Sunday, September 02, 2007

Jesus Camp

R and I viewed the documentary "Jesus Camp" on Friday. There's a lot of things to think/talk about after seeing it, but I have to separate them into two sets of reactions: did I like it as a film, and what is my reaction to their beliefs?

As a FILM: It's a little sensationalistic with the scary music at times, but for the most part I really enjoyed it as a whole. What they do is very intriguing, and what they believe is very polarizing, so I was interested the whole time while watching it. However, the end result put a negative light on their beliefs, but if you watch the film with director's commentary the feel is different. They speak of the three main child characters with affection and a pretty unbiased interest in their zeal. But if that was their intent for the film without the commentary, then it was lost on me. It seemed that the point of the film was to show how very strange and very conservative these folks are.

There was a good dialogue going back and forth between Becky Fischer (a Pentecostal children's pastor who runs the camp in the movie) and Mike Papantonio (a Christian and a radio talk show host). I think this was one of the best decisions they could have made. The two sides, both of them believing Christians, made a nice clean framework for a complicated issue. In my opinion, this is the most well made documentary I've seen, along with Fahrenheit 9/11.

As a FAITH: The line between politics and religion seemed entirely blurred, both for the pastor and those in the congregation. In the Mormon church there is no official taking of political sides, even if the majority of members are conservatives. But here I found it a little unnerving to hear unflinching talk of abortion over the pulpit, praise of George W. Bush, etc. (Maybe it's because I've heard my share of conservative assumptions when people in the Church talk to each other. I'm not offended, and I've only had liberal views for a few years, but I always think to myself when someone assumes that I'm also a libertarian, "Um, have we ever even talked about anything more than 'how old is your kid' and 'oh, mine is 2'? Maybe we should get to know each other a little better." But this is another post entirely...) Anyways, it was a little hard to hear this type of thing again, mingled in with religion. I had to wonder if there were people in the Pentecostal faith who had liberal political views and struggled with their belief because of all the conservative folks.

On the other hand, I thought their commitment to their faith was admirable. The little girl who passed out fliers and approached a woman while she was bowling, was particularly interesting. But I had to wonder how much of it was that she was a child immersed in a very demanding culture. I worried less about her (because she was older and had more freedom to make her own decisions, and would find out sooner or later in life what she really believed) and more about the younger children. They are encouraged to speak in tongues and have revelatory trances, but what about their desire to please their pastor, or their parents? Did this play into their spiritual experiences when they are so young and less able to know what faith in Christ means?

On the other hand, it's definitely okay to teach your children what you believe to be true. So am I worried just because I believe the Mormon church to be true? I keep remembering one particular scene where the kids were listening to a sermon about abortion and then were waiting for red lengths of tape with "life" written on them so they could put them on their mouths. There was one little girl who must have been between 5-6, and she was touching her mouth while she watched other kids getting theirs. She just wanted a sticker! I found it a little disturbing.

So the bottom line is that it's a great film. It brings up all kinds of interesting questions about faith, reason, politics, freedom, and how to separate them or not separate them. I highly recommend it and welcome any and all comments about what people think after they see it. Happy viewing!


Melissa said...

Happy Birthday! :) Hope you had a good day!

kendahl said...

Thanks :) It was good!

the real Melissa said...

I heard about this on Radio West the other day. We'll have to check it out--it sounds really interesting.

stephen said...


It's interesting to hear your thoughts on this. I watched it earlier this year and reviewed it on my blog.

I think it was fair. I don't think it was mean-spirited at all. I think the filmmakers just showed it for what it is. If there's one concern I have, it's that people might not realize that this group is certainly not typical of most evangelical Christians. But Pentecostals are very conservative, and often politically outspoken.

I share your feeling that they are certainly admirable people, but the film is very chilling and disturbing and brings up all kinds of interesting questions.