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Jesus Camp

A movie directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

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Mixed Reaction

  • Jul 3, 2007
  • by
Rating:
+1
Pros: Provides glimpses into the Evangelical movement

Cons: Marked lack of Scripture; irrelevant comments by Papantonio

The Bottom Line: This is a good film, but could use some Scripture references.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie's plot.

INTRODUCTION:

I rented this film from Blockbuster approximately one month ago and had mixed feelings about it, though not in the areas that one might expect. After reading several reviews on this controversial film, I resolved that I would review it myself upon becoming a member. I suppose that one could say that this film was my inspiration for joining Epinions. So, here comes a controversial essay!

BACKGROUND

I am an Evangelical, Spirit-filled Christian. This means that I believe in the gifts of tongues, healing, prophecy, etc (see 1 Corinthians 12.) However, I consistently attempt to test all things to see whether they are fruit-bearing, as the Scriptures direct. If joyful services are not tempered with Scripture, I find myself questioning their leaders’ validity.

I became a Christian at the age of five, with no coercion. During the next two years, wonderful things took place in my life; I shall not here relate them, except to state that God’s spiritual gifts can, indeed, be for children to whatever extent is within God’s will. By the age of eight, I had begun to drift a bit. When I found myself realizing this, I did weep in repentance. Although I may write more on this at another time, I include my experience here in order to provide the reader with a glimpse into how I view children, Christianity, and the Charismatic gifts.

PLOT SUMMARY

As the film opens, the viewer is introduced to Mike Papantonio, a radio show host who strongly disagrees with Christian Conservatives in the political realm. Although he was raised a Methodist, Papantonio believes that many Evangelical Christians are unnecessarily zealous. I shall return to him later.

Becky Fischer, the leader of a North Dakotan Pentecostal church, next addresses children and their parents regarding the upcoming summer camp. When speaking to the children, Fischer says something to this effect: “How many of you know that this is a sick world we’re living in? Well, let’s just get out our toolbox and fix it! We can fix it.”

This is where the film becomes rather un-Biblical. The Bible states that immorality will increase in the last days; many Christians believe that we are nearing the end times. Consequently, although God does here prayers (the “toolbox” that Christians have for “fixing the world”), it may not be His will to simply improve humanity’s immoral condition. Moreover, Fischer’s message may well have confused some of the children. We cannot “fix” things of ourselves; prayers may be heard, but only God could improve the human condition, if that were His will.

Throughout the first half of the video, Fischer interviews several children and introduces the viewer to their home lives. Levi, Tori, and Rachel are twelve, ten, and nine. Their home-schooling experience consists of lessons teaching creationism as more scientific than evolution. Here, too, few Scriptures are used. The children’s mother uses a curriculum to state that evolution is not Biblical and “stupid” (the film’s wording), but does not support her claims through either Scripture or archaeological evidence.

The children’s mother believes that home-schooling is a Christian privilege, as the Bible “says nothing about sending your child to school for eight hours a day and letting them be taught things that go against God” (paraphrase of film). Another reviewer pointed out that this may have decreased the children’s social network. However, Tori does attend dance classes, and the children seem well-adjusted.

Speaking of Tori’s dance classes, it is imperative that the reader know a bit about the children. Levi is a strong Christian who preaches a bit during the camp’s meetings. Although Tori loves to dance, she often feels that she performs from the flesh rather than attempting to glorify God. Rachel actually seems to know a great deal about the Scriptures. She cares little about what man thinks and loves Jesus with all of her heart. I wanted to reach into the film, give her a hug, and tell her that the Lord loved her!

Before the children arrive at camp, Fischer prays over all of the sound equipment and projectors. Yes, she does use her prayer language. I am not distressed by this, but wonder whether it is necessary to pray over electronic equipment at all. Were the speakers not to function, would this have detracted from the overall worship experience? If it is the case that God is able to be present at any time, is it necessary to be so concerned with the functioning of temporal devices?

Many of Fischer’s messages are quite arousing. Another reviewer stated that, after calling for repentance, Fischer did not minister to a youngster who was in tears and obviously distressed. Indeed, someone should have been available to talk to him, pray with him, read him some Scriptures that dealt with God’s forgiveness, or just rejoice with him regarding God’s mercy.

Also included in Fischer’s messages is a word about the Harry Potter series. Although she states emphatically that the series is evil and teaches witchcraft, she refrains from providing any Scriptural references. Her words seem added as an after-thought. Besides her premise that children should not read Rowling’s books, she does not explain that, for example, witchcraft involves the worship of demons.

Fischer incorporates several object lessons into her messages. One that truly impressed me consisted of the use of sticky hands to illustrate how unrighteous thoughts can stick to a person. Though a nice touch, I do not believe that messages should consist solely of these sorts of demonstrations.

Toward the end of the film, Levi is introduced to Ted Haggard, who has been present at the camp and spoken quite candidly about the ill affects of homosexuality, as seen from a Fundamentalist point of view. The children also pray for President Bush and his political decisions. A group of youngsters even protests against abortion, placing tape over their mouths in order to symbolize the innumerable babies whose lives have been silenced.

DISCREPANCIES, PART I: UN-BIBLICAL

As afore-stated, I felt that this film displayed a marked lack of Scripture. Most children do not wish to be inundated with a plethora of Scriptural references. However, Fischer ought to have stated that “the Bible says” something, if she did not wish to read Scriptures in their entirety to her restless audience.

DISCREPANCIES, PART II: MIKE PAPANTONIO

The radio show host appears several times throughout the film. The conclusion finds him caustically interviewing Fischer and insinuating that she is in sin and may not go to heaven. It seems that Papantonio’s inclusion was intended to provide an opposing view to Fischer’s. However, his comments seemed irrelevant to the film’s themes.

CONCERNS

Some may believe that Haggard’s preaching against homosexuality was hypocritical. However, I understand that many individuals, though they dislike their actions, are still quite tempted to perform them. Pastor Haggard was quite encouraging to the children; though he must be rehabilitated now, his words remain true.

INTENSE PRAISE: FOR CHILDREN?

It seems that many individuals are disturbed by the use of spiritual gifts and the children’s association with them. I shall here attempt to address both. At one point, one of the children approaches a woman and tells her that she has received a message from God. She then proceeds to inform the woman that the Lord truly loves her. Both Fischer and the children pray in tongues very frequently. During the camp meetings, many individuals are slain in the Spirit; this is an experience of God’s glory—falling down in worship before the Lord. These gifts and other manifestations of the Holy Spirit are thoroughly discussed in Scripture, but that topic is a piece for the Writer’s Corner. Suffice it to say that I have no difficulty with these occurrences.

Some viewers have objected to children in this sort of worship. Of particular concern is Fischer’s remark, “I can go into a playground of kids that don’t know anything about Christianity; lead them to the Lord in a matter of just no time at all and just moments later they can be seeing visions and hearing the voice of God”. Jesus, however, enthusiastically welcomed children to Himself. If one accepts the premise that the gifts of the Spirit are still available to Christians today, the fact that children experience the same things that adults do is not unusual. Moreover, recruiting youngsters for God’s kingdom can be truly wonderful, as children are generally trusting individuals.

MY RECOMMENDATION

It is rather difficult to create an unbiased documentary on Christianity, particularly the Evangelical branches thereof. The producers’ efforts, though commendable, were not extraordinarily successful. This film ought to have been presented from an Evangelical view or a liberal one; Papantonio’s remarks, however, detracted greatly from this film.

The lack of Scripture disturbs me greatly. Children must be grounded in Biblical truths while being taught to worship.

Papantonio’s remarks and the lack of Biblical reasoning render this film somewhat confusing. However, it does include valuable lessons and features a worship experience at an informative camp. I give this film my cautious recommendation. Watch it with an open heart—and a Bible concordance, to see if you can find solid information amid Fischer’s abstract thoughts.

Please feel free to leave comments. The fact that I may disagree does not make me closed-minded, but an individual who enjoys debating and expressing opinions. I may clarify my own points, but do not let this put you off, as I do enjoy hearing others' views.

Recommended:
Yes

Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older

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review by . August 12, 2011
Controversy in promotion of this video was largely generated by media hype in order to advertise it as a shocking exposé. If you're a sheltered suburbanite who receives all of their news via NPR, believes everything they see on TV and thrills to elections paid by the public featuring candidates purchased by special interest groups, then this is sure to disturb you. I watched this to see insane Christers doing outrageous things for my amusement, and while their conduct is embarrassing, …
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Caption
Freakiest part is when they haul out a standee of George Dubya and have the kids all praying at him...or is it to him? Hard to tell. =)
Quick Tip by . September 08, 2009
I'm not an evangelist, nor religious for that matter, so this movie creeps me out. Interesting to see the insider perspective though.
Quick Tip by . September 08, 2009
This is really really creepy. Especially since the Christian Right is neither.
review by . February 06, 2008
I wasn't even done with the film when I started writing this. This is more than a documentary, this is a horror movie. I first want to explain my own impressions of the subject of the film and then the documentary itself.   First, it is disturbing to me seeing this kind of, shall we say brainwashing? The adults in this film brainwashed and indoctrinated into several disturbing beliefs. First of all, they regarded George Bush as a sort of saviour, an ideal of morality. They taught creationism …
review by . March 11, 2007
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Pros: Still too shocked to say      Cons: Still too shocked to say      The Bottom Line: Because they are children, this is one of the most difficult documentaries I have ever watched.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie''s plot.      I had to watch the documentary Jesus Camp in pieces. It is a 75 minute piece that took me hours to watch because of the anger and confusion it caused.   …
review by . February 01, 2007
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`Jesus Camp' is a revealing document of the right-wing evangelical movement. Like many people of any political or religious group, the old addage, "God is on our side," is worn on most players' sleeves. In the crossfire is Becky Fischer, Pentecostal evangelical children's minister and Mike Papantonio, radio host of the "Ring of Fire" program. They are both at the heart of the left/right, red/blue, theocracy vs. oligarchy divide in our nation. At the time of the filming, Sandra Day O'Connor retired …
review by . January 25, 2007
"JESUS CAMP"    Oddly American    Amos Lassen and Cinema Pride    "Jesus Camp" (Magnolia) is built around a Pentecostal minister who runs a summer camp for young children and the families that send their children there. This is a "right-on" look at an American subculture and I found it particularly alarming. The moving is both a damning and sublet look about a religious movement that isolates children from the mainstream and brainwashes …
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Nicole ()
Ranked #1603
I am, first and foremost, defined by my faith in Jesus Christ. All else is secondary. I am passionate about writing; this is akin to worship, and I strive daily to use this gift to glorify Him.   … more
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Wiki

The feverish spectacle of a summer camp for evangelical Christian kids is the focus of Jesus Camp, a fascinating if sometimes alarming documentary. (Shortly after its release, the movie gained a new notoriety when Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, who appears near the end of the film, resigned his post amid a male prostitute's allegations of drug use and sexual misconduct.) For most of the film, we follow a charismatic teacher, Becky Fischer, as she trains young soldiers in "God's Army" at a camp in North Dakota. Some of the kids emerge as likable and bright, and eager to continue their work as pint-sized preachers; elsewhere, the visions of children speaking in tongues and falling to the floor in ecstasy are more troubling. Even more arresting is the vision of a generation of children home-schooled to believe that the Bible is science, or Fischer's certainty that America's flawed system of democracy will someday be replaced by a theocracy. (In one scene, a cardboard cut-out of George W. Bush is presented to the children, who react by laying their hands on the figure as though in a religious procession.) Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady maintain neutrality about all this, maybe too much so (they throw in some interviews with radio host Mike Papantonio to provide a liberal-Christian viewpoint) and one would like to know more about the grown-ups presented here. Power broker Haggard is the creepiest person in the...
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Details

Genre: Documentary
Release Date: September 15, 2006
MPAA Rating: PG-13
DVD Release Date: January 23, 2007
Runtime: 87 minutes
Studio: A&E IndieFilms, Loki Films
First to Review

"Oddly American"
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