Jesus Camp

It is nigh impossible to write a film review about a documentary that doesn’t offer an opinion on the subject matter, and I would never promise to be objective when reviewing a documentary. I just watched the 2006 documentary Jesus Camp on Netflix; I was almost speechless through the entire thing. In reading the many reviews of the film, I realized that I’m not the only one who is incapable of objectively reviewing a documentary.

From the opening frame of the film, there is no middle ground. Not one inch of it. Directors Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing made clear from the outset that the entire film was basically a view from both extremes – both pro- and anti-religion. Specifically they targeted Christianity, and it is clear that they see Judeo-Christian beliefs as the greatest threat to our country, worse than militant Islam and Sharia-loving immigrants who believe in honor killings regardless of which country they’re in. The film opens with shots of the highways of Missouri with sound clips from various well-known Christian evangelists superimposed over the noise of traffic and trees blowing in the wind. Most notable is the sound clip of James Dobson, describing what Christians should be doing in America.

In one corner stood Pentecostal children’s minister Becky Fischer, head of the “Kids on Fire” Christian summer camp where kids are taught to be radical believers, open about their faith and unafraid to stand up for their beliefs. In the other stood Mike Papantonio, a trial lawyer and Air America talk show host. The majority of the film centered around Fischer and her camp…but any time heavy emotions were displayed during chapel services at the kids’ camp, sinister background music droned, driving home the directors’ belief that the children at this camp are being brainwashed to destroy America as they believe it should be.

Papantonio accents the directors’ beliefs during the total of three times he’s on. He is openly portrayed as the voice of reason in what is meant to be the madness of the religious fervor in the rest of the film. Middle ground that would point out the flaws on both sides is entirely nonexistent in this film. Multiple times he describes the religious people being portrayed throughout as “crazy”. The big showdown comes at the end, when Fischer calls in to Papantonio’s program and talks to him. To be fair, she does claim that she’s not pushing politics, when it is clear that she does so frequently. She does so under the guise that Christians need to pray for America to turn back to God, then takes it a step further by pointing out specific issues that the kids are expected to believe a certain way about.

Even then, however, you can’t really call what she’s teaching dangerous. I wouldn’t want most Christian beliefs to be written into law, and the Constitution overtly prevents such a thing from happening; but you can’t call their teachings dangerous. New York Times reporter Stephen Holden writes, “a mountainous woman of indefatigable good cheer, Ms. Fischer makes no bones about her expectation that the growing evangelical movement in the United States will one day end the constitutional ban separating church and state.” This is untrue; she never says anything about striking down the so-called “Wall of Separation”, she only talks about America turning back to God (and there is no Constitutional ban separating church and state – the separation clause isn’t even in the First Amendment, it was in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to a Baptist church whose congregation was concerned about rumors of a state-sponsored church).

Holden continues, “at Kids on Fire we see children in camouflage and face paint practicing war dances with wooden swords and making straight-armed salutes to a soundtrack of Christian heavy metal. We see them weeping and speaking in tongues as they are seized by the Holy Spirit. And we see them in Washington at an anti-abortion demonstration.” This is dishonestly presented. I grew up in that culture, and I can tell you that the war that is taught is a purely spiritual one. It is meant to teach kids that the spiritual is every bit as important as the physical in terms that they can understand. In painting this type of picture, Holden – and the directors who filmed it in such a manner – are trying to raise images of Hitler Youth in people’s minds.

Incredibly, Holden ends with, “it wasn’t so long ago that another puritanical youth army, Mao Zedong’s Red Guards, turned the world’s most populous country inside out. Nowadays the possibility of a right-wing Christian American version of what happened in China no longer seems entirely far-fetched.” This is pure hysteria. Holden has apparently never visited Berkeley, California. The only so-called Christians interested in forcing religious law on this country are the Phelpsians, and they’re not even recruiting.

What’s more, Holden’s review isn’t the only far-left piece of tripe written to praise this film.

Jesus Camp is a brazen attempt to paint Christians as a group of extremists on the edge, prepared to take to violence to force America to become a theocracy. It’s an accusation that is entirely untrue.

I have to ask…why are so many liberals so afraid of these people? Why is this sort of “indoctrination” so dangerous? When was the last time a holy-rolling Christian kid walked into their school with a gun and started taking potshots at their classmates? When was the last time we heard on the news that a group of home-schooled kids were caught roaming the streets and terrorizing innocent people? Eric Harris, long believed to be the mastermind of the Columbine shooting that left 12 students and one teacher dead and scores wounded, walked into his school on April 20, 1999 wearing a plain white tee shirt that said “natural selection” in bold, black lettering. There is no doubt what he and Dylan Klebold believed about God and their Christian classmates, whom they taunted as they murdered them.

Papantonio blasts Fischer and those like her as somehow hindering the advancement of our society. If school shootings, carjackings, assassinations and sky-high murder rates are the advancement he was after, count me out. I’m not interested.

I’d rather be at Jesus Camp.

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9 thoughts on “Jesus Camp

  1. Great review on Jesus Camp, Mel. I had seen this on netflix a few months back. Honestly, I found this documentary hard to stomach in some parts and I am a Christian myself.

    When I recognized how radical some of these Kids were acting, I actually had flashbacks to my own tortured youth as a Christian. I have no doubt in my mind that this group would have no trouble calling me a fagot and not having an ounce of guilt afterwards.

    The scene in this documentary that still stays with me is the one where the Kids visit the retirement home and the main Girl is praying with an elderly Woman about accepting Jesus into her life. I don’t know about you but I was left with the impression that this old lady was already a Christian and the Girl from the camp came across with this superior, heavy handed attitude with the elder Woman. This was so disturbing to me that I had to quit watching after that. I guess this is radical, in your face, obnoxious Christianity personified. I just couldn’t connect with this group, it was too reminiscent of my own bad experience with the Church.

  2. Mark, OK the kids can be a little holier-than-thou, that’s just annoying not dangerous. Christianity teaches to love you enemy. It teachers to to hate the sin but love the sinner. Do people fall short of that, yes. They reason these kids get annoying is because they care and they are trying to help the thing is most people don’t want them to help them. People don’t want to be preached to, I understand it.

    I’m not saying you think they are dangerous, but the film looks like that is what it was trying to say. Plus I really don’t think they would call you a fagot. They might call you a sinner, try to take you to church and otherwise annoy the hell out of you but I don’t think they would sit around calling you names. Granted if one of them did they would be a hypocrite and worthy of your scorn, as well as the scorn of other people that claim to be good Christians.

    How about this if they are trying to be good and they get a little annoying or they aren’t really helping try to help them out with it. Talk to them and maybe you can help them do good without being holier-than-thou and annoying about it. The world isn’t that nice of a place and while we all have differences of opinion can’t we find the people that want to help and find a way to work together at least some of the time?

    I’m not trying to rag on you. Well maybe a little… You had a bad experience with a church. Just remember that isn’t all churches and it isn’t all Christians. Hey at least these kids aren’t doing drugs and shooting up their schools that has to be a plus…

  3. Apparently, Holden has not done much research on Mao or on communism either. Communism is a wholly athiestic government that favors personality cults.

    “why are so many liberals so afraid of these people?”
    Do you want a secular reason or a religious reason? Their entire paranoia of Christianity is highly illogical.

    The first church I attended in Texas had a visiting preacher who was very hateful in every sermon. It took me years to want to attend another church. The church I now attend is peaceful, loving, and generous. Liberals tend to focus upon what validates their beliefs and tend to ignore everything else. The true spirit of Christianity is in love and charity.

  4. I saw this movie a couple years ago and, like Mark, found it disturbing because it was so reminiscent of my own churchy upbringing, back in the midwest. The depicted war scene with the kids getting all military only bothered me because it was so stupid, and I remember being a kid and dancing around like a dummy and wondering who was really being positively affected by the performance. I went through all of that, being forced to talk to people about “my” beliefs in the most unnatural way possible, a steady diet of guilt about my imperfection and fear because I was dangling over Hell by a string. What this documentary showed to me was a bunch of scared kids. Though Air America is generally a bad organization, and I know absolutely nothing about the host in the movie, I remember not disagreeing with him. Its been awhile, but I am pretty sure he didn’t bash God either, just religion (which has generally deserved it).

    When I saw the movie, it felt like a memorial to a war that I had survived.

  5. Mike, I’m glad you said that…I kinda felt the same way. Remember the Carman song “God’s Got an Army”? We used to do skits to that one at my church. And because Frank Peretti’s family went to our church in Houston, his books “This Present Darkness” and “Piercing the Darkness” were practically second to the Bible in everyone’s home. (Don’t get me wrong…the man is an excellent writer, but the subject in those two books was openly full-gospel/Pentecostal, almost to the extreme.)

    Mark isn’t calling these folks dangerous, he’s just pointing out what a lot of us understand…that some of the things they believe and teach can come across as being a little bit creepy. I promise there’s a couple of kids in that group who will grow up and come out of the closet. They’ll either look at their childhood the way Mark and I do – through the eyes of those who are cautious but still believe in God – or they’ll go in the complete opposite direction and lead promiscuous lives, as one of my relatives did. Kids who grow up in that culture are taught to value extreme emotions. The high-intensity church services and the attention that comes with speaking in tongues and being slain in the spirit are every bit an addictive drug as any physical substance.

  6. You summed up what I was saying pretty well, Mel. It was my up bringing in the church and being taught I wasn’t worthy of Gods love because of what my Church and Mother taught me. I was worse than a sinner, I was an abomination. It has taken me many years to get to a place in my life where I can worship God again without the restraint of religion.

  7. I haven’t watched it because I knew exactly what it was going to be. Somebody had linked to a clip of it on GayPatriot, a few years back. I watched about a minute of the clip and it confirmed that it’s nothing more than a hit piece geared toward brainwashing young liberal skulls full of mush that all Christians are bad.

  8. I’ve never seen the film, but I appreciate the review. If there is any war, it is a decidedly aggressive war against any kind of religion that values allegiance to God over allegiance and loyalty to the state.

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