Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jesus Camp

I’ve been avoiding seeing this movie for the past couple of years only to be goaded into it again and again by friends who say: “You’ve got to see this.”  


For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is extremely interesting no matter what side of things you sit on.  It is a documentary that follows three kids and a children’s pastor through several worship experiences and camp experiences. 

The children’s pastor, Becky Fischer, is a Pentecostal preacher who boasts of giving hour-long sermons to children ages 5-12 (at least, by their looks, that is how old they seem to be.)  The sermons and themes of the services and activities talked about sin, repentance, politics, the supreme court, the president, abortion, creationism, science and more. 

Because it is pentecostal, you do see many kids speaking in tongues and openly weeping, dancing, yelling, and singing during the services. 

The film is pretty darn balanced and unbiased by the filmmakers to the point where, Becky Fischer uses the film as a resume to show what she can do in ministry, AND atheist and agnostic websites use it as proof to show that Christianity is ‘brainwash.’  For this balanced filmmaking alone, it is an interesting movie to watch. 

It also got a ton of notoriety because it has some short scenes with Ted Haggard and was released right during his controversial scandal in Colorado Springs.

This documentary took me through a range of emotions.  I think I was on edge because I felt like the kids were going to be ‘used’ and ‘exploited’ by the filmmakers in order to over sell the plot of the movie.  I was extremely pleased that this never seemed to happen. 

Through the movie the kids are being interviewed about their church, their musical choices, their home school, their camp experiences etc. and the kids all come across as extremely articulate and well-spoken.  Every kid interviewed was a thoughtful and interesting child.  I expected that they were going to be portrayed as soulless zombies, maybe this is my own prejudice which I think is more directed at the media and filmmakers than evangelicals or pentecostals as a whole. 

Personally, I would have loved to have any of those kids hanging out with my family.  They were all very well behaved and kind to each other, and were still kids who played and were silly and fun.  So kudos to the kids and to the filmmakers.

That being said, I was blown away at what Fischer does in the name of Children’s ministry.  Preaching for an hour.  Making young young children repent of their sins.  Demanding that they open their mouths and speak in tongues.  Bringing in speakers who would give sermons about how it is the kids job to be a generation that ends abortion.  Making them chant ‘righteous judges’ at the end of the abortion talk. 

From what was shown on the video, every sermon and topic that they talked about was ‘against’ something.  They were against abortion, sin, judges, the government, the worldly powers (Fischer, at the beginning, gave a sermon about this ‘disgusting, icky world we live in’).  They were against secular movies and music.  Against, against, against.  They were never ‘for’ anything at all. 

It was interesting that they gave a boy named Levi, who I am guessing was 10 or 11 years old an opportunity to preach at the camp.  He was every bit as articulate as the adult speakers were.  And he was more positive about his topic than any of the other speakers were as he talked about them being the ‘key generation.’

Personally, I do believe that the camp was manipulative.  I think that the subject matter was far too serious and old for most of the kids in the room.  But I do believe that the filmmakers made a big mistake in the movie by branding this camp as evangelical rather than pentecostal.  The fact that they linked this pentecostal movement with Haggard’s church and thus the millions and millions of evangelicals in America made this movie more inflammatory.  This type of pentecostal children’s ministry is practiced all over the country in pentecostal churches which are only a segment of the evangelical community, but the vast majority of ‘evangelical’ churches are far more moderate than Fischer. 

Talking to little children about repentance is pretty rough too and I personally think quite damaging to a young psyche.  For all of the negative deconstruction and manipulation, it was a wonder how the kids were so much more balanced than the adults.  In the reviews that I read of this movie, several talked about how horrible the abortion message was.  Personally, again, the kids were too young to be told that they are the generation that has to fix the problem.  (I imagined the kids yelling back to the speaker saying: ‘why doesn’t your generation do anything constructive about it?’)

I wasn’t quite as frustrated by that message as I was about the speaker telling the kids that their generation should fix it and getting so political as to talk about Bush and the Righteous Judges, and telling them that one third of the people that would have been at that camp were dead because their parents aborted them, and all of that stuff.  In fact, each of the speakers seemed to be trying to get a positive response from the few adults in the backs of the room and parents more than they were trying to get a response from the kids.  I felt like all of them really wanted to be preaching to adults with these exact same messages. 

The movie makes me feel gross after watching it.  Not because the whole evangelical community is this way, but more because these are such fun and interesting kids that seem to be stuck under the agenda of their parents and church, and they might totally miss the gospel because of all they are told that they need to be against.

How many good and solid people are being told so much about what they need to be against that they really are never for anything?  Just wondering.

The comic scene near the beginning of the movie that really sets you against Fischer though is when she is preaching about America and saying how Muslim parents train their kids from the age of 5 to fast during the month of Ramadan, while “americans just sit around on their couches and they are so fat, and lazy.”  Fischer is quite overweight herself and this seems comical to me. 

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