Christian Research Service
Camp Regeneration (Regen) is hosted by John MacArthur and Grace Community Church. This annual summer camp invites high school ministries nationwide for “powerful expository preaching, Christ-centered music, intense team games, various outdoor activities, small-group discipleship, and purposeful fellowship.”1
The ultimate stated goal of Camp Regen is salvation and growth in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, which is what many parents and church ministries rightly focus on when eagerly sending their teens. Of course, having summer fun is also in view. We find the fun factor is taken to the extreme, but not always and necessarily in the ways you would expect from a Christian camp.
“[W]e believe that you do not have to sacrifice fun in order to have sound, biblical teaching. Just to make sure of that, we load up the week with intense team games designed to maximize fun throughout the week! This week will be epic and over-the top with energy; your students will not want to miss it.”2
Camp Regen staff doesn’t hold back when it comes to the intensity of their games. Note these statements from a Games @ Regen promo video3 (emphasis mine):
“Regen games are insane.”
“Games are incredible because there is competition that is crazy.”
“Hundreds and hundreds of high school students in utter mortal combat.”
“Games are nuts.”
“We just have the craziest games on the planet.”
“Everybody is crazy. The students are crazy, but the staff is even crazier.”
“Generally, a sanctified all-out war.”
“And it’s so much fun to watch. It’s one of the things that I think makes Camp Regen so unique.”
“Hey, yeah, we’re Christians and we love truth and we love the Lord, but there’s no dichotomy drawn between loving the Lord and loving truth and games. And we have fun.”
Outdoor summer activities can be a ton of fun.
There is, however, a particular activity where one can argue a line has been crossed. This game has featured a partial carcass of a pig, namely its head. The game is basically a circular tug-of-war where teens are connected hand-to-hand by holding foot-length ropes. The goal is to pull others into a trash can to eliminate players from the game.
Was this teen able to avoid a face-plant into a dead pig’s head?
In waging this sanctified war game we find an interesting parallel. Indeed, it’s hard to miss the connection between “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN” (2 Corinthians 6:17 [see notes below]) with the unclean dead body of an animal. The swine carcass, with eyes staring out vacuously from atop the trash can, completes the picture of crazy, insane, and over-the-top. It also calls into question its use at a Christian youth camp.
Whether the game has been played with an actual swine carcass or a spray-painted pig’s head, it serves as a visual inducement to “not touch.” In popular culture, “As one scholar puts it, people all over the world have made swine stand for. . .ridicule and repulsion,” and has also “become synonymous with negative attributes, especially greed, gluttony, and uncleanliness.”4
Camp Regen 2016 promo5
The problem with playing this game of mortal combat is each player purposes to eliminate other players by forcing them to “touch.” A strong objection can be made when professing Christians cause a brother or sister in Christ, on the other end of the rope, to stumble and touch what is literally and representatively unclean (unholy). Far from being sanctified, this game sets a dangerous precedent which by-passes thought processes the hype and energy of games being over-the-top, insane, and epic engenders.
I was told by the Camp Regen office the purpose of using a pig’s head was to be “intense” and to “up the ante.” With that kind of thinking one has to question their understanding of what is seemly, as well as what would be objectionable to parents, grandparents (such as myself), guardians, and church leaders whose youth are in their care. At the very least, it’s a tremendous assumption to think playing with a dead animal is acceptable, and at the very most, it’s highly egregious to place young Christians in an ethical dilemma they can’t appreciate or process in the moment for all the surrounding hoopla.
Imagine this Christian camp promo:
“Hey high schoolers, here’s a disgusting unclean carcass. We’re teaching you about being a disciple of Christ and about being holy, but we want you to play with this dead pig’s head. The goal of this totally off the charts game is to defile your fellow Christian players by making them touch what they shouldn’t. And remember it’s all about being crazy and having fun.”
How many parents and churches would send their kids to this camp?
A SOBERING REALITY
There is also the sobering reality of public health and human safety concerns.
Honestly, who couldn’t see this coming?
Regarding the possible transmission of potential infections, health department staff indicates concern for the following (email on file):
- handling of raw food items that have been left out of refrigeration and that may be a potential source of illness,
- attention to appropriate precautions and safety measures such as proper hand washing after handling and discouraging oral contact with items shown in photos, and
- there should also be a reminder and attention paid to regulations, guidance, and inspections for overnight camp settings such as these
After being informed of ways potential disease transmission can occur in this type of situation, I was further convinced of its gross misuse. I also can’t help wonder if any of the carcasses used over the years were preserved with formaldehyde, a known cancer causing agent; perhaps they were merely frozen for each day’s use and discarded at the end of the day posing less possible physical harm.
INCONGRUITY IN THE CAMP
In view of Camp Regen teachings such as this year’s soon-to-be “Follow Me” (2016), “Citizens” (of Heaven, 2015), “Steadfast” (2014), “Holiness” (2013), etc., why has there been such a disconnect between faith and practice in the use of this game over the years? The incongruity of the respective teaching and this game is staggering, if one cares to look at it. Indeed, it stretches reasonable sensibilities that those entrusted with our youth, while providing biblical teaching for the hearing, can also provide compromising activities for the doing.
Another example is co-ed mud games. Why would wallowing in the mud like swine be seemly for professing Christian youth? One derogatory definition of a swine is “a very bad person.”6 Others include “a coarse, gross, or brutishly sensual person” and “a contemptible person.”7 These unsuspecting teens are being led to cast off modesty, respectability, and godly behavior for base and contemptible conduct more fitting those whose character these definitions define. Either the appearance of things matter or they don’t. When you set the bar low, results usually don’t exceed it. As former junior high school ministry leaders, we observed this self-serving flaw time and again in youth ministries across the board.
I realize not everyone would care to look as closely at these things as me, or in the same way. However, I believe many would see in them what I see: a sad display of Christian morals.
Camp Regen needs to be more “intense” and “up the ante” by allowing much needed consideration to “giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited” (2 Corinthians 6:3), and to the development of integrity in the faith and practice of our youth. Thankfully, the unacceptable use of a pig carcass may have finally dawned in some minds, as I was told it would not be used this year. Let’s hope that turns out to be the case.
How the pendulum swings! You would think Christians couldn’t find solid or stable ground to consistently stand on. Whenever the culture is allowed a foothold in the camp, the ensuing amalgamation of light and darkness blurs lines that should never be blurred for believers. That’s why an insidious game that moves faithful parameters around, as to blur lines so they will be crossed over, is spiritually dangerous for young minds. Our goal should be to keep the lines of delineation clear and well-marked for our youth, not entangle them in unrighteousness and foolishly call it fun and games.
“Therefore, ‘COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,’ says the Lord. ‘AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ Says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18).
1 http://campregen.com; 2016, “About Camp Regen”
2 http://campregen.com; 2016, “Mission”
5 http://campregen.com; 2016, promo video
Most of the pictures used above were found at the Camp Regeneration Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/CampRegen.
Commentaries on 2 Corinthians 6:17:
Come out from the workers of iniquity, and separate from their vain and sinful pleasures and pursuits; from all conformity to the corruptions of this present evil world. ~ Matthew Henry Commentary
[T]ouch not the unclean thing—rather, “anything unclean” (2 Co 7:1; Mic 2:10). Touching is more polluting, as implying participation, than seeing. ~ Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
…Christians [are] obliged, by that peculiar gracious presence of God which they enjoy, or may enjoy, to separate themselves from the society of the ungodly, and from all their sinful practices, customs, and habits. And touch not the unclean thing — Keep at the utmost distance from every person and thing whereby you might be drawn into evil, and contract guilt. ~ Benson Commentary
Information on The Sacrificial Pig Ritual:
Dancing around a pig’s head mounted on a makeshift altar is an annual ritual at Camp Regeneration as it is in many pagan cults and cultures during festivals held to honor their false gods. [See JOHN MACARTHUR’S DRUID FESTIVAL.]
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