Jesus Camp
I didn’t think the sermon was that bad.

Golden Mug

NOMINEE: Documentary

Theatrical Release Date: 09/15/2006
Directors: Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady

Spreading its message throughout the nation is the documentary “Jesus Camp”.

The film takes a look at the fundamentalist Evangelical Church’s methods and efforts to enlist children as “warriors” for Christ.

Obviously, there is plenty of room here for controversy. Depending on your own beliefs, there will be a completely different mindset that you bring into the theater.

What I found interesting is that the filmmakers presented the documentary without too many winks of the eye.

That is, instead of openly mocking the (in my opinion) fanatical and borderline abusive manner in which the Evangelical Church teaches their children about the world, Ewing and Grady were mostly able to just put their story up on the screen and let the audience decide.

Sure, their opinion can be gleaned from the editing choices. Still, it’s not as blatant a condemnation as I was expecting.

If you are a “born-again” fundamentalist Christian, 90% of the documentary espouses your beliefs.

If you are a little less “old school” with your Christian faith, this is probably an example of the followers you worry are giving Christianity a bad reputation, especially in what is often deemed a liberal media.

Or if you are a non-believer, like myself, then this is one very scary (and sometimes humorous) look into over 30 million Americans.

The documentary centers on an Evangelical kids summer camp held each year in Devils Lake, North Dakota. The pastors truly believe that they can help change the world for the better if they prepare the children from an early age to fight, and if need be, die for Jesus Christ.

I’m not putting a spin on this, they say this in the film. The featured pastor, Becky Fischer, justifies this by pointing out that the Muslim world does the same thing. She sees children in “Israel, Pakistan and Palestine being trained to use AK-47s and wear bomb belts” (not exact-phrasing but the actual words and context is intact).

In her mind, and that of the Evangelical Church (the President of their association has weekly meetings with President GW Bush), in order to preserve the morality of America and to ensure their faith is the one that wins out, they must rise up and fight for it..

Now, the film doesn’t show that any of the children are being openly trained for war. While I wouldn’t put it past some of these parents to go militia with their home schooled kids (according to the film, 75% of home schooled kids are Evangelical Christians), it is more that they want to make sure their children believe these teachings as fervently as they do.

The children are so devoted through this tactic of indoctrination that they openly weep during sermons and have little hesitance to join in with the adults and speak in tongues when they feel the Holy Spirit come into them. They don’t need to be coached, they will come right up to the camera and say, “At five, I got saved … because I just wanted more of life.”

As shown in the documentary, the children are encouraged to go up to people and try to bring Jesus into their lives. They do so politely and non-confrontationally (how confrontation can a 10 year old be?) but still, I was unnerved to watch these children get caught up in the whole affair like I was watching a David Koresh-led seminar.

As you can tell, I found most of the film to be creepy, to say the least, and I felt sorry for these kids who have no chance to form their own opinions until they leave their homes/schools.

I’m cool with parents wanting to install morals into their children and I think most religions have the correct core morals at their base. It’s when parents drive it all into their kids like nails into their skulls that I get uneasy.

Then to see the church ceremonies, I feel very much like a mob mentality is taking over and no matter what the message, as humans we tend to go with the crowd. It’s instinct. Do five-year-old children have any chance of seeing through that kind of presentation?

Now, the filmmakers do make it clear that they are also concerned about this movement. Not necessarily because of the beliefs but because the number of followers and their commitment to action has led to their being a legitimate political force in America today.

As I said before, the President of the Evangelical Church Association meets with the current President once a week. I doubt all they do is thank God for their morning scones.

The political issue at hand while they were filming was the appointment of Judge Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court. He was outspoken about his religious beliefs and that he was pro-life. As a core issue to Evangelical Christians, they made sure to let it be known they wanted this man in his post.

And they got their wish.

Now, I could personally have done without this look into the political ramifications of the fundamentalist Christians. I was more interested in seeing how these kids are treated and trained. Still, the documentary held my attention and I thought this was at the very least, thought provoking.

I’m giving “Jesus Camp” a 3 out of 5. It’s an interesting film but unless you are either a staunch liberal or zealous Christian, there are other films you probably want to catch right now.