Jesus Camp: Kids Serving Christ and the GOP


Evangelical preacher Ted Haggard appears in this film. When he saw it in its final state he didn’t care for it much. I guess there’s an obvious reason – his own blatant hypocrisy had been caught on tape. It was soon revealed that the proud gay-basher was not only hooked on drugs but also dated a gay prostitute. Is it possible that the brainwashing going on in this community is so convincing that it even warps the mind of those performing it?

Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady started out with an interest in portraying children and the role of faith in their lives. As the work progressed, they realized how fascinating the evangelical community in the Midwest was as a whole… and how impossible it was to portray these people without addressing politics in some way. That’s how closely connected that community seems to be to the conservatism of the Republican Party. This was a time when President Bush was about to appoint his second justice to the Supreme Court and the evangelical conservatives were up in arms, determined to make sure the President made the right (in every sense of the word) choice.

The filmmakers have included a liberal, Christian radio talk show host called Mike Papantonio who criticizes this political connection and views it as a dangerous one that is about to screw up Christianity entirely. Near the end of the film he has a debate with Becky Fischer, a children’s pastor. The debate ends with Fischer claiming that democracy is an inferior system; she doesn’t go so far as pronouncing the word “theocracy”, but it’s clear that that’s what she’d prefer. After the debate, Papantonio has a tired look on his face and shakes his head at just how crazy the fundamentalists are becoming.

Likable, enthusiastic and misguided
Ah, yes, Becky Fischer. She’s a big, lovable woman who has devoted her life to talking to kids about the Lord and how to save their young, sinful souls. She’s likable, enthusiastic, innovative… and totally misguided. What she’s doing is a form of brainwashing and it usually takes place at a camp where parents take their kids to receive Christ. We get to follow a few of them around; Levi, Rachael and Victoria are like any other children, the only difference being that everything in their lives revolve around religion.

It is impossible not to feel sorry for them; they have their spontaneous moments, but their parents are completely in charge. They have taught them lies about history and science and isolated them from “regular” children. There’s a telling moment where Becky asks Levi at what age he accepted Christ, and he tells her that it happened at the age of five, a time when he felt there was something missing in his life (!). He’s well programmed. The fanaticism glowing in some of these people’s eyes, both kids and adults, should remind viewers of Islam’s darkest aspects. They have no incentive, no real reason to become sucide bombers, martyrs, but the seed is there. Mike Papantonio is the voice of reason, one Christian who is prepared to fight for the soul of his religion.

Now, the disgusted tone of this review is all mine. It is actually quite impressive how neutral the two filmmakers have been; they have simply let these people speak their mind and do what they usually do at “Jesus Camp”. It’s not a very complicated or profound film, but the results are indeed compelling, emotional and should inspire plenty of debate on how children are used as tools in religion. 

Jesus Camp  2006-U.S. 87 min. Color. Produced and directed by Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady.

Quote: “I can go into a playground of kids that don’t know anything about Christianity, lead them to the Lord in a matter of, just no time at all, and just moments later they can be seeing visions and hearing the voice of God, because they’re so open. They are so usable in Christianity.” (Fischer)

Last word: “Heidi, Enat (our editor) and I struggled enormously in cutting this movie. With no natural arc we had to create a structure from scratch, and it was the most challenging project I’ve ever had in the edit bay. It was a process of discovery and errors that of course all films go through (I always explain to my friends who make narratives, ‘We don’t have a script! Editing is hard!’). But there were a lot of frustrating long nights. I love how it turned out, though.” (Grady, Ida)



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