Arts » The Arts

Jesus Camp

New on DVD



There is a Christian flag, and it has its own pledge of allegiance. Moreover, there are folks who recite that pledge daily. Twenty-five percent of Americans identify themselves as evangelical Christians, people “born again” through belief in Jesus Christ. And their children have their own summer camps.

The documentary Jesus Camp takes viewers inside one of them: Pentecostal children’s minister Becky Fischer’s “Kids on Fire” camp in—no joke—Devils Lake, N.D.

As you might expect in a film about people who take every word of a 6,000-year-old book literally, and teach their children to do the same, cringe-worthy moments abound. During one such, Fischer, the camp’s headlining preacher, mentions Harry Potter during a sermon. “Warlocks are enemies of God,” she says. “In the Old Testament, he would have been put to death.”

On the one hand, that’s pretty goofy. What, after all, does an omnipotent being have to fear from a fictionalized magical adolescent? But it’s chilling too. Fischer evokes judicial standards employed by a bunch of belligerent nomads thousands of years ago to evaluate a contemporary movie character. You can bet your life she’s got no issue with putting the Ten Commandments on a courthouse lawn.

That specific issue doesn’t come up in the film, but abortion, prayer in schools, the (so-called) controversy over evolution and whether America is now or ever was a “Godly” nation do figure prominently in the sermonizing.

It’s pitiable when a room full of children is reduced to tears on the first night of camp by a harangue about sin. And it’s confounding when they are exhorted days later to smash ceramic mugs with a hammer to symbolically break the power of “The Enemy” over government. But it’s downright distressing to see them, in the end, directed to bless a cardboard likeness of the United States’ born-again president.

Jesus Camp captures these scenes without mocking the children involved. It’s adept documentary filmmaking, and it couldn’t make the adults look much more ham-fisted.

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