Jesus Camp

It is nigh impossible to write a film review about a documentary that doesn’t offer an opinion on the subject matter, and I would never promise to be objective when reviewing a documentary. I just watched the 2006 documentary Jesus Camp on Netflix; I was almost speechless through the entire thing. In reading the many reviews of the film, I realized that I’m not the only one who is incapable of objectively reviewing a documentary.

From the opening frame of the film, there is no middle ground. Not one inch of it. Directors Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing made clear from the outset that the entire film was basically a view from both extremes – both pro- and anti-religion. Specifically they targeted Christianity, and it is clear that they see Judeo-Christian beliefs as the greatest threat to our country, worse than militant Islam and Sharia-loving immigrants who believe in honor killings regardless of which country they’re in. The film opens with shots of the highways of Missouri with sound clips from various well-known Christian evangelists superimposed over the noise of traffic and trees blowing in the wind. Most notable is the sound clip of James Dobson, describing what Christians should be doing in America.

In one corner stood Pentecostal children’s minister Becky Fischer, head of the “Kids on Fire” Christian summer camp where kids are taught to be radical believers, open about their faith and unafraid to stand up for their beliefs. In the other stood Mike Papantonio, a trial lawyer and Air America talk show host. The majority of the film centered around Fischer and her camp…but any time heavy emotions were displayed during chapel services at the kids’ camp, sinister background music droned, driving home the directors’ belief that the children at this camp are being brainwashed to destroy America as they believe it should be.

Papantonio accents the directors’ beliefs during the total of three times he’s on. He is openly portrayed as the voice of reason in what is meant to be the madness of the religious fervor in the rest of the film. Middle ground that would point out the flaws on both sides is entirely nonexistent in this film. Multiple times he describes the religious people being portrayed throughout as “crazy”. The big showdown comes at the end, when Fischer calls in to Papantonio’s program and talks to him. To be fair, she does claim that she’s not pushing politics, when it is clear that she does so frequently. She does so under the guise that Christians need to pray for America to turn back to God, then takes it a step further by pointing out specific issues that the kids are expected to believe a certain way about.

Even then, however, you can’t really call what she’s teaching dangerous. I wouldn’t want most Christian beliefs to be written into law, and the Constitution overtly prevents such a thing from happening; but you can’t call their teachings dangerous. New York Times reporter Stephen Holden writes, “a mountainous woman of indefatigable good cheer, Ms. Fischer makes no bones about her expectation that the growing evangelical movement in the United States will one day end the constitutional ban separating church and state.” This is untrue; she never says anything about striking down the so-called “Wall of Separation”, she only talks about America turning back to God (and there is no Constitutional ban separating church and state – the separation clause isn’t even in the First Amendment, it was in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to a Baptist church whose congregation was concerned about rumors of a state-sponsored church).

Holden continues, “at Kids on Fire we see children in camouflage and face paint practicing war dances with wooden swords and making straight-armed salutes to a soundtrack of Christian heavy metal. We see them weeping and speaking in tongues as they are seized by the Holy Spirit. And we see them in Washington at an anti-abortion demonstration.” This is dishonestly presented. I grew up in that culture, and I can tell you that the war that is taught is a purely spiritual one. It is meant to teach kids that the spiritual is every bit as important as the physical in terms that they can understand. In painting this type of picture, Holden – and the directors who filmed it in such a manner – are trying to raise images of Hitler Youth in people’s minds.

Incredibly, Holden ends with, “it wasn’t so long ago that another puritanical youth army, Mao Zedong’s Red Guards, turned the world’s most populous country inside out. Nowadays the possibility of a right-wing Christian American version of what happened in China no longer seems entirely far-fetched.” This is pure hysteria. Holden has apparently never visited Berkeley, California. The only so-called Christians interested in forcing religious law on this country are the Phelpsians, and they’re not even recruiting.

What’s more, Holden’s review isn’t the only far-left piece of tripe written to praise this film.

Jesus Camp is a brazen attempt to paint Christians as a group of extremists on the edge, prepared to take to violence to force America to become a theocracy. It’s an accusation that is entirely untrue.

I have to ask…why are so many liberals so afraid of these people? Why is this sort of “indoctrination” so dangerous? When was the last time a holy-rolling Christian kid walked into their school with a gun and started taking potshots at their classmates? When was the last time we heard on the news that a group of home-schooled kids were caught roaming the streets and terrorizing innocent people? Eric Harris, long believed to be the mastermind of the Columbine shooting that left 12 students and one teacher dead and scores wounded, walked into his school on April 20, 1999 wearing a plain white tee shirt that said “natural selection” in bold, black lettering. There is no doubt what he and Dylan Klebold believed about God and their Christian classmates, whom they taunted as they murdered them.

Papantonio blasts Fischer and those like her as somehow hindering the advancement of our society. If school shootings, carjackings, assassinations and sky-high murder rates are the advancement he was after, count me out. I’m not interested.

I’d rather be at Jesus Camp.