Friday, October 15, 2010

The Judgment House Phenomenon

It is that time of year again. The leaves are turning red, yellow, and orange. The temperatures are falling and pumpkins are appearing on front porches across America. And now teenagers are dressing in costumes and makeup in order to strike fear into the hearts of the public. This is not, however, your run of the mill trick or treating or haunted house. The latest manifestation of fundamentalist evangelism is the judgment house. Judgment house is the name brand of a group providing scripts and directions for these "walk through dramas" that are billed as "alternatives to haunted houses." While the plots of these judgment houses change from year to year and church to church the basic premise remains the same. There is a depiction of hell and a depiction of heaven and which one do you want to end up for eternity?

These judgment houses are geared toward tweens and teens with bus after bus of youth groups coming in and out. I went through one of these judgment houses a couple of years ago. While the cheesiness of these skits was palpable, so was the manipulation of these young people. Some kids were laughing, but some were also in tears, scared literally for their souls. After going through the house, "counselors" (who knows what their qualifications were) talked with kids who "accepted Jesus." The rest of us were sent out the door and into the cold.

Having gone through one of these "dramas" I feel that I can offer a fair shakedown of these events. These judgment houses engage in the worst kind of scare tactic evangelism possible. The only thing worse would be to literally hold a gun to their heads. I have read this and heard it time and time again, fear based conversion is not true conversion. You cannot coerce people into a relationship with God by fear. A relationship by its definition is based on trust and love. I would compare these judgment house conversions to a woman who stays in marriage because she is afraid to leave. You resent the one you fear. These young people are not told that God loves then, except that he will save you only after dangling you over the fires of hell.

Jesus never used that kind of evangelism. Jesus instead chose to help people, heal them, touch them, feed them, and then give them the good news of the Gospel. It takes a lot of money, time, and energy to create and put on one of these judgment houses. Why not use that same time, money, and energy to build a Habitat for Humanity house? What would be a better example of the gospel of Christ? A judgment house or a house for one of the least of these. What is more likely to bring someone to Christ? A fear based manipulation or an act of love and grace.

I hope someone from one of these judgment house churches reads this and I hope they get offended. I hope that offense causes them to think and perhaps reconsider.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Something Must Be Done

I must confess. I was both bullied and a bully in school. I was always the fat kid which made me a prime target for bullying and teasing. In response to that, I bullied other kids mostly to prevent myself from being the target. Even as a child I remember knowing that what I was doing was wrong and I not liking myself when I bullied others. I just felt it was what I had to do to fit in and save myself. I do not say this to justify my actions or to absolve myself from responsibility. I wish I could go back an talk to myself as a child and show him that there is a better way.

For as long as there have been humans there have been those who push others around. There are few who escape school without being bullied in some form or fashion. Kids can be very cruel and despite the old rhyme words do hurt and they do leave scars. With the advent of the Internet kids are coming up with new and inventive ways of torturing their classmates. Now teasing is not only instantaneous, but it also goes viral. A victim is not only humiliated locally in a class or a school, but also worldwide.

Adolescence is tough for any kid, but it can be especially brutal for those struggling with sexual orientation and gender identity. In the last three weeks, six kids have taken their own lives because of homophobic bullying, three in the last week. This is a situation where one death is too many. The sad truth is that while these six have made national headlines there are dozens if not hundreds more kids who are hurting because of bullying. How many more have to die before we understand? Suicide is a statement. It is a final cry for help that goes unheard or unnoticed. Listen to the cries from these kids and let's do something about it.

Why is sexual orientation a means of discrimination? Is this bullying based on certain Biblical views on homosexuality? The very Scripture that teaches us to love one another as Christ loved us is being used as a reason to hate and bully LGBTQ people. Despite what your views on homosexuality are the Bible is crystal clear that we are to love each other. There are those from the American Family Association and other groups who claim that hate crime and anti-bullying legislation that includes sexual orientation and gender identity is part of some "homosexual agenda." They claim that all bullies should be punished no matter what the reason. But if we do not look at the reason and examine the motives behind the bullying then we will never solved the problem.

If you are a pastor or a youth director, talk to the parents in the church and then talk to your kids. Let them know that every person is a sacred child of God created in God's image. There is no reason for bullying and there are no excuses not to take a stand against it. We need to talk about this in the Church. If we claim to have "Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors." then this is a subject we must face. Something must be done. And if you are a kid who is being bullied remember that tomorrow will be better and there are those who love you very much. Suicide is not the answer and there is no coming back.

And for those kids that I picked on in school, I am truly sorry. I wish I had the strength back then to do what I knew was right.