Jesus Camp is a 47-minute* documentary about the indoctrination of children at evangelical conferences and summer camps. Children as young as six are told they are sinners; that warlocks are the enemies of God (ergo Harry Potter is evil); are made to pledge they will fight against abortion; are encouraged to worship a cardboard cut-out of George W. Bush; and are, seemingly minutes after their arrival at camp, scared to tears by the fear-mongering preachers. This is a bizarre film, so absurd it's hilarious.
Here's that Harry Potter proclamation in full:
Becky Fischer: And while I'm on the subject, let me say something about Harry Potter. Warlocks are the enemies of God! And I don't care what kind of hero they are, they're an enemy of God and, had it been in the Old Testament, Harry Potter would have been put to death!
Becky Fischer: You don't make heroes out of warlocks!
Becky Fischer, the organizer of these "Kids on Fire" Bible camps (although there weren't many Bibles in evidence - funny that), can be seen with her staff blessing the electrical equipment before the campers arrive:
"Let's just walk around the pews and stuff and just pray over the seats. Yeah, yeah, in the name of Jesus we just speak over every person that's sitting in these chairs this week. And Lord we just ask to be covered with the blood of Jesus. Open hearts, Lord, open hearts! Father we pray over the electrical systems. We pray over the electricity will not go out in this building, in Jesus' name, because of storms or any other reason. Now I just pray over this equipment. We speak over the PowerPoint presentations, all of the video projectors, and we say, devil, we know what you love to do in meetings like this and we say YOU WILL NOT, in Jesus' name, YOU WILL NOT prevent this message from going out. No microphone problems, in Jesus' name. In the name of Jesus we speak that."
The style of worship, when it's not faith-healing, is hip-hop happy-clappy: "He was born to a virgin called Mary on Christmas Day. He bled and then he died on the cross to take sins away. You take him high. You take him low. You take JC wherever you go. Tell me who's in the house? JC! [...] Jesus Christ is in the house. [...] Dance! We're kickin' it, we're kickin' it for Christ!" Another girl likes Christian heavy metal, although she doesn't seem to realize that a lot of the music that would have influenced these Christian musicians is bordering on the Satanic.
Many of the children in attendance are home-schooled. Amongst the parents there is a deep suspicion of public schools and the evil, evolutionary teaching that goes on there, telling children that they are animals rather than gifts from God. Many still lament the banning of prayers in schools, a Supreme Court ruling that was based on the fundamental principle of the separation of Church and State enshrined by the Founding Fathers (particularly Thomas Jefferson) in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Another thing they won't let go is the abortion issue.
These children are brought up to think they are part of a special generation that can somehow reclaim America for Jesus. They truly believe in the Rapture, that the Second Coming is nigh. What's so disturbing for me about this kind of fundamentalism is that it is deliberately channeled as a "culture war". Pastor Becky Fischer again:
"It's no wonder, with that kind of intense training and discipling, that those young people are ready to kill themselves for the cause of Islam. I wanna see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam. I wanna see them as radically laying down their lives for the Gospel as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine and all those different places, you know, because we have...excuse me, but we have the truth!"
There really is a martial intent to this. These are child soldiers, trained from any early age to fight in the army of Jesus Christ. Levi, a twelve-year-old preacher, is home-schooled. His father signed up to join the US Army in Iraq because he felt compelled to go there to fight as a Christian. Do they think it's the Crusades?
The film focuses on two kids in particular. Levi, with the ridiculous ponytail and a bright orange college-style T-shirt that reads "Jesus: King of Kings"; and Rachael, a nine-year-old who goes up to a pretty blonde girl at the bowling alley and tries to witness to her about Jesus Christ because she suspects she may be a sinner because of the way she looks.
It's no surprise when Pastor Ted Haggard turns out to be a hypocrite, allegedly being caught with a male prostitute after condemning homosexual activity to his huge congregation. Becky Fischer has also discontinued the summer camps at Devil's Lake, North Dakota after adverse reactions to the film (it was hardly good publicity!).
Nugget: although this will make you laugh, it's also really disturbing. Laughter, I find, is often a defence mechanism. Jesus Camp was Oscar-nominated for Best Documentary Feature in 2007 but lost out to Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth.