Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Jesus Camp.. Not A Review..

This is a documentary that we have wanted to watch for a year. There was a chance to do just that last Spring which is when we first heard of it. The tiny town of Newark, DE was hosting it’s second annual film festival at the local movie house. We did see the amazing documentary about the New York Times crossword puzzle contest here. While we were talking to the festival organizer about how the festival, she told us about “Jesus Camp”, and told us a bit about the documentary. She recommended it highly and she said as the daughter of a minister she could understand the rather dark underbelly of religion. We finally saw it over the weekend.

A bit about the documentary..

Jesus Camp

Rated PG-13

85 mins

Theatrical: Sep 15, 2006
Video: Jan 23, 2007

Magnolia Pictures

A growing number of Evangelical Christians believe there is a revival underway in America whereby Christian youth must take up the leadership of the conservative Christian movement.

JESUS CAMP, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (The Boys of Baraka), follows Levi, Rachael, Tory and a number of other young children 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. -- © Loki Films


I have to say I was chilled to the bone after seeing this documentary, and it is a wake up call to those of us who think that what some on the evangelical right do does not affect us. The mere apathy of a lot of citizens in my country who do not vote or follow politics always amazes me.

The directors follow mostly three evangelical Christian kids (Levi, Rachael and Tory) from Lee's Summit, Missouri, a suburb of Kansas City as they get ready to visit the “Kids On Fire School of Ministry” near Devil’s Lake in North Dakota. The camp is run by Becky Fisher and her ministry that calls itself “Kids in ministry international”. As the film moves to North Dakota, we learn a bit more about the lives of these kids. They are all devout Christians and to hear them talk about their version of Christianity and how it should shape this country is pretty scary. They are like a lot of the other kids at the camp, home schooled and learn about the creationist view about how humanity, life on earth and the universe were created.

Becky Fisher reminded me of the dogmatic people that can often be found in any religion around the world. That she does not advocate violence does not necessarily make her better than those that do. I think she does something far more insidious, and that is indoctrination (call it brain washing if you will) of mere children. It reminded me of those madarssas or religious schools out in other parts of the world, which as often criticized by folks here (often rightly so). They however forget that often in regions with grinding poverty where the government has abdicated its role, religious schools like these with free board and food must seem tempting to some.

Not to digress here but one of the reasons Becky uses to justify the existence of the summer camp and her indoctrination is that out in the middle east, kids are being trained as suicide bombers.

So we are doing this?

This is merely a way to create an army of evangelical Christian children if you will, that will be then work their way up through society, aided by the network of some evangelical churches, organizations, think tanks and radio talk shows that will help “insert” them in to positions of power in the legislative as well a the judicial branch. What better way to go about accomplishing the task? This film documents in detail where this process begins.

It is alarming to watch Levi talk about how his generation will be key to the return of Jesus or of Rachael talk with the righteousness of a true believer as she passes out literature to people she meets on the street or in the mall. There is this scene where this blonde woman in a mall/store and receives this literature from her and her expression of bemusement says it all.

There are several scenes that stay with you.

This one made me shake my head. Becky prays over the PC so that the powerpoint presentation does not crash and that there is no power failure. This is attributed to the devil, wanting to disrupt things. Nice eh?

Becky says she want the kids to be radically laying down their lives for the gospel as they are over in Pakistan, Isreal, Plaestine and all those other other places.. she says “excuse me but we have the truth!”

She says “Let’s talk this week about how the devil tries to destroy our lives, by tempting us with sin…”

Levi says “I got saved when I was five”

At one point there is a presentation when a cut out of “dear leader” GW Bush, is brought in to the summer camp. And there is this disturbing scene where all the adults and the kids pray over (not pray to) the cut out of dubya. This was around the time of the nomination of Samuel Alito to our supreme court, and you watch as the speaker has the kids crying out and reaching a crescendo of chants of “Righteous Judges”.

Becky makes a statement when she is challenged by Mike Papantonio (an attorney and a radio talk-show host for Air America Radio's Ring of Fire and one of the few saner voices in this film), she essentially says that our system of democracy is going to destroy itself since we have to give everyone equal freedoms!!!!

It is also bizarre to see the kids as they go in to a trance and speak in tongues.

I had to laugh when Levi goes to the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to hear its renowned pastor, Ted Haggard. As some of you may recall Haggard became embroiled in a high-profile scandal involving homosexual prostitution and methamphetamine use.

I think the documentary succeeds since it manages to capture the emotions, the earnestness and the certainty of true believers. It was a visceral experience to watch, and although there are times I laughed aloud at the absurdity of some of the things I saw, I realized what we are up against. I did not think the documentary is biased as a few have surmised. And by no means are the folks in this feature representative of the many evangelical Christians or Christians by and large who practice their faith without feeling the need that the laws of their faith should form the foundation to run America on. Nonetheless it tells us what a vocal, proactive minority will try to achieve if the majority of us choose to remain silent.

The documentary reaffirmed for me the need to be aware and stay involved in following the state of affairs of this nation. It also tells me why I need to vote in every election and push back wherever I can against the forces of intolerance and those that want to take this country away from being a nation of laws to one that would be governed by “Christian” laws.

I recommend watching this film, it is an eye opener to parts of America that you kind of know are out there but some of us don’t encounter in our daily lives.


deepsat said...

sounds like a good watch. cant believe this actually exists!!

a peek behind the doors of papacy might reveal a lot more than thats actually seen.

Lotus Reads said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lotus Reads said...

Brilliant write-up, Sanjay, you can bet I am going to rent this one!

I remember seeing a news item a few months ago saying Fischer was forced to shut down the summer camp because of the huge negative reaction it received after this documentary was aired. Thank goodness! And yes, I remember the disgraced Ted Haggard, that must have been such an embarrassment for the church.

Scary stuff this!!!

Aditi said...

I think u did talk abt watching this before on your blog or something similar.. downright scary aint it..

Mona Buonanotte said...

I've almost rented this half a dozen times, but I'm stopped cold by the knowledge that I'd be throwing things at the tv set whilst watching it. What I've read about this film makes my blood run ice-cold.

Thank you for the summary, Jay, you have a stronger stomach than I!

Sanjay said...

@Deepsat.. Yes it does exist. I used to have a colleague like that.

Sanjay said...

@Lotus.. Thank you so much. :). It is a riveting watch and only runs 90 minutes or so.

You are right about Fischer being forced to close the camp. I believe she still wants to open it some other place. And she might as well manage to do that.

As for Ted Haggard, I believe he is said to have been "cured" of his "affliction" or so they say.
Wonder if they blame this on the devil too?

Scary indeed. Have a great day!

Sanjay said...

@Aditi, yes. I did. I might have mentioned it last September, we missed this film at the Newark, DE film festival, glad to have seen it now. :)

@Mona..Yes you are right to feel the way you do. But it is worth a watch nonetheless. :) Dunno how much more of this I can stomach.

Lucia said...

I will most definitely see this. When I taught school in Kansas, I saw some of this. People were having more kids so there were more Christians in the world. Then they homeschooled them with questionable outcomes. They came into my classroom for standardized testing, and, well, the results were uneven. It's absolutely frightening, and, yes, we must be vigilant.

Asha said...

Hi Sanjay,I saw a glimpse of this docu on TV and I was horrified to the kids go into frenzy,shaking,crying and seems there are in a trance!!Very very sad indeed.

As I said before,there is HUGE Eve. church coming two blocks from here and it is meant as youth camp for "educating" in theology!

Shiva,help me and my kids!;P
Seriously,it does scare me.In elementary school,Trisha was told she was going to hell bcos she doesn't believe!I had to sit her down and talk to her.Now she just tells them to go "somewhere"!:D

Diana said...

I'm with Mona. I'm intrigued but will need to factor in the replacement cost of the TV and the the effect of the blind rage that watching it will cause me. I'll need a strategy in place ahead of time. Maybe it'd be best watched with a group so only one TV would die between all of us.

Cacophoenix said...

This movement kindof reminds of another scene I watched about 10 years ago with Grandma. People used to cry, scream and go into dizzy spills. They used to sob out his name and beg him to take them home. they used to listen with great rapture the words of healing and reawakening. He had long hair, looked almost ethereal and won admirers from america to china. Loved Children, defended his innocence and was finally chased away. Micheal Jackson was indeed a phenomenon.

patches said...

I've always been curious of the percentage of evangelical worshipers to say white bread worshipers. The content of the documentary sounds alarming. Are they making blanket statements or are they reporting in context? I hesitate to watch sensationalist broad-brushing documentaries whether liberal or conservative in nature...they demean all of us.

ML said...

This sounds intense and gives me the chills! Definately something to watch. What an eye opener!

meno said...

Thank you for this not-review Sanjay. This kind of thing scare the hell (!) out of me. I'll watch it, but i'll be ready to not sleep afterwards.

Have you seen that documentary about the Christian Haunted House? It's called Hell House and is pretty scary too, and not because of the haunted part.

Nadim said...

"And by no means are the folks in this feature representative of the many evangelical Christians or Christians by and large who practice their faith without feeling the need that the laws of their faith should form the foundation to run America on."

The same applies to madarasas! I wish people understand that before they comment how madarasas are breeding terrorists n suicide bombers! do you know that science is taught in madarasas? and do u know that science in Quran is more advanced than a kids school science book? i was taught, islam believes life was just a single cell when it was created and creatures 'evolved' from it! We find no conflict between our beliefs and current scientific theories regarding the creation of earth and universe. Quran talks about 'big bang' that led to creation of universe!

"What is the matter with you, that you are not conscious of Allah's majesty, seeing that it is He Who has created you in diverse stages? See you not how Allah has created the seven heavens one above another, and made the moon a light in their midst, and made the sun as a (glorious) lamp? And Allah has produced you from the earth, growing (gradually)" (71:13-17).

"made from water every living thing" (21:30).

THIS is what we are taught!

Ofcourse there are madarasas which teach violence as a way to glory. And its despicable what they do to children. But these madarasas do not represent all madarasas! Not even all in palestine! I had a friend from palestine while i was in grad school. he is from west bank area and his madarasa did not teach him to kill innocent ppl but only to 'fight back if someone occupies your land and allah will take notice of you'! nothing much n nothing less!
what else do you expect? to tell kids sit back n let it be if someone kicks you in the crotch ? there is no need to teach these things, fighting back is human nature.

Yeah, thats a long comment! But i was concerned that ppl might think all madarasas are same not even knowing what goes on in a actual madarasa!

listmaker said...

Ok, I just ordered it through inter-library loan. As a precaution I think I should remove all breakable things from the area before watching it.

Keshi said...

alritey then I will try to get a hold of it sometime. tnxx!


Beach Bum said...

Sorry for joining in so late but I saw a good deal of the movie and was quite frankly freaked out. My experiences at church in my childhood days had more to do with learning to forgive and treat others like I would want to be treated. These days the political indoctrination at a few of the mega-churches has more in common with the commies or Nazis.They are truly a Christian form of the Taliban. Great post!

Beenzzz said...

I'm afraid to watch it. All I can see is hate and contempt in the name of religion. I hope it loses ground soon. Then again, it might get worse.

Carrie said...

I was afraid at first because I have saw clips and it just hurt my heart that they are ruining these poor childrens lives. But you did point out that we can't just ignore the ugly. I wonder if it is available at the video store.