We watched the movie Jesus Camp over the weekend. I first heard about it in August of 2006 when Dan Kimball blogged about it. In his blog, he simply stated that he hoped “Christians and Christianity [could be better understood] in our culture,” and regretted that the “unfortunate stereotypes keep on being reinforced.”
I was curious about the film from the very first. Other than reading about it on a couple of blogs of people I don’t know, I still haven’t heard anyone speak of it. I’d only read a blog or two referencing it, but hadn’t intentionally sought out information. I knew that eventually, I’d see it for myself and it’s better – to me – to develop my own opinion of it. My thoughts going into it were this:
- The filmmakers will make Christians look like complete idiots.
- The filmmakers would then use their film as a platform to imply false conclusions about Christians/Christianity as a whole.
I was surprised, however, that this wasn’t an accusatory film at all. It didn’t try to make Christians look like idiots. The filmmakers were a pretty impartial bunch, showing both sides of the Separation of Church/State issue with no bias at all. I’ve been impressed that everything I’ve read since seeing the movie states over and over again that everyone — with the exception of Ted Haggard — feels like they were represented fairly in this movie. (Becky Fischer, the owner of the camp that is filmed in the movie, gave information and even promoted the movie on her website here.)
Of course, there’s the issue of “How much of what these people are saying is truly representative of Biblical Christianity and how much is Pentecostal sub-culture ‘stuff’?” And, if I’m being honest, it’s probably 96% garbage and 4% “I can … maybe … see that.” And that’s being generous. I have a pretty strong background in fundamentalism and ultra-conservative Christianity, so I can be a little more sympathetic than the casual observer.
So, all of my expectations (qualms?) about this movie proved false. The filmmakers did not make Christians look like idiots. The Christians in this movie already looked like idiots. They were just caught on film this time. But I was very pleased that it did not reflect on all Christians. The idea was enforced on several occasions during the film — and even afterwards with Ted Haggard’s response to it — that this was just a small group of Christians which does not aptly represent the whole.
With all that being said, did I enjoy the movie? I enjoyed watching the movie like I enjoy watching a car crash.
I laughed out loud at some points — like when the homeschooling mom assured her children that global warming is false and is a political issue brought up as a distraction from other more important issues, like abortion. And of course when they brought out the cardboard cut out of George W. Bush to lay hands on and “pray a blessing over him”. I wanted to cry at some points — like when an 11 year old boy said that he was saved at the age of 5 because he realized that he “wanted more of life”. And when Rachael said, that it was “cool” that when soldiers go off to war, their kids know they might not come home, so they dance around them chanting, “martyr! martyr! martyr!” (That is just sick.) But mostly I got upset when I thought of the future that these kids are going to have. Either they’ll stick it out and marry and have kids and raise them as they’ve been raised … or they’re going to be very very confused as they exit adolescence and enter adulthood to become contributing members of society.
There are elements of truth to this movie. Yes, we should pray for our government leaders. Yes, the message of the gospel is for everyone and it needs to be heard. And yes, we should be more intentional about sharing The Message. But the methods of the “characters” in this movie are disturbing and not ones that I would recommend at all.
And that’s pretty much all I have to say about that. If you’ve seen the movie, I’m really interested in what you thought. Let’s talk about it.