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Reaching Young People At All Costs?

Having served as a pastor now for over 30 years, I have seen every sort of outreach gimmick you can imagine. Churches have been willing to do almost anything to get people into church, especially young people.

With everything from taping $10 bills to the underside of church bus seats, to bringing weight lifters to the morning service for a workout session, I thought I had seen it all. I was wrong.

The latest outreach craze involves “Halo 3,” the wildly popular video game. Rated M because of its violent content, Halo cannot be purchased by anyone under the age of seventeen. However, many evangelical churches are setting up game rooms with multiple screens and consoles where teens under the age of 17 can come and enjoy the thrill of blowing somebody to bits.

In case you are not familiar with the Halo series, players guide a tough marine called “Master Chief” into a series of encounters with evil opponents. Master Chief uses an array of missiles, lasers, guns that fire spikes and energy blasters to blow apart his enemies.

The rationalization from church leaders is predictable. Since it is crucial to get young people to come to church then whatever means employed to accomplish that end is justified.

Kendrick Kenerly, founder of Christian Gamers Online, told the New York Times that playing Halo in church should not be a cause for alarm. “It’s no different than going on a camping trip.”

Well, except when you go camping usually you don’t pretend to kill people.

And speaking of fantasy, James Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a non-profit group that assesses denominational policies, had an interesting insight. He sarcastically suggested in a Times interview, “If you want to connect with teenage boys and drag them into church, free alcohol and pornographic movies would do it.”

And while no self-respecting church leader would ever use pornography to get boys to come to church, it does raise an interesting point.

Watching pornography is considered sinful by faith groups because it exploits women and promotes promiscuity. Pornography also creates opportunities for lust which Jesus equated with adultery.

On the other hand, playing Halo exploits human in life in general and promotes violent behavior. It also provides an opportunity to fantasize about killing people, which violates the Sixth Commandment. It may also promote rage and hate towards our enemies, which violates what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount.

Even without the church connection, the existence of a game like Halo demonstrates how deeply violence is rooted in our culture. Violence as entertainment numbs us to the reality of human suffering that exists because of real violence. That is true whether the blows occur at home or on the battlefield.

In our culture we believe in violence, and I am using the word “believe” in the religious sense. We believe that violence can save us and root out evil. Violence is good when used for good ends.

Sadly, these attitudes about violence are completely at odds with the teaching of Jesus. Jesus calls us to a view of humanity that seeks to move beyond violence as a way of dealing with evil. His highest expectation of us is that we will love our neighbors and our enemies.

Using imaginary killing as a way to reach young people for Christ seems to me an insidious reversal of this ideal.

James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.