Culture At Large

Hey kids—believe in Jesus, or else!

Andy Rau

Did anybody tune in earlier this week to watch Hard as Nails, a documentary about a "tough love" Catholic youth ministry run by Justin Fatica? Newsweek has a short piece about the ministry. This sort of scene doesn't sound like something that my church's youth director would allow:

Though his ministry, called Hard as Nails, is aimed at Catholic teens, he sounds like an evangelical. His tactics include drill-sergeant-like assaults: "If you sin, you better have the courage to bash Jesus' face in!" Fatica screams at one cherubic girl, pushing her to the verge of tears. "Have you sinned in the last 24 hours? Have ya?! HAVE YA?!" Fatica wants his disciples to feel the pain that Christ suffered for their sins. At one session, a kid picks up a metal folding chair and whacks Fatica—at his direction—on the back, as the minister repeatedly screams to another supplicant, "Jesus took all this pain for you!" He re-creates Calvary, ordering teens to carry heavy crosses up a hill, or asking them to stand, arms extended against the wood, while their peers pound the cross with a hammer and scream insults.

There's a trailer for the film, and the film website has some interviews and other information. And there's the Hard as Nails ministry website.

What do you think of extreme/"tough love" ministries like this? Have you ever experienced one yourself? They mostly just creep me out. I suppose the rationale is that breaking through the layers of apathy and spiritual numbness requires this sort of... aggressive evangelism and discipleship. I imagine that there might be a small percentage of people out there for whom this is the case. But as a teaching technique, it's awfully far from Jesus' quiet, probing questions and challenging parables. And the last thing emotionally fragile teenagers need is to be screamed at by a muscular evangelist about how awful their sins are, and how much pain Jesus had to experience because of them. Surviving junior high is difficult enough without that....

(Hat tip: Amy Welborn.)

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