This year marks the 10-year anniversary of one of my favorite documentaries, Jesus Camp. This film was one of the first of its’ time to take a deeper look into the uber-isolated, ultra-religious circles and to study the effects of such a gung-ho upbringing on the lives of those who don’t choose the life, but are rather born into it. It also took the risk of juxtapositioning it next to a more liberal-sided Christian talk show host, as well as the fervor that surrounded the appointing of Sam Alito to the Supreme Court, and how said appointing sparked a political revival amongst the evangelicals. It’s a fascinating, sometimes creepy, look into their world without outside narration, and the only subtitles are those that introduce main players and places. It does have a slight leaning in what it wants a viewer to get out of it, but it also leaves a lot of room for interpretation on purpose…giving the viewer more opportunity than these kids seem to get in their whole lives.
So, in its’ honor, I’ve decided to take the time to re-visit it and see how much it still holds. I may even bring the ultra-fundamentalist Duggars in for comparisons and contrasts, just to give the review a different spin.
We begin with a brief snippet of the Ring of Fire radio show, hosted by Mike Papantonio. This guy’s radio show will be seen throughout the show to provide some sane commentary to the more extreme actions of the evangelicals, as well as the developing political movement within. He talks about how in the Bible, Jesus calls for Christians to be peacemakers, and this is why those who cry out for war in the name of God are warping the idea of Christianity into something that’s barely recognizable.
Then we cut to a kids’ evangelism conference, and what can only be described as a tribal war dance for Jesus starring the Whos from Whoville. I’m assuming there is some reason for the odd choice in face paint and…Jesus sticks…? Admittedly, the noticeable lack of spirit fingers ruins the whole tableau.
So it is here at this conference that we are introduced to Becky, our main evangelist and youth pastor. There is a ton to dislike about her, but I do have to give her credit in two places: 1- She’s batshit crazy, so we get a lot of hilarious soundbites from her later. 2- She definitely has the gift of relating to kids. Not many adults have this ability, especially in churchy circles. Becky clearly knows how to teach a lesson so that kids remain actively engaged, and you’ll later see that her methods are quite creative. But she uses it to indoctrinate innocent kids, so that’s a shame.
Becky starts off by advertising their evangelism manuals for kids, insisting they aren’t “door-to-door manuals.” Instead, they are books on how to get kids to walk up to adult strangers on the streets and on playgrounds and ask them if they’ve heard the Good News. Quick, hide all of your John Herberts!
An interesting moment occurs at about this point that, in my mind, sums up so much in a few frames. Becky asks the kids if they think Jesus can do anything. Most kids raise their hands immediately. The camera cuts to a mother holding her two very young kids on her lap. One of the kids hesitates, until the mother yanks his hand into the air. What beautifully candid symbolism.
Becky encourages the kids to speak in tongues while eerie synth music plays behind them, and in a slightly awkward transition, we pull back to see Becky watching the footage from the event of kids trying desperately to remember the lyrics to “We Go Together.”
Becky goes into a little monologue about how she believes if Muslims use their children as snipers and suicide bombers, she wants to be able to turn Christian children into the same…laying their lives down for the Gospel. Her logic here baffles me. Not only is she blatantly being Islamophobic (as you do, it is pretty common Bush-era Bible-belt rhetoric), but she says how scary the idea of Muslims using their kids as terrorists, and immediately turns it into a glorious example for the Christians. The whole time, she refers to Muslims as ‘the enemies.’
So basically, she wants to tear down the immoral, hell-bound enemy by doing exactly what they do, because what they do is awesome. Oh, and she wants to do it by possessing the bodies and minds of children, which is good, but also bad when other people do it.
Like I said, Becky Fischer is a loony toon.
In a brief segway-scene, Becky goes to ask a young boy with a mullet that makes Michelle Duggar’s hair look fashionable if he’s going to her Bible Camp. He enthusiastically agrees and begins a conversation with him about how he was saved at the age of five…because as a kindergartner he realized there was more to life than Barney the Dinosaur and Spaghetti-Os. The boy of color that had been with Mullet the whole time is blatantly ignored and subsequently ditched.
We then get to travel with Mullet Lad to his home, where we see him watch third-grade anti-evolutionist propaganda with a talking triceratops. So much for looking for more out of Barney.
Mullet Lad’s mother home schools him, but of course. They have a textbook discussion about how global warming is a myth (not even getting into that tirade). Mullet Mom talks to us about how she would rather not have strangers educate her boys, and that there are two kinds of people: people who love Jesus, and people who don’t. Except you could replace “Jesus” with “peanut butter-covered velociraptor porn” and it would ring just as true. So much for that little tidbit of wisdom, eh?
Mullet Lad concludes his segment by saying that he feels Galileo did a good job “giving up science for Christ.” …except he didn’t. Galileo was always deeply religious, but he was just considered a heretic for believing in heliocentrism. He never gave up science. He never gave up God. Read a damn book, boy. Use that head for something other than to grow nasty-ass rattails.
The next shot is of an adult bookstore next to a bowling alley. Sadly, we’re going in the bowling alley to find Rachel, who is easily the most annoying of the three kids the documentary follows. She is a hyperactive, hyper-zealous child who wants to focus on opening a nail salon one day so she can force women to listen to the Gospel while she sticks their hands in acid.
At the bowling alley, Rachel is reading those highly-offensive, poorly-drawn Chick Tracts. She sees a lady on her cell phone sitting a few lanes over. She goes over and tries preaching to the lady by handing her the Chick Tract. The lady graciously thanks her, then gives this hilarious look, probably waiting for Ashton Kutcher to pop out from behind a table.
Rachel’s dad commends her. She then prays to Jesus to give her a strike before knocking over two pins. She tells us from her bubble-gum-pink bedroom that she gets bullied constantly. But…she seems happy about it, almost like she likes being bullied so she can tell them that it isn’t about what they think, it’s about what God thinks of her. The thought is nice enough if it helps someone endure trials, but again, Rachel seems to derive some warped pleasure from the fact that she’s bullied. That can’t be healthy.
With that, we cut to our third child, Victoria, as she practices dancing in her basement to Christian rock music. She is obviously a whore who should be thrown into Hell. While Rachel should totally be hooked up with a Duggar boy, Victoria dances, so she’s probably sleeping with everyone. Even though she tries to “Dance for the Lord” and not “for the flesh” she’s too late. Jezebel.
But honestly, from what little we see….she’s not a bad dancer at all.
There isn’t much to say about Victoria’s story, except her Dad is in the Army and her mom raises/home schools the children by herself. But it should be noted that when the filmmakers caught up with the three main kids a few years ago, Victoria is the one who left evangelism for a while before returning. Out of the three, she seems the most subdued, even though she did ‘return to the flock.‘
So this seems like a natural place to leave things for now. Expect some fun things in Part II, where we go to Jesus Camp!