Monday, May 31, 2010

Who Was on Teen Mania's Honor Academy Review Committee?

"I can assure you that a committee was established and several experts were asked to weigh into the items listed above as well as the items identified in the letters." -Statement from Teen Mania Ministries on May 28, 2010 via the website.

It wasn't long ago that alumni of Teen Mania's programs began to form a community online, and realize that they weren't alone in the fact that they had been hurt or abused by this organization. As discussions ensued, members of this community decided they really wanted to see Teen Mania make real changes to their programs, and many Teen Mania alumni submitted very personal stories of their hurts to the Teen Mania Board of Directors. A member of the board told the community that a panel of experts was going to be assembled to really investigate the Honor Academy, and the alumni community was genuinely excited and thought this might be the first step to really changing things at Teen Mania.

Exactly four weeks after making this promise to the community, Teen Mania launched their response website, which unfortunately just leaves many more questions than actual answers. The letter from the Teen Mania Ministries Board of Directors alludes to a "committee" of "experts" being formed, but they fail to mention who was on this investigative committee, or even how many people were on the committee. Were the "experts" completely unbiased? Do they get a paycheck from Teen Mania Ministries? Were any current or former teenage interns on the review committee? We just don't know...because Teen Mania doesn't tell us. We're just asked to rely on their "assurance," as demonstrated by the quote at the top of this blog post. We can't even tell who said "I can assure you..." since the letter is simply signed by "Teen Mania Board of Directors." That's not very assuring if you ask me.

The only two possible "experts" who were willing to put their name on anything written on Teen Mania's response website were Jack Hayford and a psychologist named Douglas N. Neal. Jack Hayford sat on the board of directors of Teen Mania for many years and is personal friends with C.E.O. Ron Luce, and Douglas N. Neal had two kids who went to the Honor Academy--neither of these experts are unbiased, and neither person is qualified to make a neutral and honest assessment of Teen Mania's programs.

Without knowing who was on the Honor Academy review committee, or how their investigation was conducted, it is difficult to just take Teen Mania's word that things are fine and that any problems that existed have been fixed. The U.S. government relied on BP's assessments that their offshore oil rig was safe and that any accidents would be minor....and that's not exactly the way things have turned out. If Teen Mania expects people to believe that the Honor Academy isn't a dangerous place for kids, they need to be a lot more transparent about things than they have been on their website so far.

Teen Mania Ministries Issues Public Response to Abuse Allegations

As most readers already know, Teen Mania Ministries has issued a public response to the allegations of abuse and mistreatment at the Honor Academy chronicled on the website. Late Friday night, an anonymous commenter on the Recovering Alumni blog left a link to a new Teen Mania website, Unfortunately, it wasn't much of a "response," and was more like a bunch of hastily thrown together excuses, with some character assassination of the creator of the Recovering Alumni blog thrown in for good measure. Teen Mania Ministries' response website lacked comprehensive answers to the serious questions that have been raised about the Honor Academy program, and the letters they posted contain grammatical errors that make it seem like they were lazily written.

The fact that Teen Mania chose to launch this site at 8:00PM on a Friday night, on Memorial Day weekend nonetheless, was just "salt in the wounds" of those who have been hurt by Teen Mania Ministries and were hoping that the Board of Directors would listen to their heartfelt stories and take them seriously. The website is just insulting, and the way Teen Mania launched the website shows a complete lack of care and compassion to the "lost sheep" who were abused at the hands of their ministry. Stay tuned for more analysis & commentary about Teen Mania's response (or lack thereof) to serious allegations of abuse & neglect.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Food & Sleep During Acquire The Fire Weekends

Let's face it: your body NEEDS sleep--and when you haven't had much sleep, your mind & body simply are not at their best. When you're tired, it is easy to feel like you can't concentrate, to act more emotional than you usually would, and to make rash decisions without clearly thinking things through. Your mental defenses are weakened when you haven't slept, and because of this, sleep deprivation is a commonly-used mind control technique employed by many modern-day cults & oppressive government regimes. I also believe that Teen Mania Ministries inappropriately uses teens' lack of sleep during an Acquire The Fire weekend to their advantage.

I went to several Acquire The Fire conventions during my teenage years, and I can tell you that they were some of the most physically & mentally exhausting weekends I have ever had. Because the events are held in large arenas is big cities, many rural teens have to drive very long distances to get to the event--it is not uncommon for church youth groups to drive to an Acquire The Fire that is several hours away. The Friday night session ends late and the Saturday morning session starts early, so most youth groups elect to have the kids spend the night together somewhere. Usually this means either on the floor of a church, or in over-crowded hotel rooms. Neither environment lends itself particularly well to getting much sleep, and when youth groups spend the night together, sleep is rarely on the minds of the teens (staying up all night goofing off is why "lock-ins" used to be so fun!). I remember getting just a couple of hours of sleep on Friday nights before needing to be back at the arena around 7:30am the next morning. Saturday's schedule is grueling, with long sessions scheduled until late at night with just a couple of short breaks. Then, when Acquire The Fire is over, teens must make the often long drive back to their homes before waking up early for church the next morning.

The food situation isn't much better. Friday night's Acquire The Fire session begins pretty much right at dinner time, and in order to reduce the cost of the weekend, most churches tell the teens to "eat dinner before they come." In my experience, this rarely actually happened and "dinner" usually consisted of a few slices of pizza ordered at midnight after the session was over and everyone was starving. For most ATF participants, Saturday's breakfast consists of a donut or a bagel eaten in a church van, and they are left to completely fend for themselves for lunch and dinner. Most teens don't have much spending money, and food in & around the arena is typically expensive, so lunch might be a slice of pizza and dinner might be an order of nachos. I know for a fact that several kids in my youth group had to skip one or both of these meals on Saturday because their parent's hadn't given them money....or they had already spent the money they were given on Acquire The Fire merchandise sold during the event. Because of the way the weekend is set up, many kids at Acquire The Fire end up feeling hungry for a large portion of the weekend and don't really get a decent meal until Sunday.

These sleep & food situations might be okay for a primarily recreational activity, like a music festival or a comic-book convention. But teens are being asked to make life-altering decisions at Acquire The Fire conventions--throw away all your secular music, commit to abstinence until marriage, give up dating altogether, become militantly pro-life, spend $3000 on a summer missions trip, give up a year (or more) of your life and raise $7400 (or more) for Teen Mania. These are all big decisions with lots of consequences, and it's not fair to "hard-sell" these ideas to kids when they are sleep-deprived and starving. But, teens get excited more easily and don't ask as many critical questions when they are tired & hungry, which makes it easier to pedal Teen Mania's political agenda & income-generating programs. I'd say that's one of the main reasons why Teen Mania Ministries pushes so hard to have kids fill out applications for Global Expeditions & the Honor Academy while they are at the arena and before they've had a chance to discuss it with their parents. Discriminating minds can often see through slick marketing tactics, so Teen Mania needs to do as much of their marketing as they can inside the arena while teens' mental defenses are at their lowest.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What is an Acquire the Fire Weekend Like for the Average Teen?

Continuing our discussion of Acquire the Fire events produced by Teen Mania Ministries, let's look at the typical schedule of the average, church-going teen that attends an ATF convention.


6:30AM - 7:00 AM - Wake up for school
2:30-3:00 PM - Leave school for the day
4:00-4:30 PM - Arrive at church to leave for Acquire the Fire
6:00 PM - Arrive at arena for Acquire the Fire
7:00-10:30PM - Attend 3 hour ATF Session 1 (which usually runs late)
Midnight - Arrive back at church


2:00-4:00 AM - Fall "asleep" on church floor
6:00 AM - Wake up/Eat "breakfast"
7:45 AM - Arrive at arena
8:00 AM - 12:15 PM - Attend 4.5 hour ATF session 2
12:30ish - 1:30ish - Eat "lunch"
2:00 PM - 5:15 PM - Attend 3.25 hour ATF session 3
5:30is - 6:15ish - Eat "dinner"
7:00 PM - 9:30 PM - Attend 3.5 hour ATF session 4 (almost always runs long)
11:00 PM - Arrive back at church
Midnight - Arrive at home


2:00-4:00 AM - Crash in bed
8:00 AM - Wake up for church
9:00 AM - 10:30 AM - Attend Sunday school and watch Teen Mania videos
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM - Stand up in church and give a testimony about how much God changed your life at Acquire the Fire

I attended several Acquire the Fire conventions growing up, and I can assure you this was a very typical schedule for the weekend. I just looked at the schedule for the Acquire the Fire being held in Baltimore this weekend, and it looks like absolutely nothing has changed. As we will explore in the next post, this intense, jam-packed schedule creates an environment of sleep-deprivation and extreme physical hunger that coerces teens into making rash signing up for a questionable Teen Mania program that will cost them and their parents thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars.