Friday, February 02, 2007

Jesus Camp

Well, I watched Jesus Camp, a documentary about a Charismatic Kid's Camp in North Dakota. There was a great deal of media buzz about it last year when it opened in select cities across America. And now that it is on DVD and is more widespread people may start talking about it. It's been reviewed positively and negatively, in regards to content. Both Fundamentalist Christians and Leftist Secular Humanists hold it up for their "case".

I want to address some of the content of the movie and some of the "backlash" that this film has generated. As a Evangelical Christian youth pastor, I can relate to some of the statements made by Becky Fischer, the children's minister. She articulates her beliefs passionately in the film.

The directors have claimed that they in now way edited the content to be bias or prop up an agenda of any kind, but I disagree with their claims.

Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady

First, there is an overwhelming sense that a political message is being droned into these kids. Over and over in the film there is a "war" rhetoric that the Christians in the film use. "This means war!", Fischer shouts over and over to her kids at camp. There is a scene in which some kids are doing an interpretive dance presentation in war paint. The kids themselves talk in warrior metaphors and claim that they would gladly die for Jesus. Once or twice it is put into true biblical perspective.
" For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." Ephesians 6:12
There are several scenes in which a political slant is given to all that the camp leaders do. The intent I believe was to focus on the portrayal that religion is evil indoctrination and brainwashing done to children. They allow the audience to view Fischer's statements about Islamic fascists training their children to be suicide bombers as the same as Christian's training their kids at Bible camp. There is a major difference from praying about our leaders, judges and nation, than blowing people up in the name of Allah. Yes there are Christian extremists who bomb abortion clinics, and shoot abortion doctors. But, that is not being taught by mainline Evangelical churches, nor I believe the intention of Fischer and her camp leadership.

There is a lot of speaking in tongues in this movie. There is one scene in which one of the girls is crying and praying and speaking in tongues uncontrollably. There is no way any of the non-Christians watching this film are going to understand that. Speaking in tongues is a hotly debated issue in Evagelicalism. Charismatics let it rip. While others believe that this is a private thing between the believer and God. Speaking in tongues is debated so many places that it's not worth the time here to talk about it. This is a secular film that is freely watched by anyone and I don't think that aspect of worship is going to be understood by unbelievers.

1.a method for systematically changing attitudes or altering beliefs, originated in totalitarian countries, esp. through the use of torture, drugs, or psychological-stress techniques.
2.any method of controlled systematic indoctrination, esp. one based on repetition or confusion: brainwashing by TV commercials. instance of subjecting or being subjected to such techniques: efforts to halt the brainwashing of captive audiences.

The protagonist is a radio talk show host on Air America. Mike Papantonio, host of Ring of Fire, claims to be raised a Christian in the film, but takes an issue with the kid's camp. He has obvious political leanings himself and on a Good Morning America interview comes down on Homeschool Moms who teach their kids that Global Warming is a myth and the earth is only 6,000 years old. Global Warming is something that in the year that the doc was made probably did not have the coverage or information as readily available as it has since An Inconvenient Truth came out. As far as young earth creationism is concerned, well Christians debate that as much as we debate Speaking in Tongues. In Part 2 of the interview, Fischer claims that the Disney company, parent of ABC in which GMA is on, promotes witchcraft and indoctrinates in a more subtle way. It is about the minds of kids. Impressionable kids. Whether kids should feel grief over sin. At one point Papantonio suspects whether or not a five year old knows what sin is or has even commited a sin. In the interview both he and the GMA host, snicker over stealing a cookie from the cookie jar as a five year olds sin. This is obviously the problem with most people. There is no concept of what sin really is. Sin is not something that only makes you feel guilty or shameful. They believe that is is about feeling bad. If something makes you feel bad, then it is sin. If it makes you feel good and isn't hurting anyone then it's not really a sin. One review of the film, says, "I cringed at every tear these children shed for sins they never committed." (Emphasis mine). The truth that Christians cling to and are responsible to teach children is that sin is something that grieves God's heart and does not meet His standard of holiness. His standard - not ours. The "emotional" response then that the children have over repentance in the film is not guilt or sadness. In most cases if they were asked, the children would probably have said that they are weeping because they love God and want to please Him because of His great love for us.

Some claim this film exposes Christian child abuse and manipulation. That Christians are brainwashing kids to follow doctrine. "Brainwashing" carries such a negative context doesn't it. How do we teach at school's without a little "brainwashing"? How do we teach kids to follow common laws without a little "brainwashing"? Thinking for ourselves is something we Westerners hold dear. But, are we really comparing Bible camps to Sudanese militant camps? People are saying that it is no different than to Islamic fundamentalists teaching their kids how to kill in the Jihad. Is it really? I have done several Christian summer camps. I have never experienced a time when we told kids to kill people in the name of Jesus. Quite the contrary happened. We asked kids if they were willing to lay down their lives, literally and symbolically for Jesus. Were they willing to die to share the love and message of Jesus? Because, believe it or not there are people who will kill them for being Christian. And there are aspects of our life that we are to "kill" for Jesus - attitudes and actions that do not glorify Christ in our lives.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

Ad Hominum
There have been several immature reviewers that attack Fischer. Not because they disagree with her message or even her methods. Rather, they have chosen to attack her personally. One message boarder at IMDB writes, "there's a secret footage that explains why she eats so much and why she hates herself so much." It's sad really.

Documentaries recently, have agenda's and have point of views that they are trying to get out. And that comes through in this film. It is easy to see that the film makers had a particular way they wanted the audience to see the material. They gave you the conclusion by showing images that looked extreme and situations taken out of context. Bottom line, they did not want you to come away from this film with a good feeling about Evangelical Christian Kid camps. They led the viewer to believe that political indoctrination was supreme and that loving people was somewhere down on the list. They may have with all good intentions desired to show an unbiased look at "Evangelicalism". There is no mention in the film that Fischer and her bible camp have a charismatic slant. For those unfamiliar with Christianity they will undoubtedly come away from this film shocked and dismayed. Quite frankly, those Christians that do not "speak in tongues" this film will be a little weird. It all reminded me of Bowling For Columbine, how Michael Moore lays out his America's afraid and the government is keeping us that way opinion. And then he rode it all through the film. This little doc does the same thing - "Evangelicals" are indoctrinating their kids in religious right wing politics and they ride it all the way through the film. Fischer's passionate speeches are edited in such a way that the viewer has to come away with a feeling that she is a crazy radical brainwashing child abuser, especially if the viewer has no idea what any of the Christian rhetoric is about.

Watch Jesus Camp and think about it's content.