Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Divided: More propaganda without logic

Philip LeLerc is a good looking, articulate, intelligent young man.  He and his brother, Chris, pal around with friends from Vision Forum and--oh yeah--make movies, one of VF's pet projects.  His latest project has actually received quite a bit of press outside of the patriarchy circles.  "Divided" tackles a hot subject in many Christian circles today--why are young adults leaving the church?
Unsurprisingly, the answer Philip comes up with is age-segregation in the church, specifically youth groups.  Why is this unsurprising? Because this documentary was sponsered--if not financially, at least philosophically and emotionally--by the National Council for Family Integrated Churches(  If you doubt this in any way, please look at their website, on which Scott Brown repeatedly refers to Divided as "our" movie. Mr. Brown also requests donations to help spread the message of the documentary and says that the NCFIC is the sponser of the online free viewing, as well.
Why am I bringing this up in the beginning of this review? Simply put, because Philip LeLerc has a long history of associating with Vision Forum and NCFIC. Mr. LeLerc claims in the beginning of the film that it is a documentary of his journey to discover why young adults are leaving the church. He wants to know, he claims, why young adults don't want to grow up, respect Scripture, and attend church.  He also states that what he discovers shocks and saddens him.  It is important to view those claims of open mindedness, however, through the lens of realization that this film was supported, from the inception, by NCFIC and its agenda.

The movie begins with interviews at a Christian music festival.  One interviewee fondly remembers his youth pastor pulling him out of school to play video games.  Others point out that there is a time for study, and a time to "mess around."  The not-so-subtle point, of course, is that every single young adult interviewed remembers the fun of the youth group and not the Biblical study.  Other points are made, here, as well, primarily that Philip sees no difference between the youths at the Christian music festival and those he sees out in the world.  Through several interviews with two youth pastors(both of whom have now changed their views on the value of "fun" youth activities) and Brett McCracken, author of "Hipster Christianity," Philip comes to the conclusion that parents are abdicating their responsibilities to teach their values to their children because they don't believe they are capable. Instead, Philip feels that parents leave teaching Christianity to youth pastors. He then travels to a youth pastor conference, where several people tell him that the most important part of drawing youth to Christ is being "authentic," which Philip interprets as meaning "just be yourself."  Other speakers at the conference tell him that they need to be relational and relevant, and Philip says that many told him that the biggest problem is that parents won't get involved, and expect the church to do the parenting for them.

Philip then begins to research modern church structure, starting with Sunday School.  Sunday School, according to his interview with Scott Brown, starts philosophically with Plato, who believed that children needed to be removed from their parents in order to be educated by the state. Churches eventually embraced the same idea, developing curricula based on age segregation. This, according to Doug Phillips, is based on evolutionary thinking, though he doesn't explain how, at least in this film. Philip then throws out all child development theory as he believes it is based on "pagan theories."  The only basis for anything, then, according to Doug Phillips and Voddie Bachman, is what is portrayed in Scripture. If something is not described or commanded in Scripture, then it should be automatically prohibited. (No comment on why documentaries, which are not described in Scripture, are allowed)

So now that Philip has come to his(pre-drawn) conclusions, he zeroes in on the family integrated church.  For this, he interviews Kevin Swanson, who basically repeats what everyone has said previously: (a) there is no description in Scripture of age-segregated churches, (b) there are many commands to parents to train and raise their children, thus (c) age-segregated churches are wrong and harmful to families.  
At this point, 35 minutes into the film, Philip finally asks the question I have been waiting for.  We can all agree that parents need to disciple and teach their own children, but what is wrong with delegating some of that to the church and/or youth ministries, or even using some of those programs in order to disciple your children?

The answer is that youth groups help parents disobey Scripture by not discipling their own children, and are morally wrong because they are not described in the Bible(no word on why church buildings, which were not used in the first century church, are okay).  Philip also says that delegating or outsourcing to the church works to separate parents and children, and he stresses there are just some things one cannot delegate.  However, this argument breaks down. His examples include things like loving your wife.  No, of course you cannot delegate someone to love your wife, because the very definition of "wife" demands an exclusivity.  A husband and a wife's love is supposed to be exclusive to one another, and by definition cannot be delegated.  The teaching of children, however, does not fall into this definitional category.  Of course it is my responsibility to ensure that my son is well educated in my values and religion.  But to say that none of it can be delegated is silly; that would mean I can't ask his grandmother to read him a Bible storybook before bedtime if he's spending the night? You laugh, but that is where this logic would lead you if fully drawn out.
The main problem with this documentary, as well as the problem with much of patriarchal thinking, is the rampant either/or logic.  Those interviewed in this film are presenting an artificially limited range of choices--either you are being responsible for training your children, or you are leaving all the teaching and discipling to others.  Either a theory is developed only by someone with a Christian worldview, or it is wrong.  Either something is described or commanded in the Bible, or it is wrong.  It is a very common technique in propaganda, and is designed to cleverly seduce someone who is not well informed on a topic. 

Just because something, like child development theory, was developed by a "pagan," doesn' make  wrong. And simply because something wasn't spoken about in the Bible doesn't make it wrong--after all, as I have pointed out, church buildings, praise bands, 30 minute sermons, and Wednesday night prayer meeting--and documentaries--are not described in the Bible, either, but it doesn't mean that those things are wrong, just that they did not exist when Scripture was written. And while they do try to argue that teaching children about God is something that cannot be delegated, they fail to explain why.  

While I certainly agree that modern church has many problems, and that Sunday School and youth ministry have areas that need to be questioned and critically evaluated, I don't find any compelling arguments in Divided.  Frankly, it appears to be nothing more than more propaganda from the Vision Forum/NCFIC crowd.  To convince those who are able to spot the logical flaws in their arguments, they will, once again, need to do better than this.


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  3. I must admit that I liked the Divided movie. I was already having doubts about Sunday school and youth group and I agreed with a lot of the things they said.

    We've removed our children from Sunday school and so far have no regrets. Our kids are happy not to attend. Our church is small and doesn't really have a youth group, so that's not even an option.

    I agree, just because something is developed by a pagan doesn't mean it's wrong. However, in this case I believe it is. Also, if we have a choice to follow a model based on pagan theory or a model from the Hebrews and early church, I think the wisest choice would be the latter.

    From what I understand, NCFIC has a focus on equipping parents to raise their children, rather than providing a "child minding/teaching service" for them.