Jesus Camp is one of the Oscar Nominated documentaries this year. I found it both fascinating and terrifying at the same time. At this point, it is the only nominated documentary I have seen so far, but I can certainly understand why it is a nomination. If it is anything to judge the others buy, the documentaries the past year have been excellent.
The documentary is an exemplary documentary in that there is no commentary from the filmmakers. I have no idea what their stance is on the subject, if they are from an Evangelical Christian background or nonreligious one. It is truly a documentary in the sense that only what is filmed is presented, no agreement or disagreement with what is being shown.
The only disagreement was from an Air America radio host who happened to be a former minister and against the particular type of Christianity being taught at this camp. These clips are probably the only things that didn’t seem to work within the documentary. There wasn’t equal time spent with the radio host, nor much explaining what exactly his views are. The film would have been just as well made and unbiased without them, if not more so. But he is as “intolerant” in his views as the children at the Christian camp are taught to be in theirs, just reversely so.
Jesus Camp documents a camp in North Dakota that children (and some of their families) go to to get closer to God. It is an evangelical Christian camp with guest speakers and a few select children speakers. The documentary focuses on a few children and camp director, their experiences at camp and follows them into their lives away from camp.
What is frightening is that this film is a documentary and these things are real. Don’t get me wrong; I grew up Christian, that isn’t what makes it frightening. But it is the extreme to which the people – the children – are taking their faith. They only listen to Christian music, watch Christian television, and read Christian books. They are taught science has no answers and is stupid. They are forming a bubble around their lives and worldview that can only prove to hurt them later. When they are in their teens and someone offers them a square, will they know enough to reject the offer or will they be so ignorant about life outside their bubble to not know and take it? There is a difference between having a strong faith and denying the existence of anything not a part of that faith.
At the camp, no messages of God’s love are shared. Instead the speakers share messages of politics through a religious avenue – smashing mugs to demonstrate the break of power of evil on our government or duct taping mouths to demonstrate the value of life. The mix of religion and politics makes this film terrifying. Our future generations are growing up being fed this hodge-podge under the guise of Christ and not being taught to think for themselves. It is celebrated to be in a trance and speak in tongues or be so overwhelmed by emotions that children can barely breathe through their tears.
No longer are Christian children taught messages of the Good Samaritan or how faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. No longer is God our shepherd and we his herd. Now children are being raised to be warriors for Christ, part of God’s army. Uncontrollable convulsions, hysterical tears, and speaking in tongues are badges of honor – the proof of one’s faith.
But in showing all of this, Jesus Camp strangely has a tinge of hope about it. Hope that these children will grow up and become more compassionate in their passionate faith. Without saying a word, that is the only hope you can come away from the documentary thinking. We can hope these children give up their desire to be martyrs and instead hope to be beacons of light and hope, helping those in need – like the Christ they worship.