No matter how you slice it, the documentary "Jesus Camp" is bound to enrage someone. This is a marvelous hot potato odyssey into the heartland of Evangelical Christians living in the Midwest. Here they've built a fortress of faith that they feel is tested everyday, so they start young to reinforce their numbers. Real young. The leaders encourage parents to send their children to a summer camp in Devil's Lake, North Dakota where the kids can eat, sleep, and breathe Jesus, essentially preparing them for future warfare.
Depending on your viewpoint, "Jesus Camp" is either a chilling or reassuring peek into the motivations of an Evangelical Christian society. The leader here is Becky Fischer, a rotund, vain believer who has sensed a resurgence of faith in America since George W. Bush took power. Her mission is to sequester the children in the camp, to train them about the evils of liberalism, abortion, and Harry Potter, so they can go out into the world and spread the good word further. In a mind-bendingly shocking scene, she compares her work to the multigenerational Islamic Fundamental terrorists that plague our world. Becky has no patience for those who disregard Jesus.
Her campers include Levi, a rat-tailed young boy who desires to be a preacher, and Rachael, who feels a kinship with the Lord flowing through her veins. These are 10 year-old children. They are some of the oldest kids in the camp.
Without any commentary, directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady take the viewer into the camp to behold the salvation (or madness) that lies within. Amazingly, the filmmakers do not pull a Michael Moore and turn everyone into a wack job to suit their argument. The directors are merely observers, and to openly debate the goal of the camp, they've inserted sequences with radio talk show host Mike Papantonio expanding on his thoughts on this radical religious movement as a way of balancing the argument the best they can. Papantonio is a thoughtful man, rightfully baffled over the change of the political sea, but how can he compete with footage of teary toddlers who've caught the spirit and speak in tongues?
The filmmakers go beyond the camp to visit an Evangelical home-schooled household, where the only thing worse than a non-believer is the fanged beast known as science. It's like the Batman to their Joker. The Evangelicals do not believe in global warming, evolution, the separation of church and state, or dirty stinking liberals. They feel with Bush in charge, their way of life will soon dominate America. At the camp, they touch and pray to a cardboard cutout of Bush, and await the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court with bated breath. The President is their savior, and they sleep soundly in the knowledge that he takes a meeting with an Evangelical leader every week for guidance.
In the third act, we watch the aftermath of the camp, where faith has been served and now the kids are off to double their numbers. It's hard not to notice the cold, rehearsed feeling in their speech when they address the camera, as much as it is hard to deny their commitment.
It comes down to this: these are children. Impressionable, innocent, incredibly camera-aware, loving, ready-to-please children. They have not chosen this way of life; it's being legally programmed into them for the benefit of adults who are afraid they might lose their moral standing without a backup generation to replace them. Where is the line? Condemn this way of life, and you're branded an America-hating witch. Celebrate this culture of indoctrination, and it sets a dangerous precedent. "Jesus Camp" will present 1,000 questions on faith, trust, and humanity that are not easily answered; it's a film impossible to ignore.
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