Idol Chatter

HardAsNails.jpgIn the venerable tradition of the Roman Catholic church, firebrand preachers have not been received well. Case in point is Justin Fatica, the Catholic youth minister whose Hard As Nails organization is the subject of a documentary playing this month on HBO. Fatica marches into Catholic high schools bearing full-sized wooden crosses with his “Hard As Nails” legend painted on the crossbeam, boom boxes and rafts of marketing materials, all for the purpose of recruiting teens for Jesus.

Under 30 himself, Fatica has a good handle on to reach young people. The film, by David Holbrooke, catches teens weeping and roaring their approval as Fatica preaches. His methods are not subtle. He screams his sermons, lets teens pound him with folding chairs (to exemplify Christ’s suffering for us), puts his crosses on kids’ backs and shouts at them as they tote them up a hill. The message is brutal, but simple: avoid sin and find a better life in Jesus.
Fatica would be a bit drastic for the more demonstrative Protestant denominations. (He’s even a little drastic for home consumption: you don’t feel compelled to watch “Hard As Nails” as much as you find it hard to look away.) For the Catholic educators whose students he enthralls and enlists to lead local Hard As Nails chapters, he’s overwhelming. One school asks him to stop because the guidance counselors haven’t been prepped on how to deal with the fallout from his emotional style. The diocese of Burlington, Vermont has banned him outright from holding events in the state.
A prophet, Fatica tells the camera, is always rejected by the institutional church. The problem for Catholic enthusiasts like Fatica, is that the institution and the church are for the most part the same.

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