2006-09-24

Jesus Camp: The Most Un-Funny Christians Ever


I just saw the "Jesus Camp" movie with my kids from youth group. It is a stunning, breathtaking, evenly-balanced movie. It will also make you sick. I got nauseous watching it. The whole movie was a continual mix of truth and error, Gospel and Law, God and the devil. It was like riding in the car with a narcoleptic. For a long time you would be driving along just fine, agreeing with what was being presented, and then all of the sudden the driver would fall asleep at the wheel and the car would veer off of the road and crash in flames. And this happened at least a half-dozen times in the movie.

It wasn't like the "religious" people were presented as all evil all the time. They weren't. For the most part they were presented as kind, loving, caring people, who were a little odd. They were the kind of folk that live next door. And then all of the sudden they would drive off of the side of the road into this scary ravine of hate and exclusion and power-politics. And this happened over and over in the movie.

I think the words that best describe the movie are idolatry, warfare, and humorless.

Idolatry, because of the whole emphasis on the U.S. being a "Christian Nation". They pledged allegiance to the American flag, the Christian flag, and the Bible. But they did not pledge allegiance to Jesus. They prayed to a cut-out picture of George Bush, laid hands on the picture, and talked to the picture, asking God to empower the President to make the USA a Christian Nation. But they never asked God about it. They just assumed that President Bush is the anointed Messiah of the Nation. I love our President, but I do not idolize him. They did. And they idolized the power that comes with controlling the political system. There was little concern for love of God or neighbor, and a huge concern for converting people and this Nation to a certain belief system and a certain religious style.

The other main motif was warfare. Us versus Them. Good versus Bad. In the words of one of the mothers: "There are two types of people in the world. Those who love Jesus and those who don't". The children are being trained- not raised- to be soldiers for Christ to take back America for Jesus… and this is all their wording, not mine. This warfare mentality can only result in the marginalization and exclusion of people who are not "like them". You can already see it in the attitudes in the film, and if they take political power, it is only time before such prejudice becomes a matter of public policy.

And not only that, but they did not allow the kids to be kids. The adults did not encourage them to play, they trained them. They indoctrinated them, because according to "Pastor Becky", children do not have the freedom to learn and make choices. Instead, children must be shaped and formed by the adults around them. Now I realize there are some things that must be "indoctrinated", like looking both ways before crossing the street, and not touching stoves. Perhaps the idea that God loves everyone and will save everyone through Jesus is another idea that must be constantly re-emphasized. After all, parents do have a responsibility to nourish their kids with both physical AND spiritual food.

But, it is quite another thing to make them into little soldiers, and put them to work as little door-to-door evangelists. For instance, the Christians in the film came up with a brilliant way to silently protest abortion by putting red tape over people's mouths that said "LIFE" on it. This was designed to signify that a human life had been silenced by abortion. It was visually stunning and effective, and since I believe that life is sacred from womb to tomb, I think it is a good idea. Well, a good idea for adults who can make a choice about what they choose to protest. Not to make kids do, even if the kids think they want to do it. They are simply too young to be "put to work" in the Name of Jesus. They have no real choice, and no informed understanding of the issue beyond what their caregivers feed them. Thus, their protest is meaningless because they do not have the ability to choose to NOT protest!

We don’t make kids work in sweatshops anymore. Why? Because childhood is about learning and development and play, and to make kids work like adults short-circuits the growth process in kids. I want to put forward the idea that the kids in this movie were being made to work in a "spiritual sweatshop", when they should have been enjoying the innocence, beauty, and play of being a kid. Pastor Becky loaded them down with guilt and dreams of empire and idolatry in the Name of Christ, and that just ain't right!

And finally, perhaps most critically: there was absolutely NO sense of humor in the Jesus Campers that was not directed at making fun of those on the "outside". Sure, they could crack jokes about how stupid the evolutionists and the liberals were, but they could not laugh at themselves. They were always dead serious about their mission, and their warfare with the world. And that is a spiritually deadly place to be in. Because humor IS humility with a smile on, and those who cannot laugh at themselves cannot be humble.

The religion of Jesus Camp is a very clever look-alike to Christianity. It uses the Name of Jesus a whole lot, but not for Jesus' sake. Rather, Jesus is used for the sake of other things, such as making America a Christian Nation and getting oneself out of hellfire. Jesus is used as a means to an end. And when Jesus is used as a means, that means that Jesus is not in the center of the religion. Rather, an idol has been placed in the center… and we know where that leads. It leads to an idolatrous system that divides the world into two "camps" of Us versus Them, and then proceeds to wage war on the Them. It sucks the joy out of life and leaves us with a humorless idolatry that is deadly serious about its own mission, and scornful of anything that is important to anyone else.

May God show us all how to passionately follow Jesus in a way that does not lead us to Jesus Camp. Amen+
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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.