Saving your kids’ souls, by any means necessary.

Here’s an entry that’s going to combine two things I talk about often, but which usually aren’t associated with each other: religion and video games. It’s seems a number of churches around the country are using the ever popular Halo video games to lure young men into church so they can be proselytized “ministered” to after a couple of rounds blowing the living shit out of everything on the screen:

Thou Shalt Not Kill, Except in a Popular Video Game at Church – New York Times

First the percussive sounds of sniper fire and the thrill of the kill. Then the gospel of peace.

Across the country, hundreds of ministers and pastors desperate to reach young congregants have drawn concern and criticism through their use of an unusual recruiting tool: the immersive and violent video game Halo.

Right off the bat we have a conundrum for our Christian friends. The Bible says “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and yet they’re luring in kids with the promise of being able to virtually kill to their hearts content. It goes even deeper than that, however, because the Halo games are rated M for Mature and is considered inappropriate for people under 17 years of age. Yet many churches are letting kids several years younger than that play the game:

Those buying it must be 17 years old, given it is rated M for mature audiences. But that has not prevented leaders at churches and youth centers across Protestant denominations, including evangelical churches that have cautioned against violent entertainment, from holding heavily attended Halo nights and stocking their centers with multiple game consoles so dozens of teenagers can flock around big-screen televisions and shoot it out.

Far from being defensive, church leaders who support Halo — despite its “thou shalt kill” credo — celebrate it as a modern and sometimes singularly effective tool. It is crucial, they say, to reach the elusive audience of boys and young men.

Witness the basement on a recent Sunday at the Colorado Community Church in the Englewood area of Denver, where Tim Foster, 12, and Chris Graham, 14, sat in front of three TVs, locked in violent virtual combat as they navigated on-screen characters through lethal gun bursts. Tim explained the game’s allure: “It’s just fun blowing people up.”

Now, personally, I don’t think there’s all that much in the Halo games that the average 12 or 14 year old can’t handle, but I’m not the one using the game to lure kids in for a little brain washing ministering with it. Needless to say some other Christians have a bit of a problem with this tactic:

“If you want to connect with young teenage boys and drag them into church, free alcohol and pornographic movies would do it,” said James Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a nonprofit group that assesses denominational policies. “My own take is you can do better than that.”

Free booze? Maybe, but I don’t know of too many adults, let alone teenagers, who’d rush to church to watch some porn followed by messages about Jesus dieing for their sins. That’d be a bit… awkward. Whereas the free booze might make sitting through the sermons a bit easier to handle. Still, think of the slogans you could have: “Get a boner, for Jesus!”

Daniel R. Heimbach, a professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, believes that churches should reject Halo, in part because it associates thrill and arousal with killing.

“To justify whatever killing is involved by saying that it’s just pixels involved is an illusion,” he said.

I can imagine that how you approach your interpretation of the Bible would play a role in how acceptable you find this practice. The Baptist church I attended taught that just thinking some naughty thoughts was enough to get your ass in a sling with God and there’s at least one Bible passage to back that claim up. So wouldn’t virtually killing be more or less the same as thinking about killing as far as God is concerned?

Apparently such questions aren’t an issue to this fellow:

Playing Halo is “no different than going on a camping trip,” said Kedrick Kenerly, founder of Christian Gamers Online, an Internet site whose central themes are video games and religion. “It’s a way to fellowship.”

Mr. Kenerly said the idea that Halo is inappropriately violent too strictly interpreted the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” “I’m not walking up to someone with a pistol and shooting them,” he said. “I’m shooting pixels on a screen.”

Mr. Kenerly’s brother, Ken Kenerly, 43, is a pastor who recently started a church in Atlanta and previously started the Family Church in Albuquerque, N.M., where quarterly Halo nights were such a big social event that he had to rent additional big-screen TVs.

Ken Kenerly said he believed that the game could be useful in connecting to young people he once might have reached in more traditional ways, like playing sports. “There aren’t as many kids outdoors as indoors,” he said. “With gamers, how else can you get into their lives?”

Which just sounds insidious to me. It’s no secret that if you can get people to believe something when they’re young they’re more likely to hold that belief when their older and this sort of thing just reveals how far Churches are willing to go to suck people in when they’re most likely to buy the bullshit. When they’re older you have to wait until people are in a hard way and vulnerable to have the same sort of impact so catching them when they’re young is key. And the thing is, it works:

David Drexler, youth director at the 200-member nondenominational Country Bible Church in Ashby, Minn., said using Halo to recruit was “the most effective thing we’ve done.”

In rural Minnesota, Mr. Drexler said, the church needs something powerful to compete against the lure of less healthy behaviors. “We have to find something that these kids are interested in doing that doesn’t involve drugs or alcohol or premarital sex.” His congregation plans to double to eight its number of TVs, which would allow 32 players to compete at one time.

Among parents at the Colorado Community Church, Doug Graham, a pediatric oncologist with a 12-year-old son, said that he was not aware of the game’s M rating and that it gave him pause. He said he felt that parents should be actively involved in deciding whether minors play an M-rated game. “Every family should have a conversation about it,” he said.

Mr. Barbour, the youth pastor at the church, said the game had led to a number of internal discussions prompted by elders who complained about its violent content. Mr. Barbour recently met for several hours with the church’s pastor and successfully made his case that the game was a crucial recruiting tool.

In one letter to parents, Mr. Barbour wrote that God calls ministers to be “fishers of men.”

“Teens are our ‘fish,” he wrote. “So we’ve become creative in baiting our hooks.”

I’m willing to bet that last line has some Christian readers nodding their heads in agreement where it just makes me cringe. Of course there’s nothing new here as the churches have always been willing to usurp anything they consider popular to try and bring in the heathen. Again I point to Halloween, Christmas, and Easter as prime examples of the True Believers taking something popular — pagan festivals in this case — and using them to their own ends. This is just a lesser example of the same thing.

Gotta get their asses in the pews by any means necessary. After all, it’s only for their own good.

24 thoughts on “Saving your kids’ souls, by any means necessary.

  1. Haven’t read the entire post yet, but two things come to mind when you mention Christians and video games.

    1. The Left Behind douche bags made a video game called “Left Behind – Eternal Forces”.  Apparently it was full of adds, bugs and was total crap. 

    2. I recall a now defunct website for a game called “Jesus Freakin” wherein the player character is Jesus, returned to earth, and out for some revenge.  The premise was that you would go around shooting people in a FPS style game.  It turned out to be a hoax, but the folks that put up the site had some pretty slick looking screen shots if I remember rightly.  When I saw it, I was kinda looking forward to getting it, since it obviously had an extremely irreverent tone to it.

    Anyway:

    “Teens are our ‘fish,” he wrote. “So we’ve become creative in baiting our hooks.”

    Are we sure this Barbour guy ain’t a Catholic Priest?

  2. They do realize the Halo games are about stopping a group of religious fanatics, right?

  3. I would bet any money that if a Mosque were to do this in the good old USA the christians would be up in arms against it. Saying that it would be wrong to indoctrinate children. But there’s no problem as long as Christians are the ones doing the indoctrinating. Brain washing is brain washing no matter what religion your using. It’s still wrong.

  4. Across the country, hundreds of ministers and pastors desperate to reach young congregants

    That’s the good news. If they’re losing the young ones, there’s hope for a decade or two down the road.

    Mr. Kenerly said the idea that Halo is inappropriately violent too strictly interpreted the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” “I’m not walking up to someone with a pistol and shooting them,” he said. “I’m shooting pixels on a screen.”

    Remember these words next time somebody runs amok and blasts away shitloads of people. Clean up your churches first…

    Among parents at the Colorado Community Church, Doug Graham, a pediatric oncologist with a 12-year-old son, said that he was not aware of the game’s M rating and that it gave him pause. He said he felt that parents should be actively involved in deciding whether minors play an M-rated game. “Every family should have a conversation about it,” he said.

    Every family should have lots of conversations about what’s going on in places where they send their kids to. Can you image the tantrums the Religious Right would throw if some secular outfit pulled a fast one like this on parents? Or a mosque, boy howdy.

    Mr. Barbour, the youth pastor at the church, said the game had led to a number of internal discussions prompted by elders who complained about its violent content. Mr. Barbour recently met for several hours with the church’s pastor and successfully made his case that the game was a crucial recruiting tool.

    In one letter to parents, Mr. Barbour wrote that God calls ministers to be “fishers of men.”

    “Teens are our ‘fish,” he wrote. “So we’ve become creative in baiting our hooks.”

    Yeah, right. They arrogate themselves the right to offer games to kids that they can’t legally buy and don’t bother asking the parents. But it doesn’t matter, because the end justifies the means—it’s more important to rope in future tithe-payers than to do right by the kids. The hypocrisy is vomitrocious.

  5. So when some churches criticize violent video games because they claim such games turn kids into homicidal maniacs, the response is that the science and common sense proves otherwise.  “It’s not actually killing, it’s only shooting pixels.”

    But when some churches use violent video games as a fun outreach activity for teens, then they’re being hypocritical regarding the Biblical commandment to not kill (a moral restriction most folks here would consider a pretty good one)?

    I don’t follow.

    I do agree that if something like this were happening in a Mosque or Islamic Cultural Center, there would be a huge hue and cry about how Islamicists were raising an army of jihadis to slaughter us all.  (I’m surprised nobody’s raised the same concern here about this being a fundy Christian plot to build gun-toting warriors for Christ or something.)

    The underlying concern here seems to be using video games (or, I imagine, by extension any other popular activity) as part of a proselytization tool—though, presumably, this program isn’t grabbing kids off the streets but is done within the families of the congregations in question.  Les, you note, “churches have always been willing to usurp anything they consider popular to try and bring in the heathen,” which conjures up past church history of “this is no longer the feast day of the goddess Susan, but that of St. Susan, who we’re now claiming was a Christian martyr,” etc.  On the other hand, I don’t see anything as underhanded about it; it’s reaching out to congregants in a way no different from any other activity churches (or, for that matter, any other organizations) do.

    For myself, I have no problem with Halo, but don’t think it’s probably the most appropriate activity of the sort (any more than “Friday the 13th Movie Night” or “Kickboxing for Jesus Night” would be).  But that’s more a matter of implementation, not a fundamental objection to the idea of tying enjoyable activities to religious participation and teaching.

  6. So when some churches criticize violent video games because they claim such games turn kids into homicidal maniacs, the response is that the science and common sense proves otherwise.  “It’s not actually killing, it’s only shooting pixels.”

    But when some churches use violent video games as a fun outreach activity for teens, then they’re being hypocritical regarding the Biblical commandment to not kill (a moral restriction most folks here would consider a pretty good one)?

    Reconciling the commandments with video games is not my problem. What I do take offense at is that some churches use video games for a “fun outreach activity” (read: recruitment gimmick) that the teens can’t legally buy for themselves and that apparently parental consent was not asked for.

    The underlying concern here seems to be using video games (or, I imagine, by extension any other popular activity) as part of a proselytization tool

    The concern is the use of violent video games as a proselytizing tool.

  7. Free booze?

    yummy communion wine.

    I would bet any money that if a Mosque were to do this in the good old USA the christians would be up in arms against it.

    Terrorist training for sure…

  8. … apparently parental consent was not asked for

    There’s reference to a single parent who “was not aware” of the game’s rating.  Having dealt with parents on a variety of occasions, I would suggest a higher probability that said parent simply wasn’t paying attention.

    So that aside, your objection, elwedriddsche, is over any sort of youth outreach (in context more “retention” than “recruitment” by any religious organization.  Is it over the “gimmick” (Halo) being used, or the fact of it at all.

  9. I have to say this idea is really discriminatory, what about all the game loving young women who relax on a friday night by sending covenant fanatics to their just reward…

    Admittedly i’m one of those girls who prefers hitting demonic rabbits with a plunger gun on a friday night, but are younger women/girls a lost cause to the church or do they not believe in the gamer girl myth?

  10. There’s reference to a single parent who “was not aware” of the game’s rating.  Having dealt with parents on a variety of occasions, I would suggest a higher probability that said parent simply wasn’t paying attention.

    It’s the responsibility of the organizer’s of the outreach program to take care that kids have access to age-appropriate toys and games only, isn’t it?

    Rather than blaming the parents for inattention, it’s more likely that it would never occur parents that a church-sponsored program would have an M-rated feature for younger-than-17s. But you’re right, I guess. Anybody who takes anything that goes on in a church on faith deserve what they get.

    So that aside, your objection, elwedriddsche, is over any sort of youth outreach (in context more “retention” than “recruitment” by any religious organization.  Is it over the “gimmick” (Halo) being used, or the fact of it at all.

    My opinion about organized religion is not a secret. I’m with Les with one addition:

    Gotta get their asses in the pews and their money in the church’s coffers by any means necessary.

  11. It’s the responsibility of the organizer’s of the outreach program to take care that kids have access to age-appropriate toys and games only, isn’t it?

    It’s the primary responsibility of the parents, secondarily of the organizers.

    But, then, is Halo inappropriate to 12-year-olds?  I dunno.  It’s illegal (?) to sell it to them, but not illegal for, say, parents to let them play it at home.

    Rather than blaming the parents for inattention, it’s more likely that it would never occur parents that a church-sponsored program would have an M-rated feature for younger-than-17s.

    If *anyone* said, “We’ll have video games for teens,” *I’d* ask what the title and rating was, and find out more about it.

    But you’re right, I guess. Anybody who takes anything that goes on in a church on faith deserve what they get.

    Really?  They really deserve it?  Is that true solely in a church setting, or anywhere else?

    Clearly I disagree with your opinion about religion in general, organized religion in particular, or what motivates people in an organized religions setting.  I just wanted to confirm that’s where the difference of opinion lay.

  12. It’s the primary responsibility of the parents, secondarily of the organizers

    I’m actually very much against this way of thinking. Not because I don’t care that parents might be allowed to be lazy, but because when you plan an event for minors the onus should rest on you to inform the attendees parents of what activities are taking place. This means there is a direct line of liability.

    So that if something dangerous happens, the event coordinators don’t have the option to say, “Well hell we did something dangerous, but parents of children 1, 2, and 3 never stepped forward to ask about it.” Bullshit! You should have told them you were doing dangerous activities. Parents shouldn’t have to have a list of 100 questions to find out exactly what’s going on to cover their ass. If I go to an event I want to know what going on exactly, I don’t want to play 20 questions.

    Now that’s not to say parents are off the hook. Parents should take an interest in their children’s activities and question them about what’s going on and what they are doing. I think this is a given. But it shouldn’t be solely the parents job.

  13. Speaking as a parent, I would argue that while “liability” rests on the event organizer, I feel it is *my* responsibility to make a reasoned, informed parental judgment about whether my daughter should attend an event. 

    If I don’t, that doesn’t mean the event organizer gets off scot-free when the “tight-roping over vats of acid” game goes horribly wrong.  But regardless of the legal liability, “the buck stops here” as far as the caretaking responsiblity for my child.

    It’s not an either/or thing, either.  If I’m given temporary responsibility for another’s child, I take that damned seriously, too.

  14. So in this case does the church organizer that is allowing young children to play Halo have any responsibility to the fact that minors are playing Halo? Or is it only the parents fault?

  15. Poisoning the sugarplum, no matter what your take on the “liability”.  I remember tagging along with the neighbor kids to their Sunday school’s summer program back in the 70s.  All sorts of little toys handed out.  Even a floor-show: The minister making the fold-cutout men and then writing the names of various sins on them, then setting the whole thing on fire and dramatically stamping out the fire in the wastebasket. 

    I was only eight, but even then I knew that they were taking things a little too far with an impressionable audience.  Learning the Lord’s Prayer in sign language was cool, but…

    That navel-gazing trip through memory lane aside, I guess I don’t see this as much different.  Or Stephen Baldwin’s skateboarders, for that matter, 

    But, then, I don’t think that you should be allowed to pick a religion until you’re at least old enough to drink anyway:  I mean, if you can’t be trusted with a Bud Light, how can you be trusted to pick the “right” path to eternal salvation.  Surely no one can argue with that logic, riiiiight??  wink

  16. But, then, I don’t think that you should be allowed to pick a religion until you’re at least old enough to drink anyway

    My feelings exactly. The very idea of “retaining” kids too young to drink offends me.

  17. I further believe that no political conversations should be held within kids’ hearing.  We all know how impressionable they are and how they tend to mimic what they hear Mommy and Daddy ranting about while watching the evening news.  They should also be kept from all books and TV so that they are not unfairly influenced by the agendas therein until they are of an age to be able to jduge them fairly.  In fact, all kids should be raised by robots on an island in the middle of the ocean, taught only math, and only be allowed to choose citizenship in a given country (after a crash course in world history) upon reaching majority.

    Or not.

    I’m not sure what it means to not be allowed to “pick a religion” until 18, or 21 even. What I think you mean is that kids should not be indoctrinated into a particular religious faith until then.  I disagree, in principle, especially since that incongruously singles out religion from other belief systems, ideologies, value sets, and group identities that kids are raised in from the time they are born.

    I would not, however, take seriously someone’s professed faith at 12, 14, or even 18 or 21 as the final, be-all of their religious (or irreligious) identity.  Points of view often change, rightfully so, over time, in religion as in politics.

    But, then, I don’t think “picking the right religion” is a one-time thing, that it has a “right” answer, or that “eternal salvation” rides on it.  So perhaps I’m not the best person to be (oddly) arguing for a traditionalist standpoint.

  18. I’m with ***Dave on the parental responsibility aspect of his argument. I agree that simply because it’s a church function one shouldn’t assume it’s a given that it’ll be wholesome or in alignment with the parent’s values. Churches do dumb things on occasion just like any other organization.

    That said…

    The underlying concern here seems to be using video games (or, I imagine, by extension any other popular activity) as part of a proselytization tool—though, presumably, this program isn’t grabbing kids off the streets but is done within the families of the congregations in question.

    It’s not said in the article specifically, but the implication I got was that they were reaching out to more than just kids within families already attending church. I know from my own youth attending church that this sort of outreach was common, it was in fact how I ended up becoming a member of the Baptist church I attended. I was convinced to go by friends in the neighborhood who emphasized the activity at the time more so than the fact that I was going to be proselytized to. Near as I can tell the tactics haven’t changed in 30 years.

  19. Dave:  Um, I do hope that you didn’t misinterpret the smiley-face as an Ann-Coulter-esque smirk of intellectual and moral superiority.  (Les, you really must add an emoticon for that, complete with the coquettish toss of the bottle-blonde-Barbie-hair!)

    But seriously, folks…

    I think that singling out religion as a belief system is perfectly fair, your reductio-ad-absurdam arguments aside.  Why?  Because political belief systems—assuming that you’re not among the 29%—is required to stand on its own merits in the marketplace of ideas.  One has to defend one’s political beliefs, whereas religion—for mind-bogglingly stupid reasons—gets a free pass.

    You aren’t threatened with hellfire for changing political affiliations (north of the Mason-Dixon line anyway).  The penalties, if there are any, stay firmly in this lifetime.

    So no, you don’t get away with the strawman arguments.  I’m sticking to my guns here:  If children are to be taught any religion at all, I would strongly argue that it should be a good representative sample of all the world’s religions, past and present.  Luring them into church with the “candy” of video games and then threatening them for eternal damnation if they don’t conform to a certain value-set is just capital-W wrong.

    But, alas, the condemnation of a devout agnostic certainly won’t change the minds of the True Believers.  That sort of persuasion has to come from within the tribe.

  20. Indoctrinating people into Christianity has worked rather well, Just where do you think the Blacks would be today if it were not for the early Christian Slave owners ?

    And what about all those Indian Children that were taken by force from their heathen parents and placed in special schools ?

    As for the Video game…It comes as no surprise to see these people in an on going continuous state of
    manipulation of others. It’s in their nature.

  21. Les: [T]he implication I got was that they were reaching out to more than just kids within families already attending church.

    I would definitely object to that, unless it was done with the parents’ consent.

    Now, I can imagine Billy telling his folks that Joe-Bob has invited him down to church to play video games, and the parents just kind of waving their hands, “That’s nice dear.”  I consider that (irresponsible) parental consent.

    If Katherine (when she is, ahem, a lot older) were to say to me that her friend invited her down to the local Lutheran church for some sort of activity, I’d poke into more details, and probably assume a certain measure of proselytization would be going on (I’d feel very differently depending on whether we’re talking ELCA or Missouri Synod here).

    Cubiclegrrl:  Because political belief systems—assuming that you’re not among the 29%—is required to stand on its own merits in the marketplace of ideas.  One has to defend one’s political beliefs, whereas religion—for mind-bogglingly stupid reasons—gets a free pass.

    I think that is growing less and less true—and I’m glad to see it.  That said, I think political ideas are, except for a fraction of the population, as dogmatically accepted by a lot of people as religion is.  Which is a shame on both accounts.

    You aren’t threatened with hellfire for changing political affiliations (north of the Mason-Dixon line anyway).  The penalties, if there are any, stay firmly in this lifetime.

    Well, you may be accused of treason, of being an inhuman monster, of being an idiot, or of being the one who made Mom cry over Christmas dinner because you got into a big political argument with Dad. Those may or may not be as persuasive as arguments about hellfire.

    The fact is that children are raised with (or without) certain values, beliefs, knee-jerk reactions, and expectations as to what is Normal and Right.  Religion *may* (depending on the family) be a bigger or lesser part of this, but it is only a part. 

    If children are to be taught any religion at all, I would strongly argue that it should be a good representative sample of all the world’s religions, past and present.

     

    I’d argue both; I have no problem with parents raising their kids “in” a particular religion, but I would wholeheartedly support religions education (including non-religious philosophies, atheism, etc.).

    Luring them into church with the “candy” of video games and then threatening them for eternal damnation if they don’t conform to a certain value-set is just capital-W wrong.

    I believe threatening anyone with eternal damnation is Wrong (in both senses of the term).

    Paul:  As for the Video game…It comes as no surprise to see these people in an on going continuous state of manipulation of others. It’s in their nature.

    Is it the “manipulation” that bothers you, or the end (selling/encouraging religion) to which the manipulation is directed?  Ideological, or even moral, persuasion is hard, and people really don’t want to listen to it.  As the article notes, the perceived competition is sex and drink/drugs, but it’s also anything else that distracts kids or competes for their attention.  Is the manipulation itself different from “if you do your homework, you can watch that movie” or “if you get a 3.5 GPA, I’ll buy you that Xbox”?

  22. I hope this is only pointing out the obvious, but the churches playing Halo are not the churches that decry video game violence.  The churches that play Halo are much more liberal in their theology, politics, philosophy, etc. than typical churches.  Halo playing churches are what most Republican churches would call “postmodern”  The whole postmodern christianity thing is one of the biggest debates in the American church right now especially amongst youth and young adults.  A lot of churches especially megachurches are reevaluating how and why they do ministry and what exactly is and isn’t off limits.  The “postmodernists” are introducing reforms to the church some of which are long overdue and others that go too far.

  23. Dave:  Many good points, but I think that equating the “manipulation” of the churches with the “manipulation” of “If you get a 3.5, I’ll buy you an XBox” isn’t quite apples-to-apples.  In the latter case, it’s most definitely a quid pro quo where both sides of the exchange understand the terms.  However, the former strikes me as more deceitful:  “Come in and play video games for free.  And oh, by the way, YOU’RE GOING TO BURN IN HELL IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE WHAT WE TELL YOU!!!”  (Exaggerating for pseudo-comic effect there, but you get the idea…) 

    For me, it’s the afore-mentioned poisoning of the sugarplum that bugs me.  I don’t like the idea of indoctrinating kids into any one system of belief (political or religious), but I will definitely defend the rights of parents to do so.  (Within reason, of course.) 

    Theocrat:  Interesting thoughts, too.  The megachurches thing sort of sent a chill up my spine, though, because the Fosterites from “Stranger in a Strange Land” popped into my head at that point.  But, from my perspective, i.e. someone on the outside looking in, I’d have to agree with your assessment that there is definitely a tug-o-war going on in American Christianity.  Long live the Unitarian Jihad!  wink

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