On Sunday I had the unhappy assignment of covering a conference for high school-aged Christians. Hold on tight, like the 1,300+ teens at this convention of faith, we're about to go off...
Now, I don't want to be too hasty to judge. After I had the chance to speak with the conference organizers, I learned that the point of the gathering was to help the students connect with other high school students from the region who share their faith, and to challenge their religious convictions. Now, as someone whose only religious convictions involve not having any religious convictions, hearing about God is always tough for me. So I translated what I'd been told to this: the point of the gathering was to help kids connect with-like minded peers from across the region, and to test their value system. OK, I went to conferences in high school that were designed to test my beliefs, and to help me connect with people with similar interests.
After all, sometimes, you do have to...
Here, teens are playing Hacky Sack during a break.
I used to play hacky sack.
But isn't that what high school is all about?
I managed not to buy any.
I'd certainly never been to a gathering of high school students that featured special accommodations for "Moms with strollers." But, I suppose that's an important consideration when some of the organizers are more likely to teach abstinence as a viable form of birth control than condoms or hormones. This I will judge. I think that any young woman who is not given the broadest knowledge on the ways she can avoid an unwanted pregnancy has been dealt a dis-service by everyone involved in her upbringing and education. There is a noted correlation between abstinence-only sex education often lobbied for by religious leaders in this country, and unwanted pregnancies.
But moving on...
Despite the skin-crawling feeling I got whenever anyone mentioned God, I hadn't actually found too much at the conference that really struck me as objectionable. In many ways, this conference reminded me of Model Congress, which I had attended in Washington D.C. during high school: the bands of kids walking around town and flocking to Subway and local diners, and the groups of friends sitting in hotel hallways. But model congress never featured a centerpiece quite like Isaiah Six.
Isaiah Six is a modern acoustic rock/worship band headlined by heart throb Derek Joseph Levendusky. Conference organizers said that many of the teens in attendance would have come just to see the band, which performed several times during the four-day conference.
I was just about set to write the conference off as a slightly odd gathering of teens who take their religion a little too seriously for my taste, but then Levendusky interrupted his set to flex his evangelical muscle.
He told a story about how a minister in Algeria contacted him, and told him that he was concerned that the Muslims had too much favor in the country because the mosques put up money to build wells in poor towns. Then Levendusky called on the teens to raise money to help the the Algerian church raise money to... yup, you guessed it... build wells, to make a stronger case for local Muslims to convert.
Well, that did it for me. You can believe in God if you want to. I think it's nuts, but that's just me. What you can't do, in my book, is challenge anyone else's rights to their own beliefs. That's just wrong.
You can read my unbiased, journalistic account of the conference here.