Youth group madness

I was on Issues, Etc., yesterday. You can listen here. Somehow Todd Wilkens or Jeff Schwarz got ahold of a WORLD column I wrote way back in 2002. They seemed to think it is still relevant. Here it is:

Stupid church tricks

Many church youth groups are teaching young people exactly what they don’t need to learn | Gene Edward Veith

Four sets of parents are suing a church in Indiana for what happened at a New Year’s Eve lock-in. A youth leader chewed up a mixture of dog food, sardines, potted meat, sauerkraut, cottage cheese, and salsa, topped off with holiday eggnog. As if this spectacle were not disgusting enough (let the reader beware), he then spit out the mixture into a glass and encouraged the members of the youth group to drink it!

Some of those who did, of course, became sick, whereupon their parents sued the church. According to an Associated Press account, the youth pastor said that the “gross-out” game, called the Human Vegematic, was just for fun and that the church forced no one to participate. The lawsuit accused the adults in charge of pressuring 13- and 14-year-olds into activities that caused them physical and mental harm.

Such “gross-out” games have become a fad in youth ministry. Since adolescents are amused by bodily functions, crude behavior, and tastelessness—following the church-growth principle of giving people what they like as a way to entice them into the kingdom—many evangelical youth leaders think this is a way to reach young people.

The Source for Youth Ministry, a popular and widely used resource center, posts scores of games on its website, many of which were contributed by youth group leaders in the field.

There is Sanctuary Softball, which involves whacking a nerf ball in church, with home plate being the area of the altar, and running through the pews, as the fielders then try to hit the batter with the ball to make an out. Another fun activity is Seafood Catch, which involves putting minnows in the baptistry, then catching them by hand. (“Extra points for eating them after it is done.”)

Then there are games designed to appeal to adolescents’ hormones. These include kissing games like “Kiss the Wench.” “Leg Line Up” has girls feel boy’s legs to identify who is who. Some of them have odd homosexual subtexts, like “Pull Apart,” in which guys cling to each other, while girls try to pull them apart. Another has girls putting makeup on guys, leading to a drag beauty show. Then there is the embarrassingly Freudian “Baby Bottle Burp,” in which girls put a diaper (a towel) on a boy, then feed him a bottle of soda, and cradle him until he burps!

These are presented as just ordinary games, good ways to break the ice at youth group. But there is another category of “Sick and Twisted Games.” Many of these involve eating and drinking gross things, like at the Indiana church. (“Toothbrush Buffet” has youth group leaders brushing their teeth and spitting into a cup. Each then passes it along to the next in line, who uses what is in the cup to brush his teeth. The last one drinks down everyone’s spit.) Others are scatological, and are too repellent to describe.

What do teenagers learn from these youth group activities? Nothing of the Bible. Nothing of theology. Nothing of the cost of discipleship. But they do learn some lessons that they can carry with them the rest of their lives:

* Lose your inhibitions. Young people usually have inhibitions against doing anything too embarrassing or shameful. These exercises are designed to free people from such hangups. For some reason, post-Freudian psychologists—whose “sensitivity groups” are the model for these kinds of exercises—maintain that such inhibitions are bad. Christians, though, have always insisted that we need to feel inhibited about indulging in things for which we should feel ashamed. This is part of what we mean by developing a conscience.

Though being “gross” may not be sinful in itself, overcoming natural revulsions can only train a child to become uninhibited about more important things.

* Give in to peer pressure. Defenders of these kinds of activities maintain that they help create group unity. The way they work, though, is to overcome a teenager’s inhibitions with the greater desire to go along with the group. In other words, these exercises teach the teenager to give in to peer pressure. Instead, youth groups need to teach Christian teenagers not to go along with the crowd and to stand up against what their friends want them to do.

* Christianity is stupid. Status-conscious teenagers know that those who are so desperate to be liked that they will do anything to curry favor are impossible to respect. Young people may come to off-the-wall youth group meetings, but when they grow up, they will likely associate the church with other immature, juvenile phases of their lives, and Christianity will be something they will grow out of.

Teenagers get enough entertainment, psychology, and hedonism from their culture. They don’t need it from their church. What they need—and often yearn for—is God’s Word, catechesis, and spiritual formation.

via WORLD Magazine | Stupid church tricks | Gene Edward Veith | Aug 24, 02.

Am I right, or am I over-reacting?  What are your memories of church youth group?  Was it like this, or more helpful?  Did it help keep you in church and make you grow in your faith, or did it drive you away?

“And then they are all mine”

Al Mohler, himself a seminary president, discusses the agenda of some college professors:

On many campuses, a significant number of faculty members are representatives of what has been called the “adversary culture.” They see their role as political and ideological, and they define their teaching role in these terms. Their agenda is nothing less than to separate students from their Christian beliefs and their intellectual and moral commitments.

A good many of these professors deny this agenda, but from time to time the mask is removed. Writing at the “University Diaries” column at the site, a professor of English revealed this agenda with amazing candor. Responding to an argument about the power of intellectual elites, this professor dropped any effort to hide the real agenda:

“We need to encourage everyone to be in college for as many years as they possibly can,” this professor wrote, “in the hope that somewhere along the line they might get some exposure to the world outside their town, and to moral ideas not exclusively derived from their parents’ religion. If they don’t get this in college, they’re not going to get it anywhere else.”

This professor minces no words. The college experience, the argument goes, is the best (and perhaps last) opportunity for someone to break students’ commitments to the moral convictions “derived from their parents’ religion.”

Similarly, writing in a Seattle newspaper, a teacher of English and college adviser at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois reveals this ideological agenda in even more shocking terms. Bill Savage reacts to the fact that the so-called conservative “red” states are “outbreeding” the “blue” states, which are more liberal in voting patterns. Identifying himself as a political liberal with no children of his own, Savage acknowledges that he and his fellow liberals have a lower fertility rate than conservatives. Nevertheless, he insists that educated urban liberals need not despair. He expresses confidence “that blue America’s Urban Archipelago can grow larger, more contiguous, and more politically powerful even without my offspring.” How?

“The children of red states will seek a higher education,” he explains, “and that education will very often happen in blue states or blue islands in red states. For the foreseeable future, loyal dittoheads will continue to drop off their children at the dorms. After a teary-eyed hug, Mom and Dad will drive their SUV off toward the nearest gas station, leaving their beloved progeny behind.”

Then what? He proudly claims: “And then they are all mine.”


Sarah Pulliam Bailey (a regular reader of this blog) has written a good article for Christianity Today on Dinesh D’Souza, a Catholic, assuming the presidency of the King’s College, an evangelical school.  (She quotes me in the article.)  Her interviews shed light on the issue that we discussed yesterday:

“I’m quite happy to acknowledge my Catholic background; at the same time, I’m very comfortable with Reformation theology,” D’Souza told Christianity Today. “I’m comfortable with the evangelical world. In a sense, I’m part of it.”

D’Souza’s wife, Dixie, is an evangelical, and the family has attended Calvary Chapel, a nondenominational evangelical church in San Diego, for the past 10 years. He has been invited to speak in several churches and colleges, including Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

“I do not describe myself as Catholic today. But I don’t want to renounce it either because it’s an important part of my background. I’m an American citizen, but I wouldn’t reject the Indian label because it’s part of my heritage,” D’Souza said. “I say I have a Catholic origin or background. I say I’m a nondenominational Christian, and I’m comfortable with born-again.”

via Dinesh D’Souza to Lead NYC’s King’s College | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Lots of Christians go to “nondenominational” churches.  But these are independent evangelical institutions that, even though they don’t belong to a larger denominational organization, do have an implicit theology, usually of the Baptist variety.  But Mr. D’Souza is taking non-denominationalism to a new level.  This version embraces Catholicism as well as Protestantism in all of its varieties.  To what extent is this possible?

Presumably, a nondenominational Christian would hold whatever theological position he pleases, and his nondenominational congregation will not insist on theological unity.   An outgrowth of the parachurch mindset, nondenominationalism separates being a “Christian” from involvement in any particular church.  I think it is intrinsically Protestant, since, for Catholics, being a part of a particular institutional church body is crucial.  But still, I can see many Christians approaching their faith in this sense, adhering to C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” and considering that enough.  Maybe it’s enough for a college.

Those of you in nondenominational churches, would you have room in your fellowship for the denomination known as Roman Catholic Church?  If not, wouldn’t the basis for that exclusion be that you hold to a particular theology and that you constitute a denomination after all?

At any rate, Mr. D’Souza sounds more like a former Catholic and an evangelical, after all, even if he hasn’t changed his church membership.

Evangelical college picks Catholic President

The King’s College has selected Dinesh D’Souza as its new president.  The New York City school, which is housed in the Empire State Building, was founded by Campus Crusade for Christ and is a conservative evangelical college–a pretty good one, I might add.  The thing is, Mr. D’Souza, a popular conservative author and think tank scholar, is a Roman Catholic.  Do you think an evangelical college can have a Catholic president?  Can a  college be “Christian” in a sense that can embrace both Protestantism and Catholicism?  Would the Catholics deny that the Protestants are members of the Church, and the Protestants deny that the Catholics have faith in the Gospel?  Or is this a great idea whose time has come?

I wish the best for Mr. D’Souza and the college, where WORLD editor Marvin Olasky is the Provost.  Do you think this rather bold experiment will work?

Student Loan scandal update

Yesterday we blogged about the Washington Post’s dependence on income from its ownership of Kaplan, whose for-profit-universities are being accused of defrauding the government.  tODD points out that its universities are only part of the Kaplan empire, doing the math to show that the percentage of the Post’s income from the colleges and from the taxpayers is smaller than the 62% I cited.  Meanwhile, in another case of surprising readers of this blog, one of the original litigators who helped expose the corruption at Kaplan, Mike Aguirre, wrote in.  You need to read his post in the comments.  It tells about how Kaplan officials were caught destroying diplomas of “phantom students” who didn’t really exist, but who apparently were made up by the university just to get student loans.  Mr. Aguirre also noted the staggering sums that flowed into Kaplan from the Title IV student loan plan:

> Finally, I would like to note the following amounts of Title IV funds paid to Kaplan in addition to those identified in the operative complaint.
> In 2005 Kaplan derived more than $500 million of its revenues from Title IV funds. In 2006 Kaplan derived $580 million of its revenues from Title IV funds. In 2007 Kaplan Title IV revenue was $745 million, or approximately 73%, of total KHE revenues. In 2008 Title IV funds accounted for $904 million, or approximately 71%, of total KHE revenues. During 2009 Title IV funds accounted for $1.283 billion million, or approximately 83%, of KHE revenues.

The Washington Post & the student loan scandal

Last week we blogged about the student loan scandal, how some schools–especially for-profit institutions–are sucking in billions of taxpayer dollars from federal student loans, even though the majority of their students can never pay them back.  One of the biggest offenders is Kaplan, which was caught advising students to apply for loans they didn’t even qualify for.  Kaplan is owned by the Washington Post.

The newspaper has admitted that fact in its stories about the scandals.  On Sunday the ombudsman Andrew Alexander responded to reader complaints about conflicts of interest when the paper covers stories involving its corporate holdings.  Alexander thinks everything is all right as long as the paper is transparent about its financial ties.  In his defense of the paper, he let drop a remarkable detail:

But disclosure of The Post Co.’s ownership of Kaplan is especially critical because of Kaplan’s outsize importance to the overall bottom line. The Kaplan division, which offers higher education, test preparation and professional training services, accounted for 62 percent of The Post Co.’s total second-quarter revenues. Its higher education unit, the subject of government scrutiny and proposed regulations, will be in the news for months to come.

Disclosure aside, a separate issue is The Post’s commitment to following the story. “We will give Kaplan the same level of scrutiny as we give the rest of the industry,” said Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, who runs the local news staff that handles education reporting.

via Andrew Alexander – From Kaplan to Buffett, Post gets it right on transparency.

So 62% of the Post’s revenue comes from a questionable college under criminal investigation?  That would mean that 62% of the Post‘s revenue comes from the federal government?  From taxpayer money?  That is to say, cheated taxpayers and bilked students whose defaults will go with them for life?

Not only that, the lead editorial in that same Sunday edition had the effrontery to come out against the President’s plan to cut off federal aid to schools with a smaller pay-back rate of 35%.  (Kaplan’s, I was told, is something like 33%.)

Yes, the Post editorial made clear that it owns Kaplan’s.  But disclosing a conflict of interest does not mean there is no conflict of interest!  Here the editors are using the power of their opinion page to defend their own cash-cow against needed reforms.