A video about self-harm and suicide shown during Fuge Camp at Glorieta triggered severe responses from some La Grange youth whose community had been devastated by a recent teen suicide.
Officials at Lifeway Christian Resources—sponsor of Fuge, a popular weeklong event for middle school and high school youth—said the video will continue to be shown at future camps.
While Lifeway no longer owns the Glorieta property, it continues to use the New Mexico facility—now known as Glorieta Adventure Camps—for some of its camps. Lifeway has 72 weeks of Fuge camps scheduled this summer at 25 locations, involving about 40,000 campers.
In response to feedback from church groups, Lifeway officials said, the video will be moved to an optional late-night event rather than the general required worship service, and other steps are being taken to prepare church youth group leaders. However, parental permission to view the video will not be required.
Lifeway Media Group produced the video in question—“The Sea”—to show at its Fuge Camps, scheduled in multiple locations this year.
“We know some students have been dealing with anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. We wanted to address this topic at camp this summer and show God’s faithfulness, especially in difficult times,” said Ben Trueblood, director of Lifeway Students.
Tara Bennett, student minister Seth Gordon and two other adult sponsors accompanied 17 teenagers from First Baptist Church in LaGrange to Fuge Camp at Glorieta in mid-June.
“During worship the second evening, Fuge played what they referred to as a ‘trigger video’ depicting a young woman engaging in self-harm and attempting suicide,” Bennett said.
Bennett noted her three children lost an uncle to suicide, and many in the youth group had friends who died by suicide. Some members of the youth group deal with ongoing struggles related to self-harm and have received professional counseling, she added.
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When the youth from La Grange viewed the video at Glorieta, the results were “catastrophic,” Bennett said.
“The video did indeed ‘trigger’ our students, and many were hysterical,” she said.
Some immediately ran out of the worship center and were missing for at least 20 minutes. One individual suffered a panic attack that led to hyperventilation.
“It took hours to calm them, without the help of Fuge staff,” she said. If mental health professionals were available to help, that was not communicated clearly to adult sponsors.
Showing the video in a worship service without securing the permission of parents was “completely irresponsible and manipulative,” Bennett said.
“Our children do not need to be emotionally manipulated via trigger videos for the Holy Spirit to do his work,” she said.
Response from Lifeway
The next morning, she and Gordon met with Andrew Praytor, Fuge Camp director at Glorieta, to express their concerns.
“He was very receptive to the conversation and very apologetic,” Bennett said.
Prayter assured her he would let his supervisors know. She received a call from Joe Hicks, Fuge Camps Manager at Lifeway, on June 17, but she was not entirely satisfied with what she learned.
Moving forward, the video will be shown on the third night of camp during the optional Night Life experience rather than at the required worship service, and youth group leaders will have the opportunity to view it in advance.
“We are sending the video to church group leaders ahead of camp so they can review it and share with parents and other adults attending camp as chaperones. We are also providing a resource to help guide group leaders through possible conversations they may have with students,” Trueblood explained in a statement Lifeway provided to the Baptist Standard.
“On the day this video is shown, our camp director meets with group leaders and adult sponsors to discuss the topic in a morning session so they are prepared to lead discussions with their students.”
Lifeway developed the videos out of concern for the stress teenagers have experienced and in consultation with mental health professionals, Trueblood insisted. While it portrays “the emotions of anxiety and depression that many students experience,” it ultimately points students to “the hope and healing that is found in Jesus Christ.”
“Our priority is the safety and well-being of our students,” Trueblood said. “When developing the video and resources, we worked with professional Christian counselors to make sure we were portraying these very real emotions in a safe and careful manner and providing appropriate tools for group leaders to guide discussions.
“Topics like this need to be discussed in the community of faith in an open and honest way so students can experience a safe and healing environment in the church.”
Bennett said Brad Barnett, senior manager of events for Lifeway Students, called her with a similar explanation. He told her the video’s creator had a daughter attempt suicide as a teen, and Lifeway wanted to provide a resource to prompt helpful and honest discussion about the subject in a Christian context.
“I told him that I understand the intent, but that the result did not match the intent,” Bennett said.
Rather than strengthen the faith of teens struggling with depression and self-harm, she fears the video sends a damaging message to them. Based on her experience with the La Grange youth group, it can cause them to question why, if God rescues and heals teens with mental health issues, they continue to wrestle with ongoing episodes, she noted.
“I expressed thankfulness that they [Lifeway officials] were listening and making changes, but that I still felt either the video should not be shown or it should require parent approval—not just the group leader—as many leaders are not fully aware of their students’ history or possible traumas,” she said.