“Jesus Camp”

I saw “Jesus Camp” tonight in a small theatre, with about 10 other viewers. There is no plot and no surprise ending, so you if you haven’t seen it you don’t need to worry about my comments diminishing your experience when you do.

The film follows two main, and a few more marginal, characters from Missouri as they attend a Bible camp. It’s called—get this—”Kids on Fire”—which is funny enough by itself . . . but the camp is held in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota. Classic. Kids on Fire in Devil’s Lake . . . but it’s a Jesus Camp! Levi, 12, and Rachael, 9, get a lot of air time. Levi “got saved” at 5 years of age, because he “wanted more of life.” Reminds me of a Bertrand Russell sound bite I read about 10 days ago: he said that when he was 5, an adult told him that childhood was the happiest time of life. If I remember the quote correctly: “I wept inconsolably, and wondered how I would bear the boredom of the years to come.” Back to Levi: at 5, nothing he did was “fun” and, apparently, he found fun in Jesus. Good for him. Except for his outrageous mullet. (You can see him on YouTube, and elsewhere.) Rachael wants to be a hairdresser, because it would give her a captive audience for her evangelization. And people getting their hair done are typically relaxed, so they could “just accept it.” Life is simple when you are 9 (and raised by fundamentalists).

Ted Haggard makes an appearance, too. The timing of this movie’s release couldn’t have been worse for Ted. Actually, I should probably say that TH would have come off a lot better in the movie had he had a single ounce of humility. He’s all bravado on stage at his New Life Church in Colorado Springs, often addressing the camera directly: “I think I know what you did last night . . . give me a thousand dollars and I won’t tell anyone . . . you need to REPENT!” Hypocrisy runs no deeper than this, my friends. If only the clergy were not bound by a vow of celibacy, scandals like Haggard’s could be avoi—oh, wait . . . Evangelicals are allowed to marry. Hmm. I guess celibacy isn’t the great catalyst of sexual immorality some claim it is.

The scary part is not that these kids are being trained to think of martyrdom as desirable. That’s been orthodox thinking since the earliest days of the persecuted Church (here I lump all professing Christians—including these nutty Pentecostals—into the same “Church” for simplicity’s sake). No, the scary part is twofold: first, the know-it-all attitude shown by people who seem not to have a very deep learning at all. (That, and the Thomas Kinkade painting hanging in one woman’s kitchen—interior design sinks no lower than this, my friends.) For example, everyone in the documentary flat out rejects the theory of evolution, seemingly not caring that there is physical evidence that change does occur over time, and not realizing that change over time is not incompatible with Christian doctrine. Of course, the film could have been edited to show these people in the worst possible light.

The second scary part is the manner of the Pentecostal prayer. Lots of speaking in tongues, and a habit of “declaring” what they want, as if declaring it makes it so. (Reminds me exactly of Joel Osteen’s July 4th “Word of the Day.” He said, “Declare your independence from sickness!” Wow, Joel . . . I guess that’s why your doctor brother quit his job to come work at your church: people don’t need his services anymore, because they are “declaring” themselves well!) When speaking to the children, the leader says that they will grow up to serve God and resist the wiles of Satan (or something like that), and adds, “We declare all these things over you.” As if it’s settled—they will grow up to serve God, because it has been “declared.” And before the camp opens, the leaders pray over the chairs, electrical systems, electricity to the building, electrical equipment, PowerPoint presentations, and microphones (among other things—I am not inventing this)—they pray over all these things, declaring Satan unable to knock out the power with storms, or derail the PowerPoint presentations. And not just praying, but in tongues. Over the PowerPoint.

How about a third scary thing. The whole focus is on the emotions of the individual believer. A premium is placed on weeping, jumping about, and screaming. If you are calm and docile by nature, this group will suspect that your faith is tepid. If you say you love Jesus, and aren’t babbling “in tongues” or writhing on the floor, or aren’t having a proverbial “blast” worshipping, you are probably lying. This reminds me of the “GodMen” event, so perceptively decried over at Flippin’ Jason.

There is a lot more to say about this movie, but you are tired of reading and I’m tired, period. Good night, gentle reader.

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