This story absolutely cracks me up. The headline says it all: For More Teens, Jesus Is Way Cool. In order to appeal to teens, youth pastors are doing all sorts of things: holding “Fear Factor” competitions, encouraging skateboarding for the Lord, organizing rock concerts, etc. Because, you know, skateboardin’ and rockin’ out is, like, way less dorky than sheltering the homeless and feeding the hungry, duh! They’re even convincing teens that they can be “hardcore” with tattoos and piercings. Yeah, that’s all very nice…and silly.
Being devoutly religious doesn’t preclude being edgy, say many Christian teens. Andrea Machlan, 17, of Fort Wayne, Ind., is a devout Christian but also part of what she calls the “hard-core scene.” She and her friends are into tattoos, piercings and heavy-rock music.
“A lot of those lines are really blurred between Christian and non-Christian,” she said, especially when it comes to music. Machlan says she and her group of friends are open to all sorts of people.
Wendy Schuman, an editor at Beliefnet.com, says that faith is a lot more nuanced for many teens than it is for their elders, especially when it comes to hot-button topics like abortion and homosexuality. “They don’t always tow the party line,” she said. “They can’t see Christian faith quite as monolithic as it might seem. There’s a huge middle ground.”
But Machlan admits that some teens “latch on to Christianity … like it’s a fad.”
“It’s an alternative to partying, so there is a way out for kids who don’t want to be in the party scene but want cool friends,” she said. “It’s a safe environment, there’s the relaxation of knowing there’s not going to be those pressures of drugs, alcohol, sex.”
I’m sorry, but Christian and hardcore don’t mix well. (I’m talking mainstream believers here, not nutballs meting out God’s wrath with guns and bombs.) If you’re really hardcore, you’ll punch that guy who stepped on your foot at the rock concert right in his cake-hole, not smile sweetly and offer him a Jack Chick booklet. And skateboarding for the Lord? So what? Do you think that really impresses God? You can golf, skateboard, rollerblade, or knit doilies you want, but unless you feel and practice true compassion and love towards others in your life, no diety is going to be impressed. The point of saying you love Jesus is to actually practice it somehow, not perform tricks and play dress-up.
But this is what a lot of youth pastors encourage. They mask religion with cool stuff, knowing that impressionable teens are looking for something to belong to and identify with, and they try to give them the best of both worlds: holy and cool. It’s fascinating to see them trying to permeate every aspect of popular culture, as if they’re somehow seeking validation. “See? Christians can rock out too! And…and we’ve got Christian skater punks! Totally rad! And….uh…Christian rap groups! Yeah! See? Our religion is hip and stuff!” But why is this necessary, especially when the message tends to get watered down in order to appeal to cynical teens? Can’t the message stand on its own without all the smoke and mirrors? If not, then I’d say either something about the message (or messengers) isn’t working, or teens aren’t ready to for it yet. They are going through a phase of rebellion and questioning their identity…but no, it appears that everyone must be assimilated, ready or not. And I’m sorry, but the Christian version of anything “edgy” is simply limp and lame. As someone who used to think he was down with Jesus years ago (don’t laugh!), I’ve heard the music, seen the shows, listened to the stand-up comics, watched the music videos. Lame, lame, lame, and laughably lame. (Ever seen one of those Carman videos? Wow, that guy must have gotten straight A’s in drama school.) And, God help me, I’ve even played one of the recent Bible-flavored video games, just for kicks. Not pretty.
But all that preaching aside, consider this quote from the story, which is even more revealing:
Big companies and advertisers are not overlooking the profitability of the religious youth market… “”Companies are seeing the size of the youth evangelical market growing, with growing disposable income, growing education,” Schofield-Clark said. “They’re seeing the evangelical Christian market as a viable market.”
Ahhh, there we go. Of course! Your edgy, hardcore Christian teen army is simply a new market to plunder. It may have started with good intentions, but this is where it’s ending up, folks. The watered-down message is about to become a lot more diluted; you’re all becoming marketing fodder. The same thing appears to be happening with Jewish, Muslim, and Hindi groups as well, and Jeebus knows who else. Ain’t it grand?