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Jesus Camp follows several young children as they prepare to attend a summer camp where the kids will get their daily dose of evangelical Christianity. Becky Fischer works at the camp, which is named Kids on Fire. Through interviews with Fischer, the children, and others, Jesus Camp illustrates the unswerving belief of the faithful. A housewife and homeschooling mother tells her son that creationism has all the answers. Footage from inside the camp shows young children weeping and wailing as they promise to stop their sinning. Child after child is driven to tears. Juxtapose these scenes with clips from a more moderate Christian radio host (who is appalled by such tactics), and Jesus Camp seems to pose a clear question: are these children being brainwashed?Written by
Ken Miller <email@example.com>
Since the making of the film, Becky Fischer, children's pastor for Kids on Fire, announced that due to negative reactions to the camp after the film, including telephone calls and vandalism, the camp, which was held once a year for three weeks, has been discontinued indefinitely and will be replaced by other events. See more »
Becky Fisher swings a stuffed Lion and says "You've got a Tiger by the tail". See more »
At five I got saved...
...because I just wanted more of life.
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I thought this film was very fair in its treatment of its subjects - Pentecostal Christians, and in particular, Pentecostal Christian children. At no point during the documentary do the film's makers step in to editorialize. Instead, they just train their camera on their subjects and let them do the talking. Of course, you can also watch the DVD of the film with the commentary track on. However, even then the makers are talking more about why they included certain scenes and why they had to cut others than of their opinion about what is going on.
In spite of the title, most of the film is not spent documenting what goes on at camp. It does focus on the activities and beliefs of just a few main subjects - two Pentecostal children Rachel and Levi, and also the woman who runs the Christian summer camp, Becky Fischer. It shows scenes of worship services, interaction among the children at camp, what goes on in their homes, and the children taking part in such typical activities as bowling. Prior to seeing this film I had heard some people say that the children were being coerced into witnessing and preaching, but I found that not to be the case. In particular the two children that the film focused on - Levi and Rachel - seemed to have an enthusiasm for their faith that was independent of whether an adult was around. Of course, taking the opposite viewpoint, children are always eager to please, and since these children have been immersed in this particular culture from birth, it is probably only natural they would have the world view that they do. The parents and Christian counselors involved also seem very sincere in their beliefs. You get the feeling that they are not trying to manipulate the children, they just want to save them from what they perceive to be an evil sinful world and get them involved in "the good fight" from an early age. What stood out as particularly alarming to me is that none of these Christian counselors, parents, or speakers ever seem to quote a Bible verse or encourage the children to learn the Bible itself, and that the adults seem to admire the kind of fanaticism that is present in the Middle East and think it is worth emulating that kind of indoctrination in their own children.
The only person in this film that has a real Ick Factor is Ted Haggard. He winds up on screen because Levi is visiting Haggard's megachurch in Colorado Springs, obviously pre-controversy. Haggard is constantly making sarcastic comments to the camera person who is filming this movie, and you get the feeling he would throw the whole camera crew out in a second if he thought he could get away with it, politically speaking. What comes across as particularly slimy is when Levi goes up to meet Haggard and Haggard is giving Levi advice on how to play his "cute kid angle" to his advantage in his preaching. You can see from Levi's facial expression that he is not expecting this guy to be the disingenuous politician he turns out to be, but he is just too polite of a kid to be anything but respectful.
This film is about Pentecostal Christians, not evangelical Christians in general. Evangelical Christian groups such as the Southern Baptists have a much more conventional form of worship than is displayed in this documentary. However, as the commentary track points out, most evangelical Christians, both Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal, do have most of the other viewpoints held in the film - most notably the intertwining of political and religious beliefs, the feeling that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, that it is both their religious and patriotic duty to bring America back to that standpoint, and that the children are the future of this fight. This gives a partial explanation as to why evangelical Christians continue to be a reliable voting bloc for people who are systematically at odds with their own best interests. For the ordinary and very genuine people portrayed in this film, their own earthly futures are unimportant, for they are constantly looking heavenward. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the politicians they vote into office and the deep corporate pockets to which these politicians are really in servitude.
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