Thomas Prosser has written in last week’s Guardian on the sinister under-belly of the Church – the Christian teen camp!
In his article Christian teen camps are wicked, innit he writes of how ‘Tens of thousands of British teens flock to such festivals and they have become an established fixture of the ecclesiastical calendar’
And what disturbs him is that ‘the Christian teen camp also aims to bring them to the Lord. This it does in industrial numbers according to the camps. Thousands are said to make decisions for Christ every year. Our prodigal island is slowly brought back to God as he transforms our teens’ lives one by one.’
So why is he so trubled? He give two reasons.
Firstly that ‘the evangelical tactics used at such camps are on occasions manipulative’
He describes how ‘Sermons at such camps often take the form of wild orations that aim to wear down the resistance of the audience to the message.’
‘After having their emotions softened, hypnotic music typically sounds out in subdued lighting as youngsters are urged to come to the front and give their lives to Christ.’
‘None of any of this is fair to teens: young people have a right to choose their religious beliefs without being subjected to strategies that emotionally exploit them.’
So his concern is the emotional exploitation of teenagers. Well even if it were true that there is some level of emotional exploitation at these week long events why single out Christianity as evil in this regard. What about the emotional exploitation of teenagers that takes place 52 weeks of the year on our TV screens and in the media? Don’t ‘young people have a right to choose’ there too?
Are we going to ban X-Factor or Britain’s got talent because it deludes teenagers in droves into thinking that they will one day be famous and that the dream of making it big will come true? Are we going to ban TV programmes such as Secret Diary of a Call Girl starring Billie Piper because it sells the myth that selling sex is a positive career choice?
Are we planning to ban under-18’s from going on Haj or fasting during Ramadan?
I don’t hear Prosser calling for the banning of Internet pornography that has caused immense damage to teenagers of both sexes. Natasha Walter wrote Living Dolls’ in 2010 in which she interviews Jim who describes his addiction to porn
‘I was about 14 and I would find them and wathc them when I was alone in the house. Constantly. I was unable to think of women except as potential pornography.’ Now an adult he comments that pornography ‘has destroyed my ability to have intimate relationships.’
She cites one recent study in Canada in which it was revealed that ‘90% of boys aged 13 and 14 and 70% of girls the same age had viewed pornography.’
We could take about under-age sex that has led to an alarming rise in STD’s amongst teenagers, binge-drinking, anorexia, and so on all of which are fuelled by images in the media. We could ban Hollyoaks and Bratz Dolls and lads mags and risqué pop videos, all of which exploit children and teenagers in unacceptable ways and all in the name of making money.
People choose to go on Christian teen-camps and it’s pretty obvious to children and parents alike what you’re going to get. If only the media offered the same choice, sadly not.
But it is Prosser’s second point that is truly alarming.
The real reason he dislikes these camps is that he is intolerant of Christianity. His problem with Christian camps is that they teach orthodox Christianity – shock, horror!
‘The second objection we should have to the Christian teen camp is that the youth lingo and guitar riffs conceal messages that could be damaging to young people.’
‘Could the real “wicked” in Christian teen camps actually be their effects on teens’ emotional wellbeing?’
So at the end of the day Prosser’s argument is essentially ‘I don’t like Christianity’ because of what it teaches and that’s about it. It’s striking that the only aspect of the Christian message he chooses to mention is that one day we will be judged for our actions, which is of course an aspect of Christianity. But that is not at the heart of these camps. The good news of Christianity is that at the heart of the universe is not the cruel indifference proposed by Dawkin’s atheism but a God of incredible love who has loved us in Christ. I wonder what Prosser makes of the sermon on the mount that so inspired Martin Luther King? I wonder whether he thinks it’s damaging to teenagers to hear of a God who because he loved and served us in the death of his son now sends us out into the world to love and serve our communities? Surely there is no more appropriate message for teenagers this summer!
Such articles are well worth reading to Christian teenagers in our churches. It’s good to discuss the strengths and obvious weaknesses of such journalism. The patronizing, condescending tone and the suggestion that the teaching of Christianity should be banned to under-18’s will create a few laughs as well as demonstrating the thinly veiled contempt for a life-changing and community-transforming message.
Like Richard Dawkins such journalism is a great asset to Christians the world over.
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