Monday, October 9, 2006

Jesus Camp: Grade C or D

Jesus Camp

Several movies are out that I want to see like Infamous, The U.S. vs. John Lennon, that I felt the need to drag Scott out to the theater Sunday. He reluctantly saw the much talked about Jesus Camp with me.

I've previously complained about two recent documentaries, Who Killed the Electric Car and This Film Is Not Yet Rated, that were too lop-sided in advocating one argument. However, Jesus Camp was a little too middle of the road to have a point or to be entertaining.

The movie's overall theme is about how evangelical Christians indoctrinate their children through insane youth groups. It takes an almost patronizing approach as if all viewers know nothing about white American suburban/rural culture or the religious right. As someone who grew-up going to conservative Christian summer camps and dabbled in Pentecostal Christianity, I can't say I learned anything new from the film. It basically confirmed my worst fears and stereotypes of mid-west, rural/suburban conservative Christians.

Over half of the movie focuses on an obese Pentecostal youth minister, Becky Fischer, and her relatively small summer camp ministry in North Dakota (there appeared to be less than 100 kids in the summer camp wide shots). Fischer's sermon, personality, and beliefs are interesting and entertaining, but the filmmakers don't really explain who she is, how she got into this business, or even basic biographical information such as whether she is married with kids. Instead, without explanation or transition, the movie leaves Fischer and follows a young camper, Levi, to a Colorado Springs mega-church and then to Washington, D.C., at a pro-life vigil in front of the US Supreme Court during the Samuel Alito confirmation.

I suppose what really irked me was how anonymous the filmmakers were. Instead of actively narrating the film, the filmmakers chose to have a radio talk show host from an Air America affiliate break-in with dire commentary about the religious right's indoctrination programs. Also, they tried to maintain the unbelievable premise that their film crew's presence did not have an affect on the subjects. This premise was broken in Colorado Springs when a prominent mega-church pastor spoke directly into the documentary's camera and addressed what he seemed to know would be a non-believing, skeptical, Left-leaning audience.

I was mainly disappointed that the filmmakers didn't bring new information. For example, who are these people who base their careers on indoctrinating kids? (The youth group leaders featured seemed to be interesting characters). Also, what is the REAL result of these youth camps? Do most kids actually follow-through in high school and after? Statistics tend to show Christian youth are not noticeably different than non-Christian youth -- at least in sexual abstinence. An interesting sequel to this documentary would be a five or ten year follow-up like the Up series to see whether the youth camp really affected these children's lives.

11/03/2006 UPDATE: The prominent mega-church pastor featured in the movie is Ted Haggard who is now making headlines for a gay sex scandal. So far, Haggard has resigned as President of the National Association of Evangelicals and is on leave from his mega-church, New Life Church. Last night, his church says that he has admitted to some of the allegations.

Haggard previously responded to Jesus Camp:

"You can expect to learn as much about the Catholic Church from Nacho Libre as you can learn about evangelicalism from Jesus Camp. This movie manipulates facts like a Michael Moore film and works the camera like The Blair Witch Project. It's one more 'documentary' that seems to miss the point intentionally."

I found the quote on a Google-cached version of the page. New Life's website appears to have been overloaded since the gay sex scandal broke.

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