Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Where Would Jesus Spend Spring Break?

Kevin Roose reports in Salon.com what it’s like to spend Spring Break in Daytona Beach trying to evangelize college students.

I’m here in Florida with a group of students from Liberty University, the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s “Bible Boot Camp” for young evangelicals. But I’m not a young evangelical — not even close. Two months ago, I transferred to Liberty from Brown, a school whose overall social climate, according to Falwellian standards at least, is only a notch or two above Sodom and Gomorrah. I had a secular liberal upbringing and I’ve always considered myself pretty ambivalent about God, but I decided to enroll at Liberty for a semester to learn about my conservative Christian peers and find out whether any common ground existed between my world and theirs. Since then, I’ve been living undercover in an all-male dorm (Liberty’s 46-page code of conduct, called “The Liberty Way,” prohibits all but the most innocent gender mingling), taking courses like young-earth creationism and Evangelism 101, and getting a first-hand look at the other side of the much-hyped “God Divide.” And when March rolled around, I decided to do what many Christian college students do over spring break: take a mission trip.

Evangelizing to secular spring breakers in Florida might sound like an enormous waste of time. Why not go somewhere where Jesus would be an easier sell? Like Islamabad? Or a Christopher Hitchens dinner party? But Daytona Beach’s bacchanalian atmosphere is part of the allure for domestic missionaries — it’s what’s called “battleground evangelism.”

“Be warned: This is going to be 24/7 spiritual warfare,” explained the Liberty Mission coordinator. “We’re talking about Satan’s home turf here.”

I have to admire their persistence in the face of overwhelming odds of getting laughed off the beach, if not pantsed and having their lunch money taken away, but that’s more than offset by the revulsion generated in response to the smug arrogance and presumptuousness of these missionaries. I realize that evangelism’s goal is to convert as many followers as possible, but what really irritates me is the intolerance: assuming that just because college kids are having a good time, it’s automatically evil — or as they put it, “Satan’s home turf.”

Trust me, I know what goes on at Spring Break; I did my share of it when I was in college, conveniently here in Florida, and I’ve been to Key West in March and seen Duval Street choked with vomiting frat boys. But this conflation of good times with devilry is like something out of a 17th century Puritan ethic which goes by the dictum that someone somewhere is enjoying themselves and this must be stopped immediately.

On a larger scale, evangelical Christianity has been one of the worst plagues exported by the West to the rest of the world. Countless lives, families and cultures have been destroyed by the forced imposition of Christianity, ostensibly with the intent of bringing “enlightenment” to ignorant pagans. All too often it was a cover for those who were there to gobble up the gold and other resources and seize power and dominion in the name of a more earthly power.

Before they set out, it probably never occurred to these youthful evangelicals in the white Jesusmobile that a lot of people would find them to be just as disgusting and repulsive as they find the rowdy college kids. As the article makes clear, they found out very soon. But I doubt the message got through to them any more than theirs did to the Spring Breakers.