St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 12, 2002
By Bill Smith Post-Dispatch
A controversial touring group from Fenton that had taken its anti-violence message to 215 schools across the country decided to shut down because it was not effective enough, a spokesman said Wednesday.
“We were spending way too much money for not enough results,” said Mark Sutherland with the performance group Rage Against Destruction.
Sutherland said the decision to stop operating had nothing to do with recent criticism that it was using its school programs to draw students to an off-campus evangelical Christian event called “Firefest.”
Anti-Defamation League offices in St. Louis and elsewhere had been increasingly critical of the organization, saying it had deceived students and school officials into believing it was only concerned with nonviolence while it hid its religious agenda. The Anti-Defamation League recently described Firefest as “an unabashed Christian evangelical festival with a high-pressure pitch aimed at vulnerable teens.”
Sutherland said the decision to shut down operations came during a meeting of Rage officials on Friday. He said the officials had been evaluating the effectiveness of the program and decided it was not worth the cost. He did not say how the program was evaluated.
“We did have success,” Sutherland said of the program. “But it was not enough success. We felt there were other ways to spend the money better.”
Sutherland said Rage of Destruction had operated for five years, performing before some 250,000 students in middle and high schools. During the first two years, he said, it was a part-time volunteer organization but for the past three years it had operated as a full-time non-profit organization. Much of its support came from the Fenton-based Joyce Meyer Ministries, a Christian evangelical church.
The Anti-Defamation League had maintained that Rage was a thinly veiled youth outreach program of Joyce Meyer Ministries.
Most recently, Sutherland said, Rage Against Destruction had performed at school assemblies in Granite City and East St. Louis. It was scheduled to perform in Los Angeles in January, Tampa in February and Detroit in March.
Karen Aroesty, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League office in St. Louis, said she was surprised by the sudden decision to shut down. In fact, she said she had talked recently to officials with Rage Against Destruction and believed the two groups were on the verge of settling their differences. The idea of teaching anti-violence in schools is a good one, she said.
“Our only concern was the church-state issue. “We are not anti-religion,” she said. “It is the constitutional separation of church and state that has given us religious pluralism.
“I think the folks at Rage understand that.”
She said she hopes that schools can look at other ways to bring the message of nonviolence to students. Sutherland described the mood at Rage Against Destruction offices as upbeat.
The closing means that 20 full-time employees would be laid off, but he added that several already had found other jobs. “I can guarantee that the people here are going to impact people with what they do,” he said. He said any money remaining after the group closes down will be returned to the original contributors.
In a statement, officials with Joyce Meyer Ministries and the affiliated non-profit group Life In The Word, Inc. said it had been “extremely happy” to support Rage Against Destruction.
“We believe strongly in the future of America’s youth and the funds we have supplied to Rage Against Destruction will be used to help various youth organizations and outreaches world-wide,” the statement said.
Among the organizations, the statement said, are Mercy Ministries of America, which helps troubled teen-age girls, and the St. Louis Dream Center, an outreach program for local inner-city youth.