Rethinking Youth Ministry
The Subversive Message of The Hunger Games
Even as we often refer to the United States as a Christian nation, it's difficult to think of many examples in our history when we could be accused of choosing this third way of creative non-violent resistance. Most often we seem to choose the way of "an eye for an eye" rather than "turn the other cheek." During a recent presidential debate, one of the current Republican candidates was actually booed when he suggested that perhaps the U.S. should base its foreign policy on the biblical injunction to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." For all our national lip service to the centrality of Christian morality and values, our actions clearly argue that we believe more in the power of might, retribution, and coercive power than in the Christ-like virtues of compassion, forgiveness, and love.
It is The Hunger Games' condemnation of our own culture of violence that, it seems to me, makes the film more subversive than many might realize. In early scenes, we follow the teens who have been selected for the Hunger Games as they travel to the Capitol and are dressed in fancy uniforms and paraded around to a cheering public—not unlike how we have sent our own soldiers off to war numerous times in our nation's history. But the film also forces us to look at disturbing imagery of children slaughtering children and the aftermath, quite unlike the way we still conveniently eschew televising images of real battle or footage of fallen soldiers or even the return home of our soldiers' bodies in flag-draped caskets.
Where we are often willing to pretend that war is a game with invisible consequences, The Hunger Games invites us to pay attention to what it means to ask our young to take up arms and fight others to the death. The film does not glorify violence but rather challenges us to see it for what it really is and to ask if there might not be another way (spoiler alert: our young protagonists in fact do choose another way at the end of the games, refusing to participate in a final act of violent murder). Young Christian fans viewing the film may just pick up on this message that subverts our own culture of war and massive military power. They may even ask themselves, much as Peeta does, if we might be able to respond to violence in a way that does not change us but rather allows to remain true to our identity as followers of Christ's subversive way of creative non-violent resistance.
Rev. Brian Kirk is an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and currently serves an inner-city church in St. Louis, Missouri. He also teaches as adjunct faculty at Eden Theological Seminary, and co-writes the blog rethinkingyouthministry.com.