Jodi and I watched Jesus Camp (documentary) the other day, and found it to be quite an interesting movie. Even more interesting were the comments I read online afterward which pointed out that, as a documentary with no narration (ie – it’s the fundamentalists in their own words), this documentary is appreciated by both fundamentalist types and those who find it to be a scary development. I suspect it’s pretty rare that both sides of an issue see the documentary and think it “proves their side”, so it’s a sign of a good documentary.
The documentary covers a number of young people at their homes, at their local church, around their neighborhood, and when they go off to a North Dakota fundamentalist/evangelical summer camp (where they do things like praying to “bless” a cardboard cut-out of George W Bush and cry/speak-in-tongues passing around plastic representations of a 7-week-old aborted fetus). It also covers a couple of the primary “preachers” (most present in the documentary was a children’s minister named Becky).
Proving my point that “both sides” find value in this documentary, I found the perspective of the fundamentalists in the movie to be terrifying. The children seem brainwashed (comments about “wanting something more from life” when one participant was only 5 years old and the vacant-looks of the one girl who was constantly searching for opportunities to “preach” to people in order to please her parents). The scene in the bowling alley where the vacant-eyed girl put another bowler (not with their party) on the spot about God’s plan was just over the top, and her parents were so proud of this socially unacceptable behavior. While, the other perspective on this, of course, is how wonderful it is that these young people have found their way so early and so absolutely.
Funniest point in the movie: While they were going around the lunch table talking about how terrible Harry “the Warlock/Satanist” Potter was and how they wouldn’t want to watch these movies or read the books EVEN IF their parents would let them, when we came to one young man (clearly a disappointment to his parents) who furtively pointed out that his mom didn’t let him see the movie but his dad took him (implying that he liked the movie). Oh, the humanity! The looks of horror from his fellow tablemates were absolutely precious… they clearly didn’t understand what to do when someone went “off script” from what the adults were prompting the kids to do.
Scariest part of the movie: When Pastor Becky commented that the radical fundamentalist Muslims have it right — they get to the kids when they’re young and impressionable and brainwash them (of course she didn’t use this word) into becoming part of “Gods Army”. She implied that we have a lot to learn from them and should emulate this sort of training to create our own ultra-nationalist “Christian army”. Wow.
Most ironic moment(s) in the movie: When some of the young, impressionable kids make a trip to the mega-church where Ted Haggard was preaching (this was before his “downfall”). Ted says some incredibly ironic things in the context of God knowing about sin (“I KNOW what you were doing last night”, etc). The simple fact that these young people were “idolizing” this preacher and his ultra-conservative message while he was secretly living a double-life adds an interesting — and quite likely initially unintended — angle to an already great documentary.
If you’re worried about the direction our country is going (whether you think it’s going “straight to hell ever since we took prayer out of school” or whether your opinion is that “the necessary and constitutional separation of church and state is crumbling”), this is a movie that’ll speak to you. Recommended.