Christians Behaving Badly – Empathy at Gun Point

Teenagers can seem notoriously non-empathetic, but I would argue they are often the opposite – highly sensitive to the suffering of themselves and others, but ill-equipped to channel it into something positive.

Youth ministry is vital for this reason. Christ-like behavior can be a guiding force to help young adults learn how to compassionately engage the world in the face of their growing awareness of things they can (and cannot) influence.

This is just one of many reasons why this news story about a PA church kidnapping its youth group at gun point is so disturbing.

“Church officials said it was intended to teach students about some of the things people of faith go through in other countries on a daily basis and that it was meant to have shock value.”

How horribly misguided to believe the message of caring for the suffering of others is best illustrated with fear. One cannot strong arm empathy and hope to accomplish anything beyond empty guilt or shame.

This made the news because they neglected to vet their victim pool and one of the children was not a church member. Turns out she and her parents were not “okay” with the event.

In defense of what was done, the youth pastor said, “I’m pretty sure she was laughing at some point and having fun with the other students.”

Of course the children were eventually laughing; a strong condemnation of such tactics. Anyone incredibly uncomfortable and self-conscious will either laugh to hide it or cry to show it.

There’s a lot of horrible suffering in the world and American Christian teenagers can not do much about it, but there is also a lot of suffering down the street or in their school that American Christian teenagers can influence. Better to empower teenagers by engaging them directly with those in need and guiding their empathy and other emotions toward Christ-like behavior.

Teach them to stand up for bullied children while understanding that the bully also suffers. Teach them that you can love lonely neighbors by engaging them and showing kindness in simple ways. Encourage them to volunteer at local soup kitchens and homeless shelters and low-cost day cares to increase empathy as they ease their own town’s suffering and become a beacon of generosity.

Meanwhile, get this youth pastor a WWJD bracelet stat. Because a quick glance to the wrist should reveal that kidnapping teens at gun point, to make a point, is not a Christ-like activity.


  1. This hit me on Easter while praying:

    I tend to say “Lord” when I think of God or Jesus. I rarely pray “God, blah blah blah” or “Jesus, blah blah blah”

    Instead, my mind address both parts of the same entity by using the one word rather than seperate titles. I suppose it’s very medieval of me, but so be it. 😉


  2. Yeah, language issues can be a double-edge sword — oh, gordo, don’t start that sword thing again!! 😉

  3. G and Alex, thank you for these thoughtful interpretations and resources. I am chewing on the family conflict necessity and pattern to be … Interrupted, embraced? What’d I miss there? Delving into biblical translation, etimology hurts my head. To the point where I throw up my hands and think … Let’s just believe what we find most helpful for ourselves and thw world.

    Sage and Jamie, I propose a savior rename. I like “Mitch.”

  4. I’m no expert on interpreting the Bible either, but I do know that if you go far enough with spiritual practice, you will end up in conflict with your family as you step outside their patterns of behavior (which can be seen as sinful in the sense of disconnected from God, so perhaps we are in agreement?)

    For instance, I doubt that Mary was particularly happy about her son wandering around without a career and offering himself up for crucifixion. Here’s a modern example.

  5. I don’t have the reference on me and I’m certainly not a biblical expert or Greek/Hebrew linguist, but I have read that there is a bit of a translation issue when it comes to phrases like “I bring not peace but a sword”.

    The original verbs used in sentences like the one above emphasize “result” rather than “intention”. God does not want son against father, daughter against mother etc, but He knows that it will happen due to our sin nature.

    Same with the verb “ARE” in “many are invited but few ARE chosen”. When Jesus said this phrase, He already knew what the outcome would be, so instead of God intending to chose a only a few, a better translation may be: “many are invited but few HAVE chosen” to come to God’s feast.

    And if I’m incorrect on this, then I guess my ignorance is my bliss 🙂

    Also…Sage, was that the “sword” scene where Jesus told Peter to put away the sword? 😉

  6. The war metaphor reflects the fundamentally destructive nature of spiritual practice. However, what it destroys is conditioning. In the case of “I bring not peace but a sword,” he was referring to the destruction of identification with family. (“For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”)

    This pastor’s kidnapping exercise was pretty explicitly intended as a traumatic induction of identification with the church as a cherished institution under threat, so it’s a pretty severe corruption of spiritual power.

  7. I could be won over with “Christ Jesus.”

    You are right about evangelicals and the word “Jesus.” It always rolls off their tongue in an overly dramatic, creepy way.

  8. That’s funny – I have a bigger problem with the name Jesus than the idea of a christ, a savor. A distinction is made betwixt evangelical protestants (who tend to say Jesus Christ) and Christian Scientists and monotheists who don’t believe that Jesus was God, but do believe he is the savior and Son of God, etc., etc — they call him Christ Jesus, alluding to the idea that there were other christs. I find Jesus Christ to be too warm and fuzzy. Christ Jesus seems like a man of his times. Weird.

  9. Jesus did have that whole “sword” scene.

    So this is an aside. But I have to say I’m enjoying thinking about Christianity as a part of the lineage of my culture. And I’m open to thinking about how it influences my life. But I have this visceral reaction to the word “christ”. I just don’t like it. It’s too much like a sci-fi movie:: “Bible 2 – The Son of God Strikes Back.” Like he’s some sort of half man, half diety.

    I wish Christians would just call him Jesus. I’d buy more of what he’s selling.

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