel 4's long-range observation of 20 children born in 1982. This episode was about friendship and it wasn't greatly assisted by the fact that most of those involved still display the tumbling incoherence of children. They talked with great energy but you could barely understand a word they said and the bitty structure of the programme didn't help much. I thought wistfully of Seven Up, the great Granada series which invented the idea of time-lapse photography of a human life, and which took greater care introducing its subjects to new audiences.

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