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:
Jesus Camp on Wikipedia:
Pastor Becky's "Kids in Ministry International" website and her interview about the film:
Pastor Becky's FIRE Church:
Rock of Ages Church, where one of the main characters' father is pastor:
Loki Films, the distributor of Jesus Camp:

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Tiber Jumper:

I am sorry to delete your comment, but I do not "do" advertisements. If you had an actual substantive comment, I would not have deleted your comment. But I hate ads. Especially when done by people in the name of Christ or His Church. Don't do "drive by blogging" in the name of Jesus or Catholicism, my friend. You dishonor both.

I deeply value comments from people, but not advertisements. If you want to advertise (or evangelize) people, and get them to watch EWTN conversion stories, then use your own blog for that. Please do not use other people's blogs as advertising space. I am very sympathetic to Roman Catholicism, and have nearly "crossed the Tiber" on several occasions, and even now do not absolutely rule it out as a future option.

One of the reasons I have thought so seriously about Catholicism is my experience with, and deep reservations about, Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism (both of which are well represented by "Jesus Camp"). As of now, my main reasons for thinking about, and rejecting, conversion to Catholicism or Orthodoxy is found in the following posts (especially the first one):

http://natebostian.blogspot.com/2005/08/will-nate-ever-go-catholic.html

http://natebostian.blogspot.com/2006/02/open-letter-to-those-thinking-of.html

http://natebostian.blogspot.com/2006/03/we-fixed-wedding-now-lets-work-on.html

http://natebostian.blogspot.com/2006/03/just-what-was-philosophical.html

http://natebostian.blogspot.com/2005/11/happy-reformation-day.html

And for anyone who thinks it is unfair for me to delete Tiber Jumper's advertisement, you can visit his own blog and talk to him about it. It seems like a pretty good post-protestant blog… just please, don't do "drive by blogging" and use other people's comments as advertisements. Thanks!

Here is TJ's blog (and what he was advertising):
http://crossed-the-tiber.blogspot.com/2006/08/donut-man-converts-to-catholicism.html

Chris said...

2 things.
first. u seem really hard on getting me(anyone who reads it) to see that she was either lieing or blind toward the political thing. im not to sure as to why your focus is on that so much. i would much rather hear more about your opinion on the other things.
second. the top of your page, in that box thingy, it says copyright from 1996 - 2005, can i use the 2006 entries without having to site you??

Anonymous said...

Chris,

To reply in reverse order:

Second: Ha! Not any more! 2006 baby!

First: Here's the deal on the political thingy.

(1) I don't think she is lying. I think she is genuinely unaware.

(2) I harp on the political thing because mixing religion and politics is dangerous, and eventually destroys religion with political power. I guess the two big ways it does this are:

(a) The government, when controlled by religion, eventually starts trying to legislate religious and moral compliance. It falls into the error that if we just pass enough laws, we will have a Christian nation filled with people who behave nicely. But what you get is a nation filled with hollow, self-righteous people on one side, and bitter, resentful people on the other side. Both will outwardly comply with "the Law" to some extent, but neither will have a true relationship with God. They will just do their "duty" and remain separated from God because of pride, on one side, and resentment, on the other.

Now, these tendencies are in society WITHOUT government legislation of religious compliance, but legislation makes them worse. Furthermore, the entire Old Testament, when viewed from one perspective, is a 1500 year case study on why combining religion and politics does not work. The Religious-State was what they had since the beginning of the Davidic Kingdom, and did it ever work? No. Did killing all of the infidels to ensure a pure Religious-State work? No. Read Joshua and Judges. As soon as they killed and kicked out all of the infidels from the Promised Land, the Jews IMMEDIATELY began falling away, both into idolatry and into immorality- and that with a tight legal system that legislated every aspect of life!

(b) When religion and state are combined, sooner or later the Crusades or Jihad begins. It is inevitable. Those who are not properly religious go from being legislated against, to being seen as enemies of the state, to being exterminated. Look at the history of Islam, Christianity, and the Jewish people. Time after time after time it happens. And it never works (see above).

I hope I do not have to tell you that Jihad is completely contrary to Christ's plan for spreading the Gospel. And I think it is fairly obvious that forced "conversion" is contrary to the Gospel as well.

And I think it is quite obvious that the type of Christianity represented by "Jesus Camp" is tending toward the Church-State union in a big way. It buys into the myth that America has been, or can be, a "Christian" nation. I want to put forward the idea that Christian is not an adjective to be tacked onto something like "Republican" or "Democratic" or "Conservative" or "Liberal". Christian is a noun. It refers to a person who is a "little-christ", a Christ-ian. It cannot and should not be used to refer to a nation, a political party, or a style of music or art. Perhaps it could refer to a family of persons as "Christians". But it cannot refer to something impersonal, any more than human can refer to something impersonal.

Yes, we can have a Nation made up of mainly professing Christians, and elected officials who are Christian. But we can't have a "Christian Nation" or "Christian politics". Perhaps a nation who's governmental structure is founded on Biblical principals is a possibility, but not a "Christian government".

Anyway, I think there are some huge flaws in the theology and practice of the so-called "Religious Right" in this country. The foremost of which are issues like those listed above. Secondarily, I think that "Evangelicalism" needs to look at the following:

- They tend to over-focus on the life of a Christian as a one-shot conversion experience (i.e. being born-again, or being filled with the Spirit), instead of as a journey with Jesus.

- They tend to have a rather simplistic either-or approach to issues of Truth, when in fact Truth is usually a matter of more or less. For instance, Islam is not fully wrong. It is mostly true about a whole lot of things it says about God and morality. It is partly true about Jesus (they have a higher view of Jesus than some liberal Christians!), but it is also partly false (they deny he is God and that he died and rose again).

- They have a flawed view of how the Church relates to culture. They see the Church as an "invading army" instead of a group of servant-missionaries following the example of Jesus.

- They tend toward emotional manipulation in the way they Evangelize and try to get people to convert to Christ.

- They tend to make the Gospel all about getting out of hell and into heaven, rather than about living in God's Love through Jesus Christ by the power of His Spirit.

- They tend to confuse right doctrine with right relationship with God. They think if we know all of the right stuff, then we are OK in God's sight. That is the one of the errors of the Pharisees. They knew all the right stuff, but their hearts were far away from God (see Mat 23). Because they confuse knowledge with spirituality, they tend to emphasize being right over being good and loving.

- They tend to put the Bible in the place of God in worship. The Bible is our primary tool to get to God, but it is only a tool. Not God.

I could go on and on, but I am tired. These are some things that bother me.

Chris said...

Just to name a few. Right? I emailed u inregards to this post. with more thoughts and questions. when did getting to know Christ the right way get so confusing and pushed under the rug to be over looked and forgotten.

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.