Monday , December 4 2023
"They are so usable in Christianity." Becky Fischer, speaking about children, in Jesus Camp.

Movie Review: Jesus Camp

Do you want to see a truly scary movie this summer? Sure, you can watch one of those movies like Hostel 2 or a zombie movie. 

But if you want to see something truly disturbing –  a movie which makes the viewer alternate between horror, fear, and concern over children's welfare – then watch the documentary Jesus Camp. If you are like me you will still be thinking about this documentary weeks after you view it, contemplating both the movie and your reaction toward it.

The movie is an evenhanded look at the Kids on Fire Summer Camp in Devils Lake, North Dakota and the growing evangelical movement. The movie is directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, who previously made The Boys of Baraka.

Becky Fischer, the Pentecostal children’s pastor at the camp, gave the directors wide access to the camp because she liked their prior movie. She has probably been re-thinking that decision ever since, as the movie makes her look like quite the passionate propagandist with little concern for letting kids learn to think for themselves.

At the camp, which she started in 2001, children are forced, through manipulative, intense preaching by Fischer and others, to feel awful if they do not think and act properly. And what, pray tell (no pun intended), is the right way to act and think, judging by the film? Four examples spring to mind:

  • No ghost stories at camp because they “do not honor God.”
  • Evolution is wrong and creationism is the only logical explanation for Earth. Or as one home-schooled child's mother states "science hasn't proved anything" on this issue.
  • The Harry Potter books are evil. Fischer tells the camp: "Let me say something about Harry Potter. Warlocks are the enemies of God! And I don't care what kind of hero they are, they're an enemy of God and had it been in the old testament Harry Potter would have been put to death!" After the church shouts "amen!" she adds, "You don't make heroes out of warlocks!
  • Speaking in tongues is normal.

There is a telling comment about that last example on the DVD during a commentary track by the two directors. They said that Fischer asked them why they were including a specific scene she though quite boring and ordinary. They explained to her that most viewers are probably not used to seeing people not only blessing facilities and equipment in preparation for the start of camp but also speaking in tongues about the matter.

My favorite part of the scene comes when Fischer says the devil loves to mess up Powerpoint presentations in an attempt to disrupt the spreading of God's words. They of course proceed to pray in an attempt to stop the devil's technological meddling.

But Scott, you may be saying as you read this, what is so wrong with a church passing these messages and lessons on to children? Well, first I want to remind you that they are indeed just children.

I challenge you to not be unsettled by a scene in which they are preached to, until they are in a frenzy, on the "evils" of abortion, complete with tiny models of embryos. Are they not a little young to become soldiers in what they call an "army of God" on the issue of abortion?

Fischer is fascinating and yet shocking to watch. She is quite correct when she says, watching video footage of one service, that the resulting movie would leave liberals liberals "shaking in their boots."  

There is an unsettling military theme throughout the movie, from a church service in which children are in war paint to the many references to the Army of God. She says at one point about Muslims,

It's no wonder, with that kind of intense training and discipling, that those young people are ready to kill themselves for the cause of Islam. I wanna see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam. I wanna see them as radically laying down their lives for the Gospel as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine and all those different places, you know, because we have… excuse me, but we have the truth!

Fischer has not disavowed the film or its portrayal of her. However, after the movie came out Fischer discontinued indefinitely the camp, citing phone calls and concerns about vandalism.

The only person involved in the movie who has complained about its content is Ted Haggard, a popular, influential church pastor who, two months after the movie's release, was disgraced through a messy scandal involving sex and drugs. Judging by the deleted scenes which make him come off looking even more high, trippy, and creepy than he does in the movie itself, I think Haggard got off easy.

In a surreal scene included in the movie Haggard stops practicing a sermon to make weird jokes. Pointing into the camera he says, "I think I know what you did last night." As the audience laughs he says, "If you send me a thousand dollars, I won't tell your wife." The audience laughs again and then Haggard says, "If you use any of this, I'll sue you." Um, oops? But I digress. 

In one of the best scenes Fischer is challenged by a Christian radio talk show host about whether it is right for the church to be "indoctrinating" these children. She replies that "every other religion is indoctrinating their kids. I would like to see more churches indoctrinating." Fischer later says,

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, because they're so open. They are so usable in Christianity.

My hope is that after reading those words, and seeding these movies, it is not just liberals who are "shaking in their boots," at least a little nervous about what Fischer and others like her are telling children.

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been working in mental health for the last ten years. He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

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