BY PATRICIA DRAZNIN
I heard the calling to rent Jesus Camp. But having seen Jesus Camp, it’s hard to know where to begin. Matters of religion deserve some open-mindedness. But religious zeal crosses that sacred line into the space we call freedom, which is why Jesus Camp is such a disturbing film. Jesus Camp is about the care and feeding of young evangelists whose goal is a fully Christianized America.
Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady present this Academy Award-nominated feature documentary about the growing movement of charismatic kids. Front and center is Pastor Becky Fischer, a big woman with a big mission. She believes in this young generation as the hope of the nation and dedicates her life to their evangelical training. As Fischer explains, “I can go into a playground of kids that don’t know anything about Christianity, lead them to the Lord in . . . 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.”
The film focuses on three devout children, Levi, Rachael, and Tory. The setting is Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, where Fischer conducts a program called Kids on Fire. Where hundreds of kids pray, cry, fall on their knees, and ask forgiveness for sins such as speaking profanity. And pledge allegiance to a Christian flag. And pray for the illegalization of abortion. And bless President George W. Bush and the credibility he has brought to their cause. And learn that science should not be trusted. And that God does not like to visit churches where the congregation remains seated and quiet. And learn to approach strangers on the street with leaflets and engage them in conversation about Jesus. And where fallen icon Ted Haggard maintains that if their momentum continues, the Evangelical vote could rule the nation.
The only voice of opposition belongs to Mike Papantonio, talk-show host for Air America Radio’s Ring of Fire. Papantonio believes in the gentler side of Christianity, where Jesus is all about those basic virtues of compassion and kindness. And that the Becky Fischers of this nation are indoctrinating Christian youth.
The release of this documentary raised so much controversy that the owners of the Devil’s Lake facility stopped renting to Fischer’s camp for fear of vandalism. The one thing that’s certain is that whoever watches this film will find it inspiring or horrifying, and nothing in between. Maybe you’ll see it as I did, an example of how one man’s mission is another man’s brainwash. Or maybe you’ll hear the calling to be saved. B+