While Vietnam-era activists chanted peace slogans in our nation’s capitol, I sang military-themed gospel choruses in Vacation Bible School. Carrying all the broad-shouldered, stiff-jawed authority of a commanding officer, Sister So-and-So marched my second-grade class around the folding chairs, leading us through multiple choruses of “Stand up for Jesus, Ye Soldiers of the Cross.” In her most
fervent inspired moments, she’d take us for a few victory laps, fists pumping to the rhythm of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Then we’d pledge allegiance to the Christian flag and collapse into our seats.
We were but children; still, Sister So-and-So was training us to be foot soldiers in Jesus’ army. Our marching orders, she told us, came right from the Holy Bible. I listened with my head bowed, my hands folded politely in my lap. I didn’t have a choice back then: I did what I was told. But those militaristic metaphors sent me into an emotional foxhole it took a long while to climb out of. So when it comes to evangelistic endeavors like The Lord’s Boot Camp, you can count me among the conscientious objectors.
The Lord’s Boot Camp prepares child soldiers to fight a "war against the nonbelievers" and to "urge others to convert from their own religions." War metaphors always frighten me, and they’re especially scary in this context. I don’t have any problem with people exploring or expressing their own beliefs, nor do I take issue with those who share their faith with interested others. Spiritual quests seem to be part and parcel of our journey here on Earth, and if they connect us with our fellow travelers, all the better. But I wholeheartedly reject the practice of training people — impressionable youth, especially — to force their views onto others.
While I laud their community involvement (providing shoes to AIDS-afflicted children in Africa, for instance), some of the participants’ words and actions demonstrate an insulting, often frightening, intolerance for the very people they purport to serve. Certainly, several scriptures admonish Christians to gird themselves for battle against the Enemy. But could this really be what the Prince of Peace had in mind? While none of us can say for sure, I sure as hell don’t think so.
I’m wondering what you think. Agree or disagree, I hope you’ll share your perspectives.