Rethinking Missions with Steve Saint > > Home

Jesus Camp

Posted Friday, April 20, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Popular CultureCulture and Theology  

I watched an interesting film last night entitled Jesus Camp (Thanks to my friend Ben for first telling me about it). The film is a documentary about a children’s camp that trains kids to be fundamentalist and charismatic cultural warriors. The film was not interesting not only because they are inhabiting a fairly different evangelical world than mine, but also because in some ways they are very similar to us and it felt strange to watch “us” from the outside.

The film follows the leader of the camp and two of the kids from before the camp through the camp and into some episodes after the camp. The film also has a clip of Ted Haggard at the end (one of the kids goes to his church and discusses preaching with him), and so the film has a different spin after the events surrounding him. The film also has two sets of inclusios. One set is a talk show radio host who seems to profess to be a believer but argues strongly against the kind of people the movie is about. He seems to be the authorial voice for the movie, similar to, say, Stephen being a voice for Luke in Acts. At the end of the movie the director of the camp calls into his show and they get into a debate about whether she should teach (or is it indoctrinate) kids about Jesus. The other inclusio is a series of radio news clips discussing the resigning of Sandra Day O’Conner from the Supreme Court and the electing of a new justice by Bush. The timing was ironic for my watching of the movie, since the day I watched it the Court decided to allow the ban of partial birth abortion, and abortion was a major topic of the movie. 

The people interviewed are presented as being the basic evangelical, but they are actually only a fairly small group inside of evangelicalism. They have a strange mixture of strongly desiring the rapture to come soon with trying to Christianize America, which is God’s country. They are very charismatic, complete with scenes of teaching all the kids to pray in tongues, prayer walks, prophecy and a discussion among the leaders of the camp about how to remove demons from children. There was one scene where they brought out a life size picture of President Bush and all the kids came and laid hands on it and prayed for him in tongues. The young girl told us what type of church God likes: the churches where everyone sits down on their hands and sings are dead churches, but the churches which God likes are the ones where people jump up and down and are excited. On top of it all, they have rotten hermeneutics.

I’m still not quite sure what to make of the movie. It is apparently getting a fair amount of attention in the mainstream media. It gave me a good feel for what some people think of when they think of “evangelical.” I would be scared too, I think! On the other hand, much of the tension built into the film was based on evangelical beliefs with which I agree, such as the need to be converted and a strong dislike of abortion, so there was a certain sense where I was watching myself from the outside. I would not rush out and buy a copy, but if you have Netflix or something similar then I think it is certainly worth watching. I would also recommend watching the deleted scenes if you have the time: the antics of Ted Haggard are fairly amusing. Oh, and did I mention it was rated PG-13 for “adult themes”? They are simply perpetuating the main theme of the movie: religion is for adults, not kids. It is morally wrong, apparently, to tell kids about religion.

Login to add comments