This guest commentary by Mike Connery of Future Majority offers a revealing glimpse at how the conservative movement is now co-opting the very cultural icons they so often criticized.Hat tip to Game Politics for alerting me to this New York Times piece about how churches are using Halo 3 to pull in young members:
Hundreds of churches use Halo games to connect with young people, said Lane Palmer, the youth ministry specialist at the Dare 2 Share Ministry, a nonprofit organization in Arvada, Colo., that helps churches on youth issues.
“It’s very pervasive,” Mr. Palmer said, more widespread on the coasts, less so in the South, where the Southern Baptist denomination takes a more cautious approach. The organization recently sent e-mail messages to 50,000 young people about how to share their faith using Halo 3. Among the tips: use the game’s themes as the basis for a discussion about good and evil.
At Sweetwater Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, Ga., Austin Brown, 16, said, “We play Halo, take a break and have something to eat, and have a lesson,” explaining that the pastor tried to draw parallels “between God and the devil.”
Players of Halo 3 control the fate of Master Chief, a tough marine armed to the teeth who battles opponents with missiles, lasers, guns that fire spikes, energy blasters and other fantastical weapons. They can also play in teams, something the churches say allows communication and fellowship opportunities.
There are two things happening here. The first is that churches are understanding that they can be more effective if they are culturally relevant to the lives of their constituency. They’re using that realization to forge social capital between youth in their community and to tie that social capital back to the church. That’s smart community building.
The second thing happening is that church leaders who are also active in politics may outflank progressives on this issue:
Focus on the Family, a large evangelical organization, said it was trying to balance the game’s violent nature with its popularity and the fact that churches are using it anyway. “Internally, we’re still trying to figure out what is our official view on it,” said Lisa Anderson, a spokeswoman for the group.
Focus on the Family is an ultra conservative organization headed by James Dobson. Dobson is the public figure who attacked bloggers on the John Edwards campaign back in the spring, and who just recently was rattling his saber about withdrawing his support from the GOP if they nominated pro-choice Rudy Giuliani. Yet here his group may embrace cultural outreach tactics that are at the cutting edge for reaching out to young people. Meanwhile, the Democratic frontrunner is on record as a scold who crusades against video games and their influence on the culture. That’s not smart.