opens in selected theaters September 15, 2006
The assertion by many liberals that right wing, conservative Christians are trying to take over the government stands front and center in a heated debate over the separation of church and state. But does the “us vs. them” mentality really exist in America today?
In their documentary, “Jesus Camp,” filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady consider that question as they focus on Becky Fischer, Pentecostal children’s minister and director of Kids in Ministry International, and her intense “Kids on Fire” summer camp that trains evangelical children to be ministers of the gospel. Providing a view from the other side of the faith fence are occasional segments with Mike Papantonio, attorney and co-host of the radio show, “Ring of Fire,” which airs on the Air America radio network.
Filmmakers Ewing and Grady remain fairly unbiased, letting the Christians in the film speak for themselves about their faith and Fischer’s camp, which is held each summer in (ironically) Devil’s Lake, ND. It offers kids the usual camp activities like go karts and cheerleading, but focuses mainly on training kids to be warriors for Christ.
That phrase – warriors for Christ – is inflammatory, but raising an army of Christians who will go on to influence government and American culture is exactly what Fischer’s doing at her camp, and she makes no apologies for it.
“I want to see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam,” Fischer says early in the film. “I want to see them radically laying down their lives for the gospel as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine and all of these different places.”
The question I kept asking myself was, what exactly is the “cause of Jesus Christ” that Fischer is encouraging these kids to commit themselves to?
Grace, salvation, forgiveness and eternal life are central to the gospel of Christ, and as an evangelical Christian, I agree that it’s important to learn early on how to share that faith.
But what had my stomach in knots for much of the film is the manipulative, militant bent that Fischer uses to indoctrinate the kids with a call that goes beyond evangelism and crosses over into political activism.
Fischer uses a lot of war references and talk about enemies, referring not just to a battle against the devil but against political leaders who support abortion and those opposed to Christianity in general.
In what was the most disturbing and chilling scene of the documentary, a speaker talks candidly to the kids about abortion, explaining, “One third of your friends could be here tonight but they never made it.” He challenges the kids to “raise up a moral outcry and overturn abortion,” and by the end of the session these grade schoolers are in a shouting frenzy, pumping their fists in the air and parroting his call for “Righteous judges! Righteous judges!”
“Jesus Camp” has already won several awards, including Special Documentary Jury Prize at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival and the SilverDocs Sterling Award at the 2006 SilverDocs.
It also won the Scariest Movie Award when it was screened by Michael Moore at the Traverse City Film Festival, which is no surprise. People like Moore often foster a stereotype that all Christians are ignorant and bent on taking over the government for their own religious gain, and while I obviously don’t agree with that generalization, the documentary is certainly fodder for their argument. The parents and pastors often come off looking like religious zealots bent on indoctrinating their young children with a political agenda. Add in Christians praying over a cardboard cut-out of George Bush, a call to grade school children that asks, “How many of you want to be those who would give up their lives for Jesus?”, and a young girl who thinks being a martyr is “cool” and it’s no wonder mainstream America views Christians with fear and mistrust.
Clearly Fischer genuinely cares about the kids, and at the end of the film she explains that she’s driven to share the message of salvation for eternal life.
The problem is that the message of grace got lost somewhere in the militant mindset.
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