I tried to love church camp like my colleagues claimed to, but I couldn’t. Being away from my family for a week or two, exposed to nature’s bugs, skunks, and snakes, plus sleeping in an unairconditioned cabin with a bunch of preadolescent boys was never my idea of a good time.
Call me a poor sport. Call me a sissy. Just don’t call me to be a camp counselor ever again.
But more importantly than my discomfort, I have some real concerns for the kids that attend.
First, let me say I’ve hesitated to speak about this because I have dear friends who have invested themselves in giving kids good experiences in camp. They have no intention of engineering a manipulative atmosphere as revealed in the documentary, Jesus Camp. I’ll even agree that many camp leaders, especially in United Methodist camps, are diligent in showing respect for the campers. Furthermore, many people tell me they have great memories of attending church camp.
I believe them but I’m still concerned. I say that even with the best intentions, there’s a great deal of manipulation happening in church camps.
Tell me I’m wrong… that these elements are not in church camps:
Isolation where young ones are away from home and family.
Sleep deprivation where they wake up early and stay up late.
Exhaustion from physical activities including long hikes.
Indoctrination from the small group sharing sessions, exciting music, emotional storytelling, using scripture like incantations, and pressuring the children to give their hearts to Jesus.
Of course the kids respond to the invitation… sobbing as they stumble up the aisles, offering themselves to God, mistaking their fatigue for spirituality.
I actually helped at these camps, thinking it was good for the kids. But I’ve changed my mind and I’m sorry I was ever a part of them. Again, I don’t think those who led these camps meant to hurt anyone. They were trying to help, to give kids a good experience.
But I still think it’s wrong.