No documentary is unbiased, and neither is any movie review. The film Jesus Camp isn’t just critical of the movement it portrays, but is outraged and alarmed by it. Yes, the film stacks the deck. But when up against Goliath, David needs all the help he can get.
Jesus Camp takes you inside the churches, homes, and especially a certain summer camp, of Pentecostals, to see how they’re raising their kids. Regardless of what you think of home schooling for religious reasons, and the ultra-conservative view of the world that’s being inculcated, what’s disturbing here is the force. One of the parents says, "God gave me this daughter to train." Not "raise," not "nurture" — "train". Becky Fischer, a youth pastor who is center stage in much of the film, says, "I don’t think children are capable of making choices." When she asks a group of kids whether God is all-powerful, a mother takes hold of her child’s arm and raises it for him.
The bulk of the film takes place at Becky’s Kids on Fire summer camp in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota. Compassion, gentleness, and tolerance have no place here; the imagery is violent. As they pour syrup on their pancakes, kids are told to pray for Jesus’ blood to be poured on a godless nation. They are presented with a hammer, and are told to shatter our evil government that took Jesus out of the schools. They are told that the Devil is after the young. Becky says, "If Harry Potter had lived during the Old Testament, he would have been put to death." Becky would have thrown the first stone.
"I want these kids radicalized," Becky says, comparing her camp to a militant Islamic training ground. "I want them to make war." She’s working on a PowerPoint presentation. On the screen are two words: "Sin" and "Death". Not scary enough. She changes the font. Now, the letters have blood dripping down them. No wonder so many of these kids have tears literally pouring down their faces as they speak in tongues.
If this group just wanted to opt out of society, that would be their right. But as portrayed in the film, they want their world to become the entire world, starting with reversing America’s 200-year-Constitutional-separation of church and state. "Democracy is destroying this country because it gives too many people freedom," Becky says.
In its zeal to indict, Jesus Camp fails to make the case that the Kids on Fire camp represents the views of most Evangelical Protestants. According to a 2005 Newsweek poll, more than half of Evangelicals said that those who don’t subscribe to their religious beliefs can still get into heaven. That leaves a lot more middle ground than the film credits them for. American public life swings between liberal and conservative like a pendulum, with a tendency to find the center. Let’s hope so.
Post-scriptum: Pastor Ted Haggard, pastor of the 14,000 member Evangelical New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is seen in the film decrying homosexuality. He was fired shortly after the film’s release amidst allegations of sex with a male escort, and methamphetamine abuse.
This and other theater and music reviews can be read, listened to, or podcast by going to wfiu.indiana.edu. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.