Churches across the U.S. are reaching out to youth with a new, unusual and heavily-armed tool: Halo 3.
Minsters and pastors, increasingly anxious to boost youth attendance in their congregations, are holding "Halo nights" in which teenagers can get together and shoot each other in the face. While the game seemingly violates at least a few of the Church's tenets, particularly the one about not killing stuff, some church leaders are praising the game's effectiveness in reaching the vital but elusive demographic of boys and young men. In a letter to parents in his church, Gregg Barbour, youth minister at Colorado Community Church in Denver, wrote, "We want to make it hard for teenagers to go to hell."
Not everyone agrees the idea is a good one. James Tonkowich, president of the non-profit Institute on Religion and Democracy, said, "If you want to connect with young teenage boys and drag them into church, free alcohol and pornographic movies would do it. My own take is you can do better than that." And Lisa Anderson, spokewoman for the evangelical group Focus on the Family, said her organization was still considering its stance on the game in light of its use in churches despite the violent content. "Internally, we're still trying to figure out what is our official view on it," she said.
Perhaps most controversially, the churches are making the game available to young teenagers despite the game's Mature rating, meaning it should not be sold to anyone under the age of 17. According to the ESRB, Halo 3 received the M stamp as a result of "blood and gore, mild language [and] violence." 12-year-old Tim Foster, who played the game at Barbour's church, said, "It's just fun blowing people up," while Austin Brown, 16, who plays the game at Sweetwater Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia, explained, "We play Halo, take a break and have something to eat, and have a lesson," adding that the pastor tries to draw parallels "between God and the devil."
Elders at the Colorado Community Church who complained about the game's violence led to a meeting between the church pastor and Barbour, who was able to successful argue the game's merits as a recruiting tool. God calls ministers to be "fishers of men," Barbour wrote in a letter to parents. "Teens are our 'fish,'" he said, "so we've become creative in baiting our hooks."