Friday, March 20, 2009

My life as a fundamentalist

Did I ever mention I was a fundamentalist Christian in my teens?

The day before yesterday the mom of one of Connor's school friends called. Her son wanted to invite Conrad along on some sort of program that had to do with their church.

Her husband is the pastor of a church on Lombard; they live in the parsonage. One time I looked up their church online and it was clear that this is a congregation that believes the Bible is the final authority in all areas of human life. The site declares that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, literal word of God.

They're very nice people and have never imposed their religious beliefs on me. Their son skateboards with mine in the outdoor and indoor parks--religious belief doesn't seem to put restrictions on him in any way that would distinguish him from his peers. As far as I know, the subject of religion hasn't come up between them.

{"Mom! Mom! Come check this out! Come on, I want you to see this. Mom, you're taking too long. Fine. I'll print it...I don't know how to print it...can you help me print it ...you're addicted to that white computer...I'm hungry...you're going to fix me pancakes" (already had a grilled tuna-and-cheese sandwich)}

The Conference is a youth ministry outreach. It's taking place in Seattle, several hours away. He would attend a 'drama' tonight, spend the night with the youth group of a church up there, spend the entire day in conference and community service (and evangelizing? One participant's experience, posted online, did include "witnessing"), spend another night, and come back Sunday afternoon after worship.

I went to the website and realized the nature of event. This is like Billy Graham--it's being held in an arena that seats 16000 people. I found a page that describes the ...strategy of the thing:

  1. It is a neutral ground.

    ...There is something about getting students out of the same building and into a new climate that opens the doors to their hearts to hear and receive.

  2. It is an electrifying atmosphere.

    The atmosphere of an arena or auditorium crammed with thousands of teenagers surges and pulsates with excitement and anticipation. Before the first session ever starts students are already excited, screaming, yelling and pumped. This electrifying atmosphere prepares the way for spiritual impact. (Studies have shown that many movements have been launched by large group meetings, i.e. 1st & 2nd Great Awakenings.

  3. It builds a reaffirming climate.

    Over the course of a conference weekend, students build strong bonds with those in their youth ministry group(s). But they also are building an invisible bond with every student in the auditorium. They are together experiencing God and the mission he has called them to. This reaffirming climate insures positive reinforcement for teenagers when they stand to give their testimonies on the Saturday night portion of the youth ministry conference weekend. Student after student is applauded and affirmed by the teens that hear their stories.

  4. It produces a "movement" mentality in youth ministry.

    Students need to feel a part of something bigger. It is the way that God has wired them. Being a part of a conference where thousands of students gather for a common mission, many of these teenagers know for the first time in their lives that they are not alone. There is an army of students from across their city with the same passion, purpose and cause. The more students there are, the more this feeling is punctuated. The more it is punctuated, the stronger the likelihood that students on the fence will choose to be more than a spectator in the coming student awakening.

OhhhhhhhhKaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay...

{now he's on his rollerblades, round and round the circle that is our upper floor plan. ker-chunk--clunk--clunk--ker-clunk Constant stream of chatter: "If Cody died, it would not be the Humane Society's fault." "When you get sick and you die...you go...to Heaven". "..Hell, is where there is a...Daredevil...that's Hell" "...Eighteen thousand miles an hour is very fast. Twenty-five miles an hour is too slow. Isn't it, Mom? Isn't it too slow?" Me, mind numbed, trying to think of how to explain that in different settings 25 mph might actually be fast, but he's moved on. "If Connor falls down that hill without a helmet on, he will injure his brain. He won't be able to talk, or to walk, or say anything, and he won't be strong..." "You have to pay lots of money to go to Africa. You have to pay ALL your money. If you go to Africa it's farther than going to Hollywood..."}

I remember big arena Christian conferences. Some version of that, come to think of it, is how I became a fundamentalist Christian in the first place.

We're a secular household now. Not hostile to religion, respectful of people's beliefs. And I understand that from the point of view of a fundamentalist Christian, all religions, including no religion at all are trumped by all-humans-are-sinners-and-Christ-died-so-his-blood-can-cleanse-your-sins-and belief-in-him-is-necessary-if-you're-to-have-eternal-life-in-heaven-or-eternal-torment-in-hell--your choice! Coming from there, then of course it seems a duty to 'save' humankind by bringing them the message of salvation.

To send Connor to such a conference, knowing no one but his friend, far from home and totally immersed, seems like tossing a glass of water into a river heading over a falls and saying, "your choice...make up your own mind".

Evangelists love this age group because their minds are just beginning to open into a whole new dimension of comprehension and thinking. But they're only at the very beginning of the ability to make meaningful choices and informed decisions. He may come to this path on his own, someday in the future. Putting him in a situation where the field is so steeply tilted in that direction seems foolhardy, though. To have his allegiance and heart captured now before he's had any other life experience seems rather like getting married at age 13.

It would be different if he was already a Christian, or inclined in that direction. The difference that makes a difference is that he'd then be strengthening and revitalizing his faith; celebrating it with other kids his age. To have him in a situation with strong peer pressure to make a decision that will affect much of his life's orientation, well that is not an informed decision, freely made.

So I told Eddie's mom that it didn't work for Connor to go this weekend. I debated the merits of a fuller explanation. I really do like and respect this family and would like to show that by being forthright. If she would have asked I probably would have been more frank. The adage about parenting, making sure you're not giving a child more information than what he's asking for, applies to adult relationships as well. She accepted my refusal and nothing further seemed necessary. Did we need to have the talk that acknowledges our religious differences last night? No, not really. Do we need to have the talk at all? That remains to be seen.

2 comments:

Lori said...

I had never thought that this would be a parenting issues. But of course, it will.

I'm glad you're there before me. I think you are very wise.

I kind of remember your phase.

excavator said...

Yeah, I was pretty obnoxious