Study: Small Group Hazing At All-Time High
2 Dead, Some Churches Impose Outright BanCategory: Church
Pledge Clayton Briggs sleds through a forest at night while blindfolded by pages from The Purpose Driven Life
CHICAGO – A new study to be published in Christianity Today magazine exposes a dangerous wave of church subculture that has built enormous momentum over the past decade. Hazing, which until now has been almost entirely associated with college fraternities and sororities, has made its way into our churches as a method of initiating would-be small group members and filtering out those too weak to join. While most colleges have squelched hazing in recent years, a new surge in small group hazing—resulting in at least two fatalities—is causing some pastors to follow suit and ban the practice altogether.
“This has got to stop!” said Pastor Gene Appel of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL. “Even if there weren’t any deaths, it’s difficult for me to concentrate during my preaching when there’s someone skipping on stage behind me wearing nothing but flannelgraph characters taped over his privates! I’m sure that’s not where cartoon-Moses wants to be poking his staff.”
Events like this are occurring across the country.
The study, conducted by Christian Research International, found evidence that services in every region of the United States are being interrupted by small group hazing. The McGeorge’s small group at Hickory Square Baptist in Keene, NH required all of its 6 pledges to shout “bless you” or “gesundheit” every time their pastor said “Gethsemane” during their Easter service. Arthur Culver, a small group pledge at Kendall United Methodist Church in Miami, FL, was instructed to sit in the front row and eat and drink all of the communion elements when they were passed.
Other reported instances of hazing stretch beyond Sunday morning and into the daily lives of pledges. Sam Mills of Logan, MT was among the 4 pledges woken at 3am and instructed to shovel 9 inches of snow off Logan Church of God’s 2-acre parking lot immediately and barefoot. Terri Wendt of Sonora Bible Church in Texas was ordered to sign up for all 48 shifts of SBC’s 24-hour prayer watch in November.
“Who can measure the damage inflicted on the Kingdom due to things like this?” fumed Pastor Aaron Vang of SBC. “The only thing less effective than Terri’s last 10 or 15 prayer watch shifts is this hazing and its attempt to assemble quality small groups!”
Keith Hatter, 5-year “Alpha-Alpha-Omega” small group leader at New Faith Community in Seattle, WA, disagrees.
Pledge Clayton Briggs searches for Ezra 3:7 in a “sword drill” to avoid getting hit with “The Bible Thumper.”
“Maybe in the 80s small group pledging wouldn’t have had as good a purpose. But some churches are so large these days that there are enough people to make entire small groups out of just the cool people. There has to be a way to ensure that happens. C’mon, we don’t want just anyone signing up for Alpha-Alpha-Omega! They can go to the Forester’s group, which still allows sign-ups, thank God.”
But the sobering fact, as the study reports, is that there have been two recent deaths resulting from small group hazing. While some argue the deaths, caused by an automobile accident during two pledges’ “high-speed drive-by evangelism” duties, are atypical, many elders use the fatalities as a basis on which to ban hazing in their churches.
Leonard Kindred, principal investigator for the study, explained to THO, “We’re no longer just talking about doing the Bible study homework for the small group leaders, speaking only with small group brothers and sisters, or learning the small group anthem. We’ve recorded countless examples of dangerous spiritual activities taking place. One poor pledge was forced to eat nothing but unleavened bread for 40 days, which is the standard pledge period. He ended up in the hospital with chronic constipation and fecal impaction.”
With this study’s release, many church leaders are at a crossroads as to how seriously they will take the potential dangers of small group hazing.
Said Pastor Chris Malcolm of Sun Valley Episcopal in Fresno, CA, “I was unaware that these dangers could exist in my church, but I’ve decided to bring them up at my next small group meeting. My group has recruited like all of the best Christians in the congregation so we’ll stay on top of this issue!”