Jeff Sharlett says this is a movie worth seeing. That makes me want to watch.
Jesus Camp, a new documentary, opens in New York City this Friday. I've assigned a review of the film for The Revealer, but in the meantime, I can't recommend it strongly enough. Jesus Camp turns out to be perhaps the best work of journalism -- or art -- dealing with contemporary Christian conservatism. It's a film of bleak beauty, to borrow a phrase from the great photographer Danny Lyon, and like Lyon's work, Jesus Camp is both unsentimental and heartbreaking, harrowing and absurd at the same time. It's a movie about the Christian Right and that movement's political ambitions, but it's also a story about kids and what they believe and how they absorb the beliefs of the adults around them. Jesus Camp transcends its moment even as it reports on it with precision. This is a film of scriptural intensity; see it if you can.
From the reviews...
Washington City Paper: If you’re one of those hardy optimists who think the blue and red halves of the United States will someday deserve that name again, Jesus Camp is just the movie to kick all the hope out of you. Behold, East Coast liberals, and despair: Young children speaking in tongues. Home-school matriarchs arguing that intelligent design and global warming are, respectively, proven and unproven theories. And, most worrisome, a driven, self-assured children’s educator who announces that “democracy is designed to destroy itself” and that it’s only a matter of time before “Jesus reigns on Earth.” This particular juggernaut, Pastor Becky Fischer, is the driving force behind the Kids on Fire summer camp, an extended revival meeting and recruitment tool for adolescent Christian soldiers.
Variety: The three main featured campers, 12-year-old Levi, 9-year-old Rachel and 10-year-old Tory, are shown playing Christian combat video games and expressing their love for Jesus with genuine fervor.
The camp's likeable founder, Becky Fischer, talks about her mission to indoctrinate children to form an army of proselytizers to "take back America for Christ."
Fischer, who boasts she can "go into a playground of kids that don't know anything about Christianity and lead them to the Word in no time at all," is surely a formidable salesperson. Using visual aids such as little plastic fetuses to appeal to raw emotion and healthy doses of guilt to evoke religious rapture, Fischer is always focused on her mission.
Though opposing viewpoints are sporadically proffered by Air America radio host Mike Papantonio, a practicing Christian appalled by the fundamentalists' political agenda, the film employs no exposition and professes no overt bias; indeed, Fischer was apparently delighted with the finished product. Both the camp's children and the adults welcome the camera as a witness to their crusade.
Independent News: During an election year, the film shows just how political evangelical Christians, which are estimated to number 75 million in the United States, have become.
In fact, it’s estimated 25 million evangelicals voted in the 2004 presidential election with 80 percent voting Republican.
Papantonio labels it a “religious-political army.”
“We have been asleep at the wheel, while the political fundamentalists have gained power over our country,” he laments in the film.
The eerie or wonderful film, depending on your religious perspective, follows Fischer and the recruitment and training of three children Levi, 12, Rachel, 9, and Tory, 10.
The three kids are seen at home, a bowling alley, going to camp and then crisscrossing the country from an evangelical church headed by Haggard in Colorado Springs, Colo., to praying outside a Kansas abortion clinic and finally protesting abortion with red tape with “life” written on it taped over their mouths as they pray outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
“You could call it brainwashing, but I am radical and passionate in teaching children about their responsibility as Christians, as God-fearing people, as Americans,” says Fischer, who at one point denies indoctrinating children politically but then admits it.
In the end, viewers can decide in the very matter-of-fact film whether it’s OK to turn children into Christian soldiers, like Fischer does, or not.
Reuters: With no voice-over or commentary, the movie follows Fischer at events for children in North Dakota and Missouri.
In one scene a cardboard President George W. Bush is brought on stage at an assembly so attendees can pray that he make America "one nation under God." In another a preacher shows plastic models of tiny fetuses and leads a prayer saying: "God end abortion, and send revival to America."
Looks like scary stuff to me. I don't know which is more dangerous for my grandchildren, their physical environment or the political one.
So why do you think I'm such a nut about separation of church and state?
Last night I listened to John Danforth being interviewed by Krista Tippett on Speaking of Faith. I thought about blogging a post about it, but this link is all I have decided to post. I'm getting tired of saying the same thing over and over. I know my readers are getting tired of seeing it.
"I think that the conservatives have a lot to tell us about trying to keep some sense of morality in our country, and they’re concerned about all kinds of things, about promiscuity and about drugs, about the breakup of families. I mean, all of these are very real concerns, and I’m glad they’re raising them. I just wish that they would raise them with a little more humility."