2006-09-02

Jesus Camp Cometh


Have you seen movie posters yet for the movie "Jesus Camp"? Are you wondering if perhaps it is some teenage-angst-and-hormone filled cross between "Saved" and "American Pie"? Well, you would be wrong. It is a documentary about a Pentecostal children's ministry camp that is aimed at making elementary-aged children "soldiers for Christ" who will take back this country for Jesus.

It looks like it will: (a) Be fairly biased against conservative Christian believers, and try to paint them/us in a negative light; (b) Make us take a long hard look at the Jesus we are portraying; and (c) Open a great opportunity for dialogue with Christians and Non-Christians about what Jesus is really all about.

Rather than summarize what I have read, let me give you what Wikipedia says (which is pretty good):

"JESUS CAMP follows a group of children to Pastor Becky Fischer's "Kid's on Fire Summer Camp" in Devil's Lake, North Dakota, where kids as young as six years-old are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in God's army. This film follows these children at camp as they hone their prophetic gifts and are schooled in how to take back America for Christ. Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, "Jesus Camp" 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.

During the 2004 Presidential election John Edwards's "Two Americas" speech seemed like a rather unoriginal way to describe the growing divide in this country. But now, after having spent almost a year shuttling back and forth between the religious heartland of Missouri, and home in New York City, the "two Americas" concept has taken on an entirely new meaning. Clearly there are two parallel Americas: and one is a conservative counterculture comprised of tens of millions of Evangelical Christians who feel engaged in a culture war with what they perceive as immorality and godless liberalism. They consume their own news and popular culture via Christian television, radio, and publications, and carefully expose their children both to a literal interpretation of the bible and a call to political activism.

On the surface these kids experience the same things as most middle-class kids: trips to Wal-Mart, homework, sports, dancing to their favorite music, summer camp. But quickly it becomes clear that they are living a version of childhood where devout Christianity is at the center of everything. The music coming out of their stereos may be heavy metal, but it's the Christian take, celebrating the "blood of Jesus." Their homework hails from a strict creation-based curriculum and boys on the soccer team proudly wear red bracelets imprinted with HWJC, short for "How would Jesus compete?"

And when it comes to summer camp, go-carting excursions and the water balloon toss are intermingled with raucous anti-abortion revival meetings.

The camp is a riveting example of a world many Americans either do not understand or dismiss as "fringe" and irrelevant to their own lives. But we felt perhaps they should take a closer look. The people portrayed in this film - white, middle class citizens - are part of an enormous and forceful voting block, an increasingly loud voice in American culture and politics. Together with their children they are preparing not only for Jesus to come back, but to "take back America for Christ."

What is fairly interesting is that the main adult featured in the film, Pastor Becky, has no idea how politically subversive the Gospel is that she is preaching. The Gospel is always subversive to the powers and principalities that control the world, and I find it odd that apparently she was oblivious to the blatantly militaristic Church-and-State message she is feeding her flock. Check out this quote from her website:

”They captured some incredible footage of our children praying, worshipping, warring in the Spirit, being touched powerfully by the Holy Spirit, preaching and prophesying… The surprising twist none of us expected to come out of the film was that it ended up having strong political overtones. "How in the world did that happen?" I kept asking myself and them. I have never ever considered anything we do political in any way.

But through secular eyes tons of things we did was political. For instance, for us evangelical Christians we are commanded in the Word to pray for our government leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-3 NLT, "I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people… Pray this way for kings and all others who are in authority, so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior.") To us this is just obeying our Savior. This is good Christianity. But when we drug out a life size poster of President Bush to teach our kids this scripture, secular eyes saw this as political.

Likewise when we brought out a flag of Israel and taught the kids to pray for the peace of Jerusalem according to scripture (Psalms 122:6 NLT, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May all who love this city prosper.") they saw it as political. Without question then when Lou Engle came the last night and shared his vision of praying for the peaceful overturn of Roe vs. Wade (the court case that made abortion legal in the USA) the filmmakers saw a whole new angle to their film. But this is just good Christianity to us!"

I just find it incredibly odd that she would have no clue that her weaving of Gospel and Conservative political doctrine together is political. And then she blames this observation on "secular eyes", as if the same thing is not blatantly obvious to Christian eyes. This raises the question: Has the "Christian Right" political agenda done something incredible and nearly impossible? Have they effectively raised up a political movement in which the people involved do not even see they are being used as a political power block, but instead just practicing "good Christianity"? Imagine: a whole political movement made up of people who by-and-large think of themselves as a-political, so that they can be used at will for political purposes without ever realizing they are being used. Wow.

Don't get me wrong. I believe in 1Ti 2:1-3 too and practice it every day. In my youth room at Church I have a 8"x10" glossy of George Bush on the side wall with the caption "You may love him, or you may hate him, but God says pray for him. 2Timothy 2:1-3". So, I do not have a problem per se with using a picture of Bush as a focal point (did it have to be life sized?).But what I have a concern about is how someone could do that and NOT see it as blatantly political.

Anyway, it looks like it will be a great, thought provoking film, that will yet again confirm to me that I agree with neither the religious right nor the liberal left in our country.

If you want more info on the film:

Jesus Camp movie website with video clips, pictures, and upcoming theaters:

http://www.jesuscampthemovie.com/

Jesus Camp on Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Camp_Documentary

Pastor Becky's "Kids in Ministry International" website and her interview about the film:

http://kidsinministry.com/Pg1MagnoliaQA.html

Pastor Becky's FIRE Church:

http://kidsinministry.com/FIRECenter/index.html

Rock of Ages Church, where one of the main characters' father is pastor:

http://www.roaministries.org/wc_pastor.htm

Loki Films, the distributor of Jesus Camp:

http://lokifilms.com/site/index.html

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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.