Thursday, May 22, 2008

Jesus Camp

I actually put this movie into my Netflix queue expecting something more. It's shot well enough, and the filmmakers focused in on 2 kids, Rachael and Levi, that are at times frightening or heartbreaking, and always sympathetic. We all knew kids at some point that share Rachael's adorably frenetic way of speaking and Levi's earnest desire to please the adults in the room. Also, the focus at the end of the movie on Ted Haggard was, of course, prescient.

That being said, I think there's an element of scaremongering in the movie's billing that bothers me. The previews imply that Jesus Camp exposes the bible camps of "evangelical Christians" as places where they brainwash their kids into becoming the terrorists of the future. First of all, the movie doesn't focus just on generic "evangelical Christians”; it's a movie about Pentecostals, a pretty radical evangelical denomination. Yet they are used to represent all "evangelical Christians,” even though most evangelicals would find thing like prophecy and speaking in tongues and collapsing in church pretty bizarre. The willingness to stretch such an egregious example into a representation of the whole of evangelicalism makes me wonder to what degree the bible camp shown here is also anomalous.

Admittedly, just Pentecostals, or even just this woman, preparing kids for terrorism would be scary, but the movie doesn't deliver that, either. For all the military imagery used by the adults and kids, for all the uses of terms like "soldiers of Christ" and being prepared to die for God, the movie never establishes that these kids are willing, or taught to be willing, to do violence in the name of their religion. Anyone familiar with evangelicalism knows that the evangelical martyrdom fantasy involves not killing Muslims or bombing abortion clinics, but having a gun put to your head and being told to recant or die, and there's no evidence these people are picturing anything different. The woman running the camp even mentions at one point that she's NOT talking about violence.

What you're left with is a movie about parents with quirky religious perspectives who indoctrinate their kids with all their radical beliefs and political views without any respect for the children's freedom of thought or psychological well-being. That, however, is hardly peculiar to "evangelical Christians," and though sad, is not exactly something worth staying up at night worrying about.

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