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Thursday, January 23, 2014

An Open Letter to Pastors from a Gamer

  Before I say anything else, I want to make it clear just how much I love you. Pastors have one of the toughest and most demanding jobs out there. Nobody faces as much criticism, trials, tribulations, and persecution in this world than pastors; but nobody makes a bigger difference in this world than a faithful pastor letting Christ lead his local congregation through Him. Nobody appreciates what you do as much as I do. I myself want to join your ranks some day. Far be it from me to come across as critical to a group of men that I have such respect for.

  However, I am concerned and concerned is precisely the right word. To say I was worried would make it make the problem seem larger than I think it is. It would also make it seem like I question the motivations behind the pattern I have begun to see, and that's not the case. 

Let me get to the point. I have noticed something from the pulpits of a lot of churches, and it's something that effects me specifically as someone who makes a hobby out of playing video games. Gaming and gamers are being addressed from the pulpit more than at any other time I can recall in my lifetime. As someone who desperately wants to make a difference for Christ in the gaming culture and community, I wish this was something I could feel happy about. What concerns me is that it doesn't. Almost everything I hear from pulpits regarding gamers serves only to reinforce negative stereotypes, and to make me personally want to shrink into the pew and not be seen. 

  Let me clarify with an example. Recently I heard from the pulpit (which shall not be identified) a statement similar to the following: "Our culture today is perverse and corrupt! Look at the movies in the theatres! Look at the video games our children play!" (paraphrased). I know to some people this seems small, and I'm not here to defend Grand Theft Auto or make a case for your kid playing Call of Duty; but making blanket statements such as that are one reason why gamers tend to be as wary of Christianity (and religion in general) as they are. Unfortunately I think the Church is one of the biggest culprits of keeping alive the negative stereotypes of gamers as people with no lives, who play games in mom's basement all day and night, who don't have jobs, who don't support their families, who use recreational drugs, and who play games rife with mindless violence, sex, drugs, and every other imaginable sin. 

  I understand what most pastors are trying to do. I understand that even in that particular instance, that the pastor in question was simply trying to prove a larger point that had nothing to do with games at all. I understand that to your average Christian and especially Christian parent, games have had a negative connotation essentially since their invention. I understand most pastors probably don't intend to be stereotyping or scapegoating. I get that, but I think we have to be smarter in how we approach addressing games from the pulpit. Making blanket statements and reinforcing stereotypes does nothing but harm to both the Body of Christ and to the gamer culture we hope to reach. I think a lot of pastors (and their congregations) would be surprised at how "normal" most gamers are. Most of us have jobs, families, and lives outside of games. Games aren't our beginning and end of existence. They're a hobby. We approach games the same way others approach golf, reading (many gamers are also avid readers), surfing, knitting, or whatever it is you do for fun. Most pastors would also be surprised by the varied nature of games themselves. GTA and Call of Duty aren't the sum of all video games. Games like Braid, Portal, Mass Effect, Minecraft, Rock Band, Wii Sports, and Civilization all prove in one form or another that games are so much more. They're as varied as the people who play them. 

  I realize that there really are gamers who embody everything that can be bad about games. Gaming culture has a huge problem with hostility and cyber bullying. There really are people who live their "real" lives inside the games, and retreat from reality. I'm not naive enough to think otherwise, but most of us are normal people with normal lives and everyday worries. Those of us that are Christian don't love Christ any less and always seek to please Him with what we play. I'm not asking for pastors to suddenly start praising games from the pulpit and start using sermon illustrations from Halo. I would just like pastors to think about what they say about games and gamers, and to not have to feel like I want to disappear from the pew quite as often as I do. 

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