as oh-so-cleverly alluded to in my title today, i recently watched the documentaries an inconvenient truth and Jesus camp. (those links are amazon associate links, which will make me a very modest commission should you choose to purchase via my link only. your call.) both pieces released in 2006, in the midst of the george w. bush administration (the latter was filmed during the confirmation process of supreme court justice samuel alito). although the heady and dry film by once-the-future-president al gore garnered the oscar, it was the second that has me riveted and deeply in thought today – as well as prayer.
Jesus camp follows three preadolescent children from various parts of missouri, including nearby lee’s summit, who take part in a pentecostal children’s camp run by becky fischer. the film’s distributors claimed it “doesn’t come with any prepackaged point of view” and was intended to be “an honest and impartial depiction of one faction of the evangelical Christian community.” however as with any riveting piece of work, it of course had an agenda, as betrayed even by its emotionally charged title. the primary subjects (fischer and the families of the three children) were supposedly pleased with the way they were portrayed. it was later-disgraced megachurch pastor ted haggard who openly mocked the film crew during live services. he even made light of the apparently sincere desire of one of the kids to become a preacher.
depending on one’s point of view, a small contingent will be inspired as they watch, but many will be disturbed enough to speak out. for very different reasons that most of the strongly opinionated reviews i’ve read (disenchanted former church kids and others turned off by all traditional religious expression), i count myself among the second group. there are several facets to my response.
- this is indeed a faction that is portrayed. this is not what “most” christians are like, nor most evangelicals or even fundamentalists. i don’t think it would be too strong to call it “fringe” if not “lunatic fringe.” my journey through charismatic circles taught me that, while probably sincere, many such believers far too easily fall to emotional suggestibility. more on that in a bit.
- religious militarism hinders civil public discourse. the particular circles depicted here are literally stuck in an early-1990s mentality – carman’s “who’s in the house” (older than any of the kids present) is the get-pumped song on the camp’s opening night. moderate-to-liberal radio host mike papantonio, who interviews becky fischer, provides commentary against some of the lightning-rod issues espoused by her side of the aisle, including abortion, creationism, and homosexuality. at one point he admonishes her not to let her faith “bleed over into the public sector,” including schools. somewhere between refusing to let faith and morality into the conversation (papantonio’s view), and the “culture war” mentality that persists even today, lies the ability for persons of varied viewpoints to calmly discuss working together toward human flourishing. can we teach our young people by example in this?
- kids can be manipulated. this one is heavy on my mind as our middle school kids head to camp next week. it is so easy to get a preteen or young adolescent to pray a prayer, come forward, raise their hands, or perform anything else you want from them. i cannot support adults calling out young children in public, calling them “promise-breakers” and “phonies,” or using false guilt to further one’s agenda, as does fischer more than once. yet,
- kids will act on sincere convictions. while they have clearly been influenced by their parents, churches, and ministries like this camp, these kids are not robots. i would tweak the content of their message a bit, but i am ashamed at my own lack of boldness and passion for the cause of Christ. these are still kids. one of the girls prays fervently in faith, commanding a bowling ball to strike true, only to throw a gutter ball. yet i absolutely believe that “out of the mouth of babes You have perfected praise” (matthew 21:16). therefore,
- kids must have the guidance of faithful adults. while i disagree with an awful lot of the tactics used, i defend the right of these families to raise their kids to believe the way they do. some will leave the fold to follow their own way, but these specific kids will most likely continue exactly as they are taught.
- spoken blessing is critical to becoming a man or woman of God. a visiting preacher, whose messages focused on boosting fervor for the pro-life movement, calls on levi and pours out encouragement to this young man (i’m guessing he was around 10 or 11), telling him how much God thinks of him and the unique plan He has for levi’s life (the “book of levi”). what young person wouldn’t simply beam as levi did to hear specific blessing like that?
- it’s a mistake to let kids fend for themselves. i’m quite familiar with a mindset that finds “shoving (faith) down kids’ throats” to be extremely distasteful. i came to belief in Christ only a few months before my childhood legally expired. i was raised to be good, ethical, even moral. but as dr. meg meeker’s book boys should be boys (again an amazon associate link) convincingly argues, “giving a boy the security of God, the God that always sees him and always loves him, is the (best) defense parents can offer their child.” nearly all indicators of health play out more favorably when kids are raised knowing how to follow the path of faith.
i will certainly have this provocative film in mind as i head to camp next week, laying life upon life with 16 boys on their way to middle school next month.
have you seen Jesus camp? what are your thoughts?