About me

I'm just a believer that is recovering from my experience at Teen Mania's Honor Academy and I would like to share my journey of healing with you.

November 17, 2011

Does the Honor Academy Teach Elitism?

Teen Mania has long been accused of creating an elitist attitude in its Honor Academy interns. This complaint predates this website by a wide margin and is made by many pastors and parents across the country who have to deal with the interns once they leave Garden Valley. Interns are taught to feel superior to other Christians - especially anyone who "lives in compromise" by listening to secular music, watching movies, holding the incorrect theology or worship practice, etc. This is especially difficult when interns are trying to re-integrate back into their home churches in the outside world.

This attitude comes straight from the top - in his sermons, Ron Luce repeatedly denounces non-Teen Mania style Christians as "namby-pamby, "frozen chosen," "cold," "weak," and "dead." While Teen Mania Christians are "the cream of the crop," "on fire" and "elite warriors."

Recently, Heath Stoner, director of the Honor Academy posted a lengthy article to his blog rebutting the notion that interns are taught to be elitist (essentially by redefining elitism to mean encouraging). I believe a picture is worth a thousand words, so I'll let these images from the Teen Mania campus and marketing materials speak for themselves.

This first one is the dormitory doors.

(Image taken 2 years ago).

This is the badge that every intern had to wear to get their meals. I believe this is from 2008.

This screenshot is from a CURRENT Teen Mania's website. It says "Join an elite group of leaders who are changing the world for Christ. Register today and save."

Their CURRENT Global Expeditions website says the same thing.

Teen Mania teaches elitism to interns in a million different ways all year long. This simply cannot be refuted. Every single intern I've met, with VERY few exceptions, left Teen Mania as either an elitist jerk or despondent because they were treated like crap by elitist jerks. Or both (like me).

Where is Jesus in this?


I remember talking to some alumni while I was an intern and they mentioned listening to secular music. I was shocked and horrified that former INTERNS could've fallen so far from God! In retrospect, I wish I had paid more attention to them because they tried to warn me about what a huge shock it would be to leave. I thought there was no way it would be a hard transition for me, I was the cream of the crop and wouldn't let the world crush my passion. I'm so grateful my wonderful home church put up with me wen I came home. My arrogance was appalling. I did a one year program and thought I had more wisdom than people who attended seminary and had decades of ministry experience! Fortunately, they loved me through the transition and were very gentle in correcting me and within six months or so I was finally disabused of the idea I was God's gift to the modern day church.

I remember being an undergrad at Barnes and Nobel and when we would run into YWAM people we would maybe have conversation but there was always this underlying notion and attitude that we were better, that we were in the better program. I remember discussing that with others and we agreed that it wasn't right and wondered why we felt that way. Granted we were never taught that - but something in the culture of the HA built that up in us. Sure, we were zealous and proud to be at the HA - but we were no better than anyone - yet we acted like we were.

> Where is Jesus in this?

"He was counted among the rebels." (Isaiah 53:12, NLT)

While I can't say that after leaving TMM, I went back to Florida and my home church had to deal with my elitist attitude (I didn't have a home church, and I never moved back to Florida), the un-learning of the high-and-mighty mindset was still painful (and I was already removed from it to a degree, being one of the "rebels" while working as an SA on campus). I think it was most prevalent in my relationships with other christians. I didn't understand grace. At all. When someone made a mistake, my mind went to this weird "well, you just need to be dismissed" place. Dismissed? From life? How weird is that. And I'd confront them on their "mistakes" as though they were an intern (hands in pockets, of course...no pointing!). Suffice it to say, I had a difficult time making and keeping friends.

I learned the value of grace the hard way when my own life started falling apart.

While this may not seem directly related to the "elite warrior" attitude, I think it still comes from the same place; believing that "our way" is the best and only way to live a christian life. Wrong and wrong and dangerous.

I had to laugh out loud when I saw those snapshots :-)

You know, I hardly think that anyone with an elitist attitude THINKS they have one. The argument is that we're just being the best we can for Christ--doesn't He deserve our best?

Sigh. It's not until you face the short-end-of-the-stick of an elitist mindset or environment, that's you're really able to question if what we've been taught is actually true.

I saw this come up a lot in my old church. It's Messianic Judaism and there began to be this air about some people becoming more "Jewish" than others and pretty soon the elders were teaching the message "Don't judge people who do not keep as high a standard of halakkah as you--they are not there yet." WHAT????

*Halakhah (huh-LUHKH-khuh)
Lit. the path that one walks. Jewish law. The complete body of rules and practices that Jews are bound to follow, including biblical commandments, commandments instituted by the rabbis, and binding customs.

It may sound weird, but my experience has been that Teen Mania has a lot in common with Judaism.

(Sigh) I was so arrogant and elitist after my intern year. I remember scoffing at my new college roommates wondering how they could even call themselves Christian when all the did was chase boys. Meanwhile I wanted to start a youth Mega church in Russia. (Sigh... again).

I don't know how I managed to make any friends at all.

The worst part was how issolating it was, feeling like the worst, undeserving intern according to TM and yet I felt set above others....

Stupid I know.

do they actually deny that they teach this? that's weird. I mean, it's pretty core to their teaching, 'YOU'RE going to be the 4%. everyone in your generation is dying. you need to save them! everyone else is going to college, how many of your friends would take a year off and seek God? no one. you're rare. you're special.'

Legalism at its best. People either follow the standards and become self righteous or they give up trying. But what Christians need to be constantly reminded of is Jesus and His saving work done for them. The gospel is humbling and encouraging to Christians.

Shiloh: The opening paragraph of Heath's recent post on this says:

"I have heard peo­ple say that Teen Mania and the Honor Acad­emy teach that interns are elite com­pared to other peo­ple. I asked some peo­ple what they meant by this and they said when they were here at the Honor Acad­emy they were told they were the “cream of the crop,” that they “were really awe­some,” that the Honor Acad­emy interns were bet­ter than other peo­ple their age, etc. I always lis­ten when peo­ple make these asser­tions and tell them that as a cur­rent staff mem­ber in the Honor Acad­emy I will do a bet­ter job in mak­ing sure the interns do not feel the same way they felt as that is not the cur­rent belief of the Honor Acad­emy staff." (italics mine)

Cough, cough! This is apparently some interesting new usage of "not the current belief" that I wasn't previously familiar with. Much like "dramatic changes," I guess.

Committed Christian: Very true. This attitude is exactly what we would expect to see (though not always quite this nakedly) as the fruit of legalistic doctrine. "Not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).

> YOU'RE going to be the 4%


HAHAHAHA! I love it Occupy Garden Valley! Where's the Bull? Oh, wait-EVERYWHERE.


#OccupyGardenValley - made me LOL!

What a great idea. :)

> Where is Jesus in this?

"He was counted among the rebels." (Isaiah 53:12, NLT)

Couldn't agree more, Eric.

"The worst part was how issolating it was, feeling like the worst, undeserving intern according to TM and yet I felt set above others...."

In retrospect, I think that a lot of us felt that way.

We tend to get a Buffy complex at the HA (inferiority-superority complex)...
Oops, I forgot that fictional stories about vampires are wrong! Hopefully someone geeky like me can catch my reference to Conversations with Dead People.

I skipped the Buffy complex and went straight for the Big Damn Hero Complex you know the one ok you treated me like shit so I'm gonna expose you and your organization for this crap you are (I hope someone is geeky enough to get my even geekier Whedon Reference!)

Ohhh, good one! Yeah, and we women did get treated like dolls for men's (our husbands) amusement...

Shannon-ashley <3 Perhaps Ron just thinks his cross is the hammer!

Everyone's a hero in their own way- you and you and MOSTLY ME and you!

^ this makes so much sense for Ron omg

This geek approves! And, I am looking forward to season 9 of Buffy in that most classic of all serialized art forms.

I like my women to be equals or help-mates - we walk side by side in this journey called life.

I do not like my women to be plot devices or my vampires to sparkle. But, wait a second ... is that not what it seems the HA wants women to be like?!? Pretty looking plot devices?! But I don't think DH is familiar with that series... or maybe he is?!

~ Blue Lantern

@ That redheaded one

This Browncoat fan 'aims to misbehave'.

I doubt that Shepard book would approve of the conditions at the HA as well.

~ Blue Lantern

@Blue Lantern
I am cracking up! Thank you.
And I'm also looking forward to the next comics (though I have to admit I can also dig the sparkly vamps, nerd that I am.)
But I don't think DH is familiar with many works of art out there, written, drawn, captured on film or otherwise.
There are certainly more movies with positive messages than just Braveheart and Glory. (I did hear DH reference Gladiator one time, and that it of course was not really wholesome or appropriate for interns.)

@Blue Lantern Considering this quote "Why when I talk about belief, why do you always assume I'm talking about God?"

I think that's a safe assumption.

I am glad to see that I am not the only fan of Firefly/Serenity here.

Speaking of serenity, the FULL serenity prayer has helped me keep my focus while going through recovery. The prayer's attitude is quite a bit different in attitude than when we were the cream of the crop.

Humble is cool. People are more likely to appreciate our humor when we are humble; instead of coming off as elitist jerks.

~ Blue Lantern

Ok, lemme be a nerd too. We had our semi-annual sorta-alumni camp-out in October. It was Firefly themed. We wore costumes and played the Firefly RPG all weekend. Chris and I even tagged out rain water barrels with the Blue Sky logo. NERDS.

Sad to me how the "fruit" of almost everyone's internship is that there are feelings both of shame for coming away feeling superior and shame for at the same time feeling inferior. I would like to think if even one person left the HA and felt this way, or one person left the HA and loved Jesus LESS than before, TMM would want to stop in its tracks immediately to figure out what they're doing wrong.
Might be a little much work to stop a machine, though, just to try to be Christ-like....

To stop the machine would to stop their main source of income and work-force. Psh! Like THAT will ever happen!

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