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What’s Going on Here?

Well, here’s one that falls into the “what not to be thankful for” category on this Thanksgiving weekend. I stumbled across this depressing article this morning. Apparently, some evangelical churches in America are using the video game Halo to attract young people to their churches. I don’t know much about this game except that it is popular, it is violent and you have to be 17 years old to purchase it.

But apparently, if you’re not 17 just yet, all you have to do is find a church near you where some “pastor” considers it to be a crucial recruitment tool for the “elusive audience of boys and young men.” Does it glorify violence and get kids loaded up on adrenaline from “blowing stuff up?” Sure. Could it feed addictions to technology in an already techno-saturated culture? Probably. But it gets them in the door of a church and, according to a Denver youth pastor, that’s the first step in making it “hard for kids to go to hell.” “Teens are our ‘fish,” he wrote. “So we’ve become creative in baiting our hooks.”

Lest you think this pastor represents some isolated atypical case, there are, apparently, entire organizations who are sold on the idea of promoting Halo as an evangelistic tool.

Hundreds of churches use Halo games to connect with young people, said Lane Palmer, the youth ministry specialist at the Dare 2 Share Ministry, a nonprofit organization in Arvada, Colo., that helps churches on youth issues.

“It’s very pervasive,” Mr. Palmer said, more widespread on the coasts, less so in the South, where the Southern Baptist denomination takes a more cautious approach. The organization recently sent e-mail messages to 50,000 young people about how to share their faith using Halo 3. Among the tips: use the game’s themes as the basis for a discussion about good and evil.

Right. Well, call me colossally stupid or culturally naive, but I wonder if the best way to stimulate “discussion about good and evil” is to allow kids to participate in three hours of virtual violence as a warm up. Apparently, this occurred to some parents as well, although their concerns were quickly alleviated after being reassured by some “pastor” that giving kids a night of virtual violence is all part of being “relevant”:

John Robison, the current associate pastor at the 300-member Albuquerque church, said parents approached him and were concerned about the Halo games’ M rating. “We explain we’re using it as a tool to be relatable and relevant,” he said, “and most people get over it pretty quick.”

Ah yes, the never ending desperate quest to be “relevant.” Forget about being countercultural in any way, to pointing to better (more healthy?) ways to use technology, spend recreational time, or “fellowship” with one another (according to one pastor, Halo nights are just like camp outs – just another way to “fellowship”). No, the church’s main task is to get people out of hell and if that requires slavishly imitating a culture gorging itself on violent games and movies (not to mention technology), so be it. All part of taking up our cross, I guess…

Later on, another pastor from Minnesota is at least honest enough to say what’s really going on here: “We have to find something that these kids are interested in doing that doesn’t involve drugs or alcohol or premarital sex.” Which leads me to a final note of interest. Focus on the Family (the American über-Evangelical ethical watchdog) is an organization that often has quite a lot to say about things like sexual ethics, drugs, and alcohol. So one would expect them to have something to say about Halo-evangelism as well, right?

Well they did. After acknowledging that they are “trying to balance the game’s violent nature with its popularity and the fact that churches are using it anyway,” a spokesperson said the following:

Internally, we’re still trying to figure out what is our official view on it.

Sigh.

22 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jeff #

    As C.S. Lewis has taught us, it is not so much a one time “decision” that leads you to hell, but the kind of person you become. It is interesting how these pastors completely ignore this, and actually expect young people to escape the grips of hell while (with?) training to be hellish.

    October 7, 2007
  2. Dave Chow #

    I wonder how the churches in Littleton, Colorado feel about that (given the fact that the Columbine shootings are only 8 years ago)…

    October 8, 2007
  3. Jeff, I think you raise an excellent point. Any conception of salvation worthy of the name ought to articulate/point to a way of being in the world that provides a foretaste of what is believed will one day be real.

    Dave, another good point. I hadn’t made that connection, but it is grimly ironic isn’t it?

    October 8, 2007
  4. jc #

    Correct me if I am wrong but didn’t Michael Moore show in his movie that these kids couldn’t possibly have been influenced by violent video games? I remember something about Japan having more violent video games then North America and yet N. America has a higher violent crime rate.

    October 8, 2007
  5. Jeff #

    This issue reminded me of an article I once read a few years back by David Grossman. The article sets out a fairly good argument for how our entertainment trains us in certain ways. Not entirely convinced by Michael Moore, primarily because of different cultures.

    http://www.killology.com/article_trainedtokill.htm

    October 9, 2007
  6. Ugh… again…

    If this is the “bait” what exactly is the “hook?” I can only imagine the substance of the message being preached after a good shoot-em-up binge.

    If Jesus were a character in Halo, where would he be? … Likely on hands and knees cleaning up the blood…

    October 9, 2007
  7. I just wanted to chime in so we could clarify our position. We are not endorsing ‘Halo’ nights or even the game itself. Rather, since it is such a popular cultural item, use the games themes to bring up spiritual conversations. Thanks!

    October 9, 2007
  8. Lane, you are not endorsing Halo nights, yet your website is all about how to use Halo to convert…this is bizarre and wrong…

    October 9, 2007
  9. Lane,

    Let me chime in as well.

    What “spirit” would be invoked in the “spiritual conversation” that could possibly arise from Halo? Frankly, I am doubtful that it would be the spirit of Christ.

    Comparing Christ to the gun-wielding trigger-happy protagonist of Halo (as your “evangelism strategy” recommends) is a sick inversion of the gospel. Yes, Christ came to save the world; and yes, that salvation involved violence and death. But your organization leaps right over the fact that Christ’s involvement with that violence and death was as the crucified–not the perpetrator. The cross is used as a weapon in the gospel–by Pilate, the high Priests, and the mob–not by Christ.

    If anything, we ought to talk about Christ’s identification with the victims of violence. The god who operates by means of machine guns and grenades is far less than “relevant”–he is demonic.

    Your organization’s attempt at relevance, in all due respect, comes too close to snuggling up to a violent culture in a misguided quest for affirmation and numbers for my comfort.

    Thank you for taking the time to represent your organization and try to set the record straight. Needless to say, I still find your “strategy” to be something less than Christ-like.

    Sadly,
    Eric

    October 10, 2007
  10. jc #

    I think if you want to know the strategy then click on Lane Palmer’s name. I don’t want to defend that organizations tactics as I have no stake in the matter other than I am hoping to jump on the Halo bandwagon this Christmas. Looks like a great game. It seems as though a couple of you are popping up straw men of how you think Lane’s organization might be using Halo to evangelize then actually going to his website and reading it. Not that any of your points don’t have validity but possibly might be made stronger by dealing directly with Dare 2 Share’s guide.

    October 10, 2007
  11. jc,

    Thank you. Just to be clear, I posted my comment after reading through the Dare to Share website linked to Lane’s name. In addition, I emailed my comment to the email address available at that site.

    I do not object to the existence of a game like Halo, per se. I won’t buy it, but I wouldn’t stop anyone else from doing so.

    On the other hand, I find something fundamentally inconsistent about using a game that glorifies violence in service of a Lord whose life and preaching repudiated violence. How would you, for example, follow an hour of Halo with a discussion of the Sermon on the Mount?

    October 10, 2007
  12. Dave Chow #

    Now given the very healthy amount of discussion that has been going on, I want to push the discussion a bit further – what is the difference between using Halo 3 or any first-person shooting game, and games such as paintball, and laser tag in church-related ministry?

    I know these games, in and of themselves are ‘good’ forms of exercise, however, these games do mimic ‘killing’ games. As church ministries, should these forms of activities be endorsed by the church? Let’s take it a bit farther yet…what about the use of martial arts (in exercise and entertainment).

    I would have to say that these forms of sport and entertainment, again, are somewhat neutral, maybe even benign.

    The whole issue surrounding this discussion is what is the place for these activities in church ministry? Are they appropriate, given what faith convictions we as believers share? I know I’m running the risk of laying out a dualism between church-life and life-as-church-in-diaspora…

    Thoughts, anyone?

    October 10, 2007
  13. I would add, that I do not have any problem with the game it self (although I have never played Halo, but have played other first shooter games)or any other ‘fun’ activity. The problem I have is making that game and connecting those characters to the character and person of Christ. A fun activity can be just that a fun activity, it doesn’t have to have Jesus’ name slapped on it.

    October 10, 2007
  14. Dave,

    Great question… I’ll take your risk of dualism a few steps further…

    My gut instinct is to question the centrality of “sport and entertainment” (benign or otherwise) within church ministry in the first place. A youth group centered on keeping kids entertained, or using entertainment as a means to keep kids around for the “real substance” seems a bit misguided to me. At minimum, while entertainment may present a attractive means of outreach to those who would otherwise ignore church, it seems to leave discipleship, mentoring, and maturation to the side (or make these into optional add-ons for those students who want more).

    When imitation-violence is the substance of the “entertainment” my questions are only magnified. At what point does this turn into a half-hour for the golden-calf that everyone is clamoring for, followed by a half-hour for Jesus. Given our insensitivity to violence, I wonder if we are trying to serve two masters.

    But the church-as-entertainment phenomenon is much deeper then merely youth ministries. Sadly, it is pretty close to the heartbeat of many churches.

    Certainly, the church invites the whole world to enter through its doors, but at some point entering into the church community means undergoing baptism: death, transformation, rebirth. What does it look like to invite Halo or paintball into the church? What does it mean for these activities to be baptized? Are they part of the violence that is borne away by Christ’s suffering and death on our behalf? I am inclined to think so.

    That does not entail that Christians ought to crusade against video games, tai kwan do, and paintball in general–just that their place in the church (and perhaps in the lives of believers) is dubious.

    Given the unlimited opportunities for service our broken world provides, I wonder if allowing students to witness the power of the gospel first-hand in the transformation of lives through much-needed relationships might not be a better use of time and talents. Rather than use Halo to evangelize cold-turkey, why not take the youth group to the nursing home or to the juvenile hall. And not merely for a one-time feel-good crusade, but in order to establish relationships of real caring. Less fun, I know, but in terms of actual character-formation?

    Am I going too far?

    October 10, 2007
  15. Dave Chow #

    Eric,

    At the risk of labelling you, the more I read you, the more you sound like an anabaptist.

    I appreciate your comments on community, service and the need of it in our world. I certainly concur.

    Although Halo 3 and other like games can be exciting (it provides quasi-community online), I think that living in community and exposing youth groups to service opportunities of all kinds can be just as, or even more exhilarating than the virtual world – witnessing transformation is even more powerful one-on-one, face-to-face. Especially when the transformation usually happens to the “benefactor” not just the “beneficiary”.

    I don’t think you go too far at all, Eric. What is the upside-down kingdom, without turning somethings on their heads?

    October 10, 2007
  16. Dave,

    I’ll be ecumenical and accept the label as a compliment. For what its worth, I’m a Lutheran with anabaptist leanings (among others…).

    For what it’s worth there is a long (and vitriolic) thread on the same article at “Fire and Rose”

    http://fireandrose.blogspot.com/2007/10/pet-vi-youth-ministry.html

    Blessings,
    Eric

    October 10, 2007
  17. You’re welcome- and Dare 2 Share is not actually ‘my’ ministry. We are a church assisting ministry that’s headed up by Greg Stier. Additionally, the comparison between Master Chief and Christ is purely metaphorical, so obviously it breaks down after a few similarities. What I intended was more along the lines of a ‘messianic’ comparison. Finally, I have been challenged by your thought provoking readership- may I return the favor by recommending an excellent book that may do the same for you-

    http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Mean-Wild-Unexpected-Untamable/dp/0801012848

    best-

    Lane

    October 11, 2007
  18. Just thought I’d throw in my 2-cents here. Over the weekend, I was listening to the BBC, and this has been picked up as an issue in the UK as well. Lane Palmer was invited to give his perspective on this program, but overall the BBC’s perspective was one of disbelief, I’d say

    October 15, 2007
  19. The story really seems to be making the rounds. One of the presenters at an MB Study Conference in Abbotsford this weekend used it in a lecture on how gospel and culture ought to relate as well. Seems to have struck a nerve…

    October 15, 2007
  20. Paul Johnston #

    Is culture before Christ, or Christ before culture?

    If the latter is true to you, why do you pander to your children’s cultural perogatives when you speak of Christ?

    October 17, 2007
  21. Paul Johnston #

    Perhaps you assume them to be stupid.

    October 17, 2007

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