CT Movies editor Mark Moring comments on the just-released documentary "Jesus Camp" in his weekly CT At The Movies email;
THOSE WACKY CHRISTIANS
The official synopsis for Jesus Camp, a new documentary opening in limited release this week, reads:
"A growing number of Evangelical Christians believe there is a revival underway in America that requires Christian youth to assume leadership roles in advocating the causes of their religious movement. Jesus Camp … follows Levi, Rachael, and Tory to Pastor Becky Fischer's Kids on Fire summer camp in Devil's Lake, North Dakota, where kids as young as 6 years old are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in 'God's army.' The film follows these children at camp as they hone their 'prophetic gifts' and are schooled in how to 'take back America for Christ.' The film 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."
What the synopsis doesn't say is that this is no typical Christian summer camp, that these aren't typical Christian kids, and that this is not a typical evangelical church. This is a very charismatic and rather unusual slice of the Pentecostal church in America—complete with speaking in tongues, uncontrollable shaking on the floor, and wild-eyed prophetic utterances … even by the children. (The directors told us they had what appeared to be an exorcism on tape, but opted not to include it in the final cut because it was just too freaky.)
These are good kids—nice, articulate, caring, sensitive, bright. But they're not typical—at least not in my experience, nor that of most evangelicals I know. The synopsis above is correct in that they are clearly being taught "to become dedicated Christian soldiers in 'God's army." On the surface, there's nothing wrong with that; I'm a parent too, and I'm teaching my own sons how to grow in the faith, and they're well aware of spiritual warfare and the need to wear God's armor. But Jesus Camp shows a slice of the church that seems to take that thinking to the point of fanaticism—so that it looks more like these kids are being "indoctrinated" rather than being merely "taught."
Now, to be clear, I'm convinced that the people in this film are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I don't think this is a cult or anything. I think they're Christians who, like most Christians I know, are simply doing the best they can to grow in faith, to teach their children well, and to spread the gospel.
But my concern is this: What will those on the outside think? Jesus Camp is getting a lot of buzz in the mainstream media, and as the film releases to more and more theaters in the coming weeks, curious non-believers are going to check it out. And many of them will leave the theater thinking, Sheesh, Christians are weird.
That's a bummer. I realize that a documentary about "typical" Christians may not be very interesting. Hey, if they filmed my family, it'd be pretty boring: There's dad watching ESPN again. There's Mom making dinner. There's the older son playing PS2. There's the younger son running cross country. And hey, there they are praying together on Sunday night. Blah blah blah. Very run of the mill, everyday stuff. But I think that's typical of most Christians' lives.
Most of us aren't "slain in the Spirit" and shaking on the floor and speaking in tongues. Most of us aren't urging our kids to come to the altar to lay hands on a life-size cardboard cutout of George W. Bush, weeping and wailing as they pray. Most of us aren't handing detailed plastic replicas of aborted fetuses to our first graders to pass around the room. I could go on, but you get the picture. Again, I'm not saying these things are wrong. I'm just saying they're not typical. But when mainstream America sees this film, they're likely to believe it's typical—that all Christians are like that—and that's the unfortunate thing.
Read more about the film in our interview with the directors. And check the film's official website to see when it might be playing in your neck of the woods. It is worth watching, I'll say that much.