Would You Send Your Kid To A Religious Summer Camp?

Would You Send Your Kid To A Religious Summer Camp? July 24, 2019
My kid and his bestie at Timmy’s and navigating the high seas on the S.S. Hamburguesa.

My son is all about his friends. He plays on a baseball team to be with them, and he likely wouldn’t play at all if they didn’t. He takes sailing lessons every summer and he probably would not if his friends weren’t there. It’s summer vacation and the kid, who is nearing eleven years old, asks to be woken up in the morning to maximize his time with friends. He will do just about anything if his friends are there by his side.

So, when a friend of mine asked if my son wanted to join her kids at a Christian camp this summer, I thought for sure he’d want to go. Her son is my son’s best friend. These two are an inseparable pair, a permanent fixture, together wherever they go: the skatepark, the bike shop, the water park. Having sent her kids to this camp the year before, my fellow atheist friend told me that it was not super religious but that they would pray at mealtimes, and read stories from the Bible once or twice.

Knowing this didn’t bother me. I don’t have an issue with my son encountering religious ideas, especially in the company of other non-believers. I’ve instilled the importance of critical thought in my kiddos well enough to know that these ideas could never take root in his mind. Besides, on the off chance they did, it wouldn’t be because of one week at camp, and I’d love him all the same.

So, I asked him if he wanted to go. I thought for sure he’d say yes. His bestie was going, the camp boasted plenty of fun activities, and his grandparents were willing to pay for it. When he said, “Nah”, instead, I was surprised and asked why.

“The religious stuff.” He told me.

I think it’s important to point out that when I first told him about this camp, I explained that it was religious and that there might be some praying and Bible study. I also said, though, that it was no big deal. I told him the Bible is just another book full of stories, and some of them are even pretty entertaining. I told him that when people pray around him, it doesn’t mean he has to. He can just stay quiet for a minute while the others pray. I knew this wasn’t a problem at this particular camp because, again, my friend’s kids had gone the year before and they didn’t pray, and all was fine. I assured my ten-year-old that I was okay with him going to this camp.

I never expected the kiddo to say no because of the religious element.

“What about the religious stuff bothers you, hun?” I prodded.

“I dunno. All of it.”

“Are you afraid they might make you feel bad for not believing?”


“Are you afraid they might try to push it on you?”


I was stumped. I couldn’t sort out why my little boy didn’t want to go beyond, “the religious stuff”. Whenever we talk about religion around here, I explain that these are things I don’t believe but that whether or not he believes them is his choice. I try to explain why some people have faith in these ideas. I don’t speak with hostility about religion with him.

I’m not going to lie to you, though, I was okay with it. I can’t help but feel a little bit of trepidation when it comes to sending my kid somewhere where he might find himself alone with a religious leader. It was also pretty cool to know how my kid feels about “religious stuff”, but I still thought he’d have a great time with his BFF if he went, so it weighed on my mind for a while.

It wasn’t until later that night, as I lay in bed thinking about it that I think I finally understood. In my mind, I went back to when I was ten and asked myself how I would have felt about a camp like that if my parents offered to send me. There was no question. I knew my answer would be no, and the reason would doubtlessly be “the religious stuff.”

For me, as a godless child, all religion was strange. I didn’t get it. It was bizarre. Being around people who were devoutly religious and who would pass off as true these outlandish stories of miracles and genocidal floods and magic tricks and talking snakes was nothing short of wildly uncomfortable. I felt insecure around them like I would around someone who was in a dangerous mental state.

If you can imagine, for a minute, what it might feel like to have someone tell you that all life was created by their sock and that said sock would deliver athlete’s foot unto every sole of a sinner. Imagine that person said to you that use of electricity was a sin to the sock god and that if you have used electricity ever, you must sit down and talk to this person’s sock and apologize. Imagine the person telling you this is deadly serious; that they are unravelling with frustration at the fact that you can’t accept the truth of the sock god. Now picture this happening when you’re ten, and the sock-worshipper is a grown adult.

How uncomfortable would you feel? Be honest.

This is the level of discomfort I, as a child, experienced when confronted with someone’s faith in the stories of the Bible.

It wouldn’t matter how many canoes I got to row, or how many waterslides I could enjoy. It didn’t matter that I would get to have a week-long sleepover with my best friend. The S’mores wouldn’t entice me. The endless swimming wouldn’t draw me to Bible camp. I would not feel comfortable going no matter what, so long as there was “religious stuff”.

The next day, I told my son that I understood his decision but if he changed his mind, to let me know and I’d make sure he got to go.

Would you let your kid go to a mildly religious summer camp? Let me know in the comments!

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Image: Copyright Courtney Heard.

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  • Anne Fenwick

    I think, depending on the kid’s age, there’s also the fact of knowing that you’re going to be in a situation where you just have to shut your mouth and suppress your identity and beliefs, but not being developed enough in your identity or sufficiently in control of your life to be sure you’ll be doing all that for a reason that you’ve chosen. You reach the age where you’re aware of the demands of politeness, not to mention the power of the majority backed by authority, and not at all sure where your own rights stand in respect to that, let alone knowing how to stand up for them. It’s not just a prayer at mealtimes, it’s making sure not to say to anyone, ever, ‘Actually, I don’t believe in any of this stuff, I just came here because my friend was here’.

  • Raging Bee

    It took a lot less than a sock god for my old science teacher’s born-again Christurbators to creep me out. And his blithering about the End Times, as described in his second-favorite book “The Late Great Planet Earth,” didn’t help either.

  • Elmore Atheist

    I’ve made it clear to my kids that if they’d like to attend church, VBS, or whatever camp, that I’d do what I can to make that happen. They had the option a couple years ago, and they said the same thing about not wanting to go because of ‘the religious stuff’.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    A child does not have to go to a religious camp! there are plenty of non religious camps in other states. From bitter experience id rather do the set up a tent and fish and hunt type camping. but thats just because Maine is mostly wilderness anyways.

  • Tiny but fierce

    My kids weren’t interested in church despite my MIL trying to make them Catholic. I always told them that if they wanted to go to the services of any religion they were curious about, they could after we researched what that religion believed together. They took me up on the research several times but never wanted to go to any services. I did my best to be nonjudgmental and just give them the facts. Both are Nones, one agnostic, one atheist. As a Pagan during those years, I didn’t want them to just follow any religion blindly, even mine.

  • Jim Jones

    There are non religious camps – Spiral Scouts for one.

  • Lucy

    navigating the high seas on the S.S. Hamburguesa.

    You know, that sounds like it would make a nice image for one of those whimsical, wacky, really out-there children’s fantasy adventure books. You know, if the kid travels on an inner tube by that same name (or something similarly fancied-up) and the inner tube is a magic one that leads them to the land where the kid has adventures in said book.

    And now that I think of it, I’ve never heard of a whimsical children’s book in which the vehicle of adventure is an inner tube in a pool (maybe a pool at a mysterious hotel where a family stops after an accident in a road trip or something). That sounds like it would be a nice idea for that type of book (you probably know the specific type of fantasy I’m talking about, a lot of books for kids that age are like that). And it could be the kid learns the inner tube has a highfalutin name like that when they reach the magical land.

  • A few years ago my daughter went with her best friend to a summer camp on a New Hampshire lake and I went to pick them up after their session was over. I didn’t realize until I heard the Christian rock band playing at the farewell party that this was a Jesus camp. It’s not like her friend’s family are holy rollers or anything.

    I just assumed my daughter would have had the same misgivings as your son did. I asked her what she thought of the Jesus stuff and she just shrugged. “I was just there for the swimming,” she said. “And the food was really good.”

  • PDF

    My kids go to a summer camp put on by the YMCA every summer. They love the camp and the experience and laugh about the morning prayer and prayers around meals and tell us about them when they get home, but they just see it as something a bit weird that others do for a few minutes. They also go to church once in a blue moon with a grandparent because they want to spend time with them. Religion isn’t really a big discussion topic in our house just something other people do and the kids think it is a strange thing in which friends of theirs participate.

  • Jennifer A. Nolan

    “…[T]he power of the majority backed by authority, and not at all sure where your own rights stand in respect to that, let alone knowing how to stand up for them.”

    The thought of situations like this terrified me even when I was a Catholic daily Mass-goer. No way should subscribers to non-majority faiths, or atheism, be forced to accept such conditions!

  • Judy Thompson

    If I had kids, and they were of an age to understand the differences, I’d let them go. I was brought up Catholic, and in those days Catholics pretty much isolated themselves from Protestants. Not a big deal, and some of my friends were Protestant, and no one thought much about it. I went to camp one summer (and I wonder if it isnt the same camp your daughter went to (Camp Foss), and it had prayers each morning in ‘chapel’ but the Catholic kids were bused to the closest Catholic church on Sunday, whether they wanted to go or not =)

    A kid above a certain age is capable of making their own decisions, and whatever he or she was interested in would be fine with me. It is their life, after all.

  • Mustafa Curtess

    The worst mistake of my life was to allow my daughter to go to a church-done teen-ager concert (Rock, Hip-Hop, whatever it was) . We knew when she came home and said that: “It was really FUN!” – that we had FU. The only thing to do is to say: “Absolutely NOT! And if you go – don’t come back”. (That would be hard – but not nearly as hard as what happened as a result.)

  • Judgeforyourself37

    He should have been fired.

  • James

    My best friend has been reluctant to send his 9-year-old to any church camps. He’s a believer as is his wife. She was raised in a far more conservative, Christian home than he was. But, even she is reluctant. In large part because of her experience with church. And, he said, talking to me and hearing my experiences added to their reluctance—BTW, that made me feel uncomfortable that my talks with him were having that level of an impact.

    All of that to say, even religious people have trouble with the idea of sending their kids off to put them in the hands of religious leaders and counselors outside of their oversight. What will he be told? What doctrine will be pushed on him? Can they trust these leaders in the first place? He tried finding a non-religious one, but he wasn’t able to find much. Churches have pretty much owned the summer camp experience unfortunately.