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'JESUS CAMP' SPARKING DEBATE ABOUT MIXING RELIGION AND POLITICS
November 2, 2006
Becky Fischer says in the "Jesus Camp" documentary: "The extreme liberals, they have to look at this and start shaking in their boots at what these kids will be like when they grow up. I want to see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ, as the young people are to the cause of Islam."
Fischer runs Kids on Fire, a summer camp for evangelical Christians that's nestled in Devil's Lake, N.D.
"Jesus Camp" follows Fischer and the recruitment and training of three children Levi, 12, Rachel, 9, and Tory, 10 at the extreme Bible camp. The 87-minute documentary directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady is sparking debate across the country with its portrayal of evangelical Christians and their political movement. However, some Christian conservatives, including Fischer, hope the documentary gets their message out with its gradual nationwide release since Sept. 15 and accolades from the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in the spring.
The movie opens the three-day Pensacola International Film Festival lineup at 7 p.m. Friday on a jumbo screen in front of the T.T. Wentworth Museum.
The evangelical political movement is one that Crossroad Baptist Church Rev. Chuck Baldwin and other local pastors question.
Baldwin is no stranger to politics. The conservative Christian hosts a hard-hitting radio talk show and writes a weekly political column, both of which regularly challenge President George Bush's policies. In the 2004 presidential campaign, Baldwin was the Constitution Party's vice president. He also once served as the Florida Moral Majority chairman.
"There's no comparison between evangelical fundamentalists and Islamic extremists," Baldwin says emphatically. "But my concern is evangelicals propensity to align themselves too closely with one political party or one political candidate. If you do that, you lose your objectivity and compromise your convictions for political expediency. That's the only thing that disturbs me."
Fischer's statement also disturbs St. Anne's Catholic Church Rev. Jack Gray. He's the Director of the Office of Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs for the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee and once was Indiana's Deputy Secretary of State.
"I know many evangelicals and I've never heard of a camp like that," he says. "It's a little bit on the strange side. Jesus didn't tell us to take up arms and blow up buildings. He never called for a Jihad."
Children at the Evangelical Christian summer camp run by Becky Fischer pray over a cardboard cutout of President George W. Bush to make this "one country under God," break white coffee cups with hammers to show they're at war with the government and chant "Righteous Judges!" in protest of abortion.
Levi, Rachel and Tory are seen at home, a bowling alley, going to camp and then crisscrossing the country from an Evangelical church headed by Ted Haggard in Colorado Springs, Colo., to praying outside a Kansas abortion clinic and finally protesting abortion with red tape with "life" written on it over their mouths, as they pray outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
The film also features Mike Papantonio, a partner in the Levin law firm, a Methodist and host of Air America radio show, "Ring of Fire." Throughout the documentary, Papantonio is seen in his Pensacola radio studio questioning the camp and the Religious Right.
"They're training Christian soldiers for the Republican Party," Papantonio argues in "Jesus Camp." "How does that fit with God's message? God has a special place for those who mess with kids and it's not a pretty place."
Although Baldwin agrees with Papantonio on some points, he takes issue with the attorney insisting the children are being brainwashed.
"Papantonio saying that they're brainwashing kids is just nonsense," Baldwin says. "They're teaching them to love God, stand for Godly principals and to be involved. Liberals do the same thing in schools and on college campuses. When liberals disagree with something philosophically, they call it brainwashing. When liberals agree with it philosophically, then they call it instruction."
And Gray, although he agrees with Papantonio that Christians shouldn't become beholden to one party, says the fact is that Democrats have abandoned moral issues, such as abortion.
"Whether you are evangelical or Catholic there are moral issues—like the right to life—that you must espouse," he says. "Democrats, for the most part, have abandoned that concept. Consequently, Republicans have become more of a safe haven for committed Christians. But I would not vote for a pro-choice Republican. I'm not going to stand for it."
In the documentary, Haggard, who heads the National Association of Evangelicals, brags that children are fueling a boom in his churches and that evangelicals would hold a lot of control in U.S. politics.
Evangelical Christians are estimated to number 75 million in the United States. It's estimated 25 million Evangelicals voted in the 2004 presidential election with 80 percent voting Republican.
"There's a new church like this every two days," Haggard boasts in "Jesus Camp." "It's got enough growth to essentially sway every election. If the Evangelicals vote, they determine the election."
Baldwin scoffs at claims like Haggard's and calls for caution among Christian conservatives.
"Karl Rove and company are manipulating many evangelical pastors," he says. "They're using church leaders for their agenda. Ministers and religious leaders have become the sheep of the political shepherds. Instead, they should be the watchmen over the political establishment. Otherwise, they lose their power and credibility."
Pastor Ted Haggard Forced Out of New Life Church for Sexually Immoral Conduct:
• Haggard agrees to resign as pastor of New Life Church
• Denver police will look into "crimes that may have been committed"
• White House downplays Rev. Ted Haggard's influence
• Evangelist admits he called male escort to buy drugs and get a massage
MOVIE REVIEW: NEW YORK TIMES
By Stephen Holden
September 22, 2006
Children’s Boot Camp for the Culture Wars
“Extreme liberals who look at this should be quaking in their boots,” declares Pastor Becky Fischer with jovial satisfaction in the riveting documentary “Jesus Camp.” Ms. Fischer, an evangelical Christian, helps run Kids on Fire, a summer camp in Devils Lake, N.D., that grooms children to be soldiers in “God’s army.”
“Jesus Camp” shows one aspect of the rising evangelical movement. A mountainous woman of indefatigable good cheer, Ms. Fischer makes no bones about her expectation that the growing evangelical movement in the United States will one day end the constitutional ban separating church and state. And as the movie explores her highly effective methods of mobilizing God’s army, that expectation seems reasonable.
Ms. Fischer understands full well that the indoctrination of children when they are most impressionable (under 13 and preferably between 7 and 9) with evangelical dogma is the key to the movement’s future growth, and she compares Kids on Fire to militant Palestinian training camps in the Middle East that instill an aggressive Islamist fundamentalism. The term war, as in culture war, is repeatedly invoked to describe the fighting spirit of a movement already embraced by 30 million Americans, mostly in the heartland.
At Kids on Fire we see children in camouflage and face paint practicing war dances with wooden swords and making straight-armed salutes to a soundtrack of Christian heavy metal. We see them weeping and speaking in tongues as they are seized by the Holy Spirit. And we see them in Washington at an anti-abortion demonstration.
Filmed during the Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the movie visits a church at which the congregation prays in front of a life-size cardboard cutout of President Bush. Justice Alito’s eventual approval is hailed as another step forward in the movement’s eventual goal of outlawing abortion, the No. 1 issue on its agenda.
“Jesus Camp” is the second film by the documentary team of Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady to explore the molding of young minds. The first, “The Boys of Baraka,” followed a group of “at-risk” African-American boys from a decaying Baltimore middle school to an austere wilderness school in rural Kenya. Removed from a toxic urban environment, they flourish, until tribal conflict in the region forces the school to suspend operation.
The majority of the children in “Jesus Camp” are home-schooled by evangelical parents who teach them creationism and dismiss science. Handsome 12-year-old Levi, who wears his hair in a mullet, is being groomed as a future evangelical preacher. Already exuding star quality, he strides through a group of children, waving his arms and mouthing dogma about how his generation is so important.
Pretty 10-year-old Tory speaks earnestly of dancing “for God” and not “for the flesh.” Nine-year-old Rachael is already an evangelical recruiter who fearlessly approaches adult strangers.
Ms. Fischer speaks of “dead churches” (traditional Protestant churches in which the congregations sit passively and listen to a sermon) and declares these are places that Jesus doesn’t visit. In evangelical churches where people jump, shout, weep and speak in tongues, she contends, the spirit is present.
The great unanswered question is what will happen to these poised, attractive children when their hormones kick in and they venture beyond their sheltered home and church environments.
“Jesus Camp” includes one articulate and alarmed dissenting voice: Mike Papantonio, a talk show personality for Air America. A self-professed Christian of the dead church variety, he engages in a pointed but friendly debate with Ms. Fischer when she calls in to his show. But the only moment of real tension occurs during a side trip to a megachurch in Colorado Springs where the preacher Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (and a Bush friend), turns to address the camera in a tone of suspicion and hostility. It is the movie’s only glimpse of the evangelical movement’s ugly, vindictive side.
“Jesus Camp” doesn’t pretend to be a comprehensive survey of the charismatic-evangelical phenomenon. It offers no history or sociology and only scattered statistics about its growth. It analyzes the political agenda only glancingly, centering on abortion but not on homosexuality or other items. Because it focuses on the education of children, Ms. Fischer speaks of the evils of Harry Potter. But there is no analysis of Biblical teaching nor mention of “end times” or the rapture.
Who would deny that the movement’s surging vitality is partly a response to the steady coarsening of mass culture, in which the dominant values are commercial and the worldview is Darwinian in its amorality? Spread globally by television, the least-common-denominator brand of “secular humanism” — the evangelicals’ perceived enemy — is indeed repugnant.
It wasn’t so long ago that another puritanical youth army, Mao Zedong’s Red Guards, turned the world’s most populous country inside out. Nowadays the possibility of a right-wing Christian American version of what happened in China no longer seems entirely far-fetched.
“Jesus Camp” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Its frank discussion of politics and religion could upset.