Cover Story

Daniels of the year

"Daniels of the year" Continued...

Issue: "Daniel of the Year 1999," Dec. 18, 1999

Other committed Christian teens, though, report a grittier battle in a culture that trivializes their faith. As they run a daily gantlet through school climates affected by Hollywood and news media hostility to Christianity, many say they routinely face anti-Christian bias.

Desiree Gulliver, a 17-year-old Scripps Ranch senior, sees it in the classroom. "In my government class, I have a teacher who is really anti-Christianity," says Desiree, an amber-haired senior whose friends call her "Desi." "Right after school started, she was talking about how she thought it was horrible that the Kansas schools were going to teach creation, and that only evolution should be taught. She's really opinionated, so you think if you say anything, she'll just say, 'Oh well, you're wrong.' I don't know what I'd say back."

Angelo Giolzetti (Lindsay Beth's big brother) is also a Scripps Ranch senior and one of Desi's best friends. He agrees that their school is no friend to the cross. "It's the teachers and the textbooks," says Angelo, a slim 17-year-old who earns spending cash working as a barista at Starbucks. "Some of the things in the history books make Christianity sound so stupid."

And the science books? "Evolution," says Angelo from behind a smattering of freckles. "Totally."

It's not just a hostile school climate that Christian teens are battling; they're also going head-to-head with some of the slickest, most well-financed political machines in the country. The American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way, and the National Education Association (recently named one of the most influential lobby groups in the nation by Fortune magazine) regularly go to the mat against Christian students who attempt to express their faith on campus.

Jay Sekulow is chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a legal group that fights for the rights of believers. He says he's seen an increase this year in the number of teens calling in for legal advice on forming school Bible and prayer clubs. "We've seen a tremendous outgrowth of student-led, student-initiated prayer activity in schools," says Mr. Sekulow. "There is a real desire among today's young people to express their religious beliefs and to rely on their faith during these troubled times."

The desire is so strong that it's being considered again by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court announced on Nov. 15 that it would consider the Santa Fe, Texas, case where the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals struck down a policy permitting student-led, student-initiated speech at high-school football games. Mr. Sekulow will argue for Santa Fe Christian students, including Marian Ward. Rather than heed school officials' warning that she couldn't include the name of Jesus in a pre-game message, Marian, a National Honor Society member and Christian club officer, sued. "Religious speech and secular speech should be equal," the 17-year-old said.

If governmental pressure makes it tough for teen believers, peer pressure is worse. Both Desi and Angelo say they're teased for being Christians, mostly by their friends. Says Desi, "It's not in, like, a mean way. They'll say stuff like," (here she adopts a mocking tone): "'Oh, yeah, you have to go to church.' Or 'Don't invite her there, she can't do this or that.'"

Courtney Allen, another Scripps Ranch student, says that for her, the teasing is sometimes more mean-spirited: "I've had kids say to me, 'So, is Jesus coming back for you this year?'"

Angelo and Desi both say Hollywood and news media portrayals of Christians make it harder for them to talk to their friends about God. But they've both still managed. In mid-July, the two attended a conference on friendship evangelism. Afterward, Desi wrote a letter about her faith to Emily, a sort of middle-distance friend who hung out with the "Scrippies," a giant Scripps Ranch High clique populated with wealthy kids who did well in school, but got drunk, smoked pot, and swapped sex partners on the weekends.

"Emily called me as soon as she got the letter," Desi says, adding that she and Emily are now best friends. "Now she goes to church and to Bible study every week. The people she used to hang out with make fun of her now. Everybody calls her a nun. But they're voting her 'most changed' for our senior ads."

Not every Christian teen walks the straight and narrow. Angelo says those who "blow their witness" by falling into sin make it tougher to convince unbelieving teens that Jesus is the real thing. But committed Christian teens who do live differently than unbelievers have a profound impact on other teenagers. Angelo, for example, says his non-Christian friends notice that he doesn't drink, doesn't curse, and doesn't party on the weekends. They also notice-and envy-the close friendships between Angelo and his Christian friends, and how the Christian kids at Scripps really seem to care about each other. Both Julee DeLong and Josh Weidmann say some of their non-Christian friends even respect the moral stand they take in the face of massive peer pressure.

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