A documentary. Directors: Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing
FILM SYNOPSIS: Jesus Camp, a documentary directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, directors of the critically acclaimed The Boys of Baraka, follows Levi (12), Rachael (9), and Tory (10) to Pastor Becky Fischer's "Kids on Fire" summer camp in Devil's Lake, North Dakota, where kids as young as 6 years old are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in "God's army."
A growing number of Evangelical Christians believe there is a revival underway in America that requires Christian youth to assume leadership roles in advocating the causes of their religious movement. The documentary follows these children at camp as they hone their "prophetic gifts" and are schooled in how to "take back America for Christ." The film is a first-ever look into an intense training ground that recruits born-again Christian children to become an active part of America's political future.
PREVIEW REVIEW: Though it presents the sincere belief of charismatic Christians, Jesus Camp does so in a smirky, at times mocking manner. It seems bent on warning unbelievers that Evangelicals have a powerful voice in the political world, one that threatens proponents of homosexuality, abortion and other liberal agendas.
With that in mind, it seems strange that Becky Fischer, the religious group leader who fires up little warriors of the faith, thought the completed film was a fair look at her efforts. Ms. Fischer reportedly feels she can use the film as an evangelical tool. I found that conclusion farfetched as the film subtly ridicules her views and tactics. And will someone explain to me why a Christian kids camp is being held in a place called Devils Lake?
Jesus Camp features Mike Papantonio, an Air America radio host, offering unabashed disdain for Christianity and especially for religious folk who voice their political convictions. Mr. Papantonio comes across so shrill that his concerns seem not just anti-Christian, but anti-Christ. Whats more, I kept wondering just how far this guy would go to prevent Christians from expressing social opinions.
Even more disturbing is the childrens myopic view of other church goers. At one point the kids refer to more orderly fellowship services as dead. Understandably, if youre brought up in a church where people bounce up and down while singing praise songs, a more restrained worship may seem dispirited. But a more subdued worship does not indicate a dead fellowship. These are bright, good kids featured in Jesus Camp, so they must be learning this ignorant view via older members of their congregation.
Theres no question that children need to attend Sunday School and be taught biblical truths, but I become concerned when I see children preaching (as 12-year-old, mullet-wearing Levy does) or a 10-year-old girl approaching unknown adults, asking where they will spend eternity. Despite the sincerity of these children, they come across as fanatical and brainwashed.
Furthermore, everything about the camp, the home life and the schooling is tinged with mocking humor, brought on by the subjects themselves. The kids are heard speaking in tongues, crying over plastic fetuses and saying a Christian alternative pledge of allegiance to a cardboard likeness of George Bush. The grownups politics and charismatic allegiance is scrutinized, never the warmth of people who relish the mercy, sacrifice and guidance of the Holy Trinity. And one pastor, Ted Haggard of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, unwisely allowed himself to be a bit too whimsical while unsympathetic cameras videotaped. (Note to pastors being interviewed by filmmakers: if anything you say can be twisted in a Hollywood editing room, it will be.)
After viewing this film, its easy to see why the unchurched fear and misunderstand people of the Christian faith.