A game of Evangelicalism

Deconstruction Part 2

At the Resort Ministry, there were three groups. The hunters, the hunted, and the insiders.

The hunters donned camouflage clothing and painted their faces. Their game proved to be the most fun on nights like this one where the moon remained hidden in its monthly orbit and the only light reflecting across the still waters of the lake came from luxury vacation homes that occupied the hillside on the opposite shore.

The group of twenty-something-year-old counselors met briefly next to the boat dock to discuss strategy before dispersing into the woods to await their targets.  

By day the hunters served God as missionaries, spreading the Gospel to people who relaxed at the lake but tonight they were God's messengers to the hunted. A group of teenagers visited the team to learn witnessing techniques themselves and the hunters set out with the goal to challenge the kids' faith with a real experience.

The insiders and the hunted gathered in the facility's small conference room. The insiders were a second group of counselors who took the role of selling the facade. There was a serious matter and everyone needed to gather to discuss it.

The lead counselor Dan, stood and nodded to his girlfriend, Melanie before he spoke. Melanie turned out all the lights and Dan's face appeared in the darkness, lit only by a flashlight turned upward, the light cast ominous shadows across his face.

"We've been informed that the federal government has outlawed Christian practice," he said, "The military is visiting churches and church groups across the country and rounding up anyone who refuses to denounce Jesus."

A gasp went through the group. In the dim light, a few of the teens' faces glistened with tears.

"We knew this day would come," Dan continued, "Jesus told us we would be persecuted for claiming his name. We must hide in the woods because we expect the persecutors to seek us here."

Several kids audibly wept as a wave of fear ran through the hunted.

"Are they going to kill us?" one of them shouted over the growing noise of voices talking at once.

Dan raised his hands and waited for voices to quiet and the hunted's eyes to rise back toward him.

"As far as we know there have only been arrests," he said, "But executions are not out of the question so we have to pray. We have to pray that we're strong in our faith and that God will carry us through this. Any questions?"

No one said a word. The only sound came from the soft crying and movement as stronger members comforted the most fearful.

"Ok then," Dan said, "There are six counselors, let's divide into six groups so you all have an adult with you. Stay together, find a quiet spot, and pray. Pray for the salvation of those who persecute us. Pray for safety tonight. Pray that our leaders will have a change of heart and put a stop to this."

Dan closed his eyes and rounded out his speech with a prayer.

"Jesus deliver us from this evil and use it to further your glory and your kingdom. Amen!"

The groups dispersed, each one finding a low spot or fallen branches among the thicket of trees surrounding the small compound. The hunters knew the woods and watched the movement. The insiders took their groups to predetermined spaces and each hunter knew exactly where to hit.

They waited for almost fifteen minutes, allowing the small clusters of teens to get comfortable and say their prayers. Then, one at a time, they sprinted out of the clusters of trees.

"Hands up, Christians! You're under arrest!" they screamed as they brandished fake weapons.

Kids screamed, the insiders extolled them to run, and soon groups of teenagers stumbled over rocks and scrambled up hillsides seeking refuge from the gangs of persecutors occupying the woods.

In time the hunters went silent, allowing the insiders to regroup their kids and begin the process over again. Time after time they screamed, they threatened, and they carted a few luckier kids away who were informed that it was an object lesson.

It didn't make the terror less real.

The night ended after an hour of running through the woods. One of the younger teens sprained her ankle while attempting to flee. Hunters carried her screaming back to the conference room as she refused to believe they weren't arresting her on the spot.

The insiders gathered the remaining kids to explain the game, while another counselor took the injured girl to the emergency room.

The year was 1998 and the above narrative really took place. I worked for the Possum Kingdom Resort Ministry for four summers from 1995 through 1998. The game was supposed to be harmless–a silly excuse to play hide-and-seek in the woods and chase teenagers around. We were barely more than teenagers ourselves.

At the time I was at the zenith of my zeal and I thought it was a decent lesson. I believed that people, even impressionable teenagers, should be ready to literally die for their faith and that was what we taught.

We got in trouble that night. Our boss was upset that a girl in our care was injured. There was never a mention of the toll we took beyond a sprained ankle. I'll never forget the poor girl's screams as two camouflaged dragged her out of the woods. Or the genuine fear on the faces of all the kids we subjected to this. (It was a lot, particularly in the last summer.)

This wasn't an isolated idea. Evangelicals in the late 1990s deeply into the idea of the second coming. President Clinton was seen as particularly immoral and even though he himself is a proclaimed Christian, there rose a pervasive conspiracy theory that he would ban the worship of Jesus outright. They viewed him as an evil king who might even be the antichrist.

Looking back, I regret being involved and I'd love to say it jolted me to reevaluate my faith early on. Sadly, it didn't.  I tell this story as a backdrop of how bad things were. That we saw no problem with abusing the trust these teens placed in us. Saving them, and turning them into tools for Jesus was more important than earthly concerns for their wellbeing. The ends justified the means.

The ends justifying the means is a theme of Evangelical belief. When you believe you're the only person standing between someone's eternal life or eternal damnation you do some really messed up stuff.

Part 1 | Part 3

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Jamie Larson