jesus camp

We finally got around to watching Jesus Camp tonight. It took a while for it to be our turn on the library queue … apparently this is quite the popular DVD. If you didn’t catch the buzz when it was in the theaters, here’s the description from Magnolia Pictures:

A growing number of Evangelical Christians believe there is a revival underway in America that requires Christian youth to assume leadership roles in advocating the causes of their religious movement.

JESUS CAMP, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, directors of the critically acclaimed The Boys of Baraka, follows Levi, Rachael, and Tory to Pastor Becky Fischer’s “Kids on Fire” summer camp in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, where kids as young as 6 years-old are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in “God’s army.” The film follows these children at camp as they hone their “prophetic gifts” and are schooled in how to “take back America for Christ.” The film is a first-ever look into an intense training ground that recruits born-again Christian children to become an active part of America’s political future.

When you see this film — if you can stomach it — you’ll be reminded that there exists in this country a movement of people whose sole metaphor for their role in our society is war, and who see this battle being waged almost completely in the halls of Congress, on the Senate floor, in the Oval Office, and in every bloody battle in which the U.S. is involved. To these people, America is God’s chosen nation, and it can do no wrong (including the current bloodbath in the Middle East), but only when a president of their mindset is at the helm. Militaristic in every sense of the word, this triumphalist group is training children from a young age to take up the sword rather than the towel, attempting to change the world for Christ by force. Filled with unquenchable passion and inspiring innocence, these children do their teachers’ bidding without question. This film depicts an entire generation being used by those much older than them to do their own, narrow-minded bidding, but wrapped in God language, of course. In essence, the triumphalists’ intentions are less about forming young people into the image of their Savior, but about organizing them into a voting block for their own agenda.

On the other side of the coin, the film depicts young children passionate about the faith that they’ve been passed. They are preaching, praying intently (more than I can say for myself at times), and sharing their faith. The film depicts this faith as being less about “fully living for today,” and more about the avoidance of all of life’s contaminents, but alas — truncated gospel or not, I was often touched by the fervor of these believers at such a young age.

So, I am conflicted. If part of this post sounds angry, that’s because it is. In fact, the more I think about the first part of this post, the angrier I get… I should go to bed. What do you think?

[Note: I posted on Jesus Camp when it was first released in theaters, linking to some good reflections from Greg Kendall-Ball]

14 responses to this post.

  1. Steve,
    I haven’t seen the film, but I think your anger is off-based. I’m encouraged to see some right thinking in your “on the other side of the coin” paragraph.

    The secularists in this country are shamefully using our tax dollars to foster a secular cradle-to-the-grave society, in which everyone is being systematically trained to engage in the idolatry of the American Civil Religion: postmodern secular humanism. This religion takes on many forms; after all, we are a pluralistic (i.e. polytheistic) society. So, we have the feminists which are dogmatic and aggressive in their assertions that we have a duty to protect woman’s right to choose (to murder their unborn babies). Many of these people are also dogmatic about accepting homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle, and they are using my tax dollars to advance this godless agenda by brainwashing kids in 1st grade.

    Education itself has been declared “religiously neutral.” But there is no such thing as neutrality. The light shines in the darkness. Where there is light, darkness must flee. Where there is darkness, there is no light. The public school classroom will either be a place where God is honored or not. If God is not honored, then He is dishonored. (Note: not and dis- mean the same thing). To live and act and teach and learn as if the LORD God is irrelevant is sinful idolatry. It is exchanging the glory of God for a lie.

    God is real and relevant; therefore, He ought to be acknowledged and worshipped in all things. Everything we do ought to be for the glory of God. Jesus Christ is Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all. If He is Lord, then He is Lord at “church” (as if church is a place you go to), at home, at school, at work, on the road, in Congress, on the battlefield, and in business.

    It seems you have fallen prey to the intellectual trickery of the apologists of secular humanism.

    Let me use a metaphor (although it is not mine – it belongs to Nancy Pearcey – from her book Total Truth – a great book by the way).

    We’ve been duped into accepting as reality dichotomies that are not coherent with reality. What do I mean? Let me explain.

    Say society is like a two story house.

    Downstairs is the public arena. Upstairs is the private arena.

    So, what belongs downstairs? Well, according to the average American apologist of the idolatrous religion of secular humanism, this is what belongs downstairs:

    The economy, Government, public education, corporations, science, anything that has tax money attached to it. You get the idea.

    What belongs upstairs?

    Your private lives. Your “personal beliefs,” “personal values,” and “religious convictiosn.” Belief in fairies, ghosts, spirits, Jesus, etc. They all belong upstairs. Its fine to worship Jesus or Mary or ghosts or Buddha or Allah or whatever. Just don’t you dare bring that downstairs into the public arena. That’s out of bounds. We are a pluralistic society.

    On top of that, the downstairs world has the final authority on what belongs downstairs and what belongs upstairs. So, they assert that psychology and psychiatry belong downstairs, because those are based on science (though, to be honest and truthful, they are more based on philosophy than they are based on science – but that’s a separate rant for another time).

    The problem with this whole metaphor is that it doesn’t gel with truth and reality. Jesus can’t be contained “upstairs.” He is the Lion of Judah! “The government shall be on His shoulders.”

    Should Christians care about justice? Of course we should! That means we should care about what goes on in Congress, and we should assert that Congress should do that which is just and right. But what is just and right? Justice/righteousness can not be accurately defined unless they are defined in relation to Yahweh. For, as it is written, “the righteous will live by faith.”

    You live in Massachusetts. I went to public school in Massachusetts, so I know well the mind of secular liberal America.

    We are to contend for justice in our homes, in our schools, in our church communities, in our neighborhoods, in the Sudan, in Iraq, in Israel, and in Washington. We have been given the command by God to do so, and the authority to do so.

    We have been duped into thinking that it is shameful to assert the gospel with authority. We are told that to assert the gospel is not humble. Well, that all depends on whether or not we are humble as we assert the gospel.

    But without a strong foundation on God, by what “ethical principles” ought our nation to be governed? Or, do you favor anarchy?

    If you are opposed to anarchy (as I believe you must be in order to stay true to the faith), then you must decide how to go about establishing justice in our neighborhoods, nation, and world. Romans 13 tells us the purpose of government. Guess what? In this democratic republic in which we live, we are the authorities. We have a God-given mandate to establish justice as servants of God. This is a part of the Great Commission.

    A nation that doesn’t condemn the holocaust of abortion or the perversion of “gay marriage” is a nation that is in very real danger of being doomed. We must understand that if God “gives us over” to the desires of the masses, then that is the wrath of God. (Romans 1). That God is rebuking us and chastising us is an act of grace and mercy. As a loving Father, He is not willing to let us go our own way. Praise God.

    Don’t take it from me. Read 2 Kings, Esther, and Proverbs. God cares about politics. So should we.



  2. By the way…
    While abortion and homosexuality are grievous abominations, there is forgiveness and grace and redemption available to all who have engaged in such sin. Furthermore, these aren’t the only sins of America. There is plenty of greed, pride, selfish ambition, complacency, envy, heterosexual perversion, etc. All of this is wrong. All of this need to be repented of, hated, and condemned. And all who have engaged and/or are continuing to engage in this can be forgiven and redeemed. That’s how great the cross of Christ is.

    Lest I am accused of being of the stripe that condemns abortion and homosexuality, but approve of everything else under the Sun. I do no such thing. If you are objecting to people like that, then I say, “Amen.” But I caution you. Not everyone who protests against abortion is an unbalanced, bigoted, and/or hateful person. So, be careful in judgment.


  3. Posted by Steve on April 27, 2007 at 9:53 am

    CE – Thanks for your last comment. I am not making a sweeping statement about everyone who disagrees with (or even protests against) abortion … but those for whom a few select sins are their sole battle cry, and those whose efforts are not done in a spirit of love.

    I could get in trouble for this, but here’s an interesting thought, with which I do not necessarily agree or disagree: Most people believe that those who perish before reaching an age at which they can accept the way of the Cross are destined to be with God. If the unborn are God’s living creation, and their lives are cut short, are they not destined to be with God forever? Though we may abhor the taking away of their earthly life, might we rejoice that they can go be with their Father? Again, I’m not saying that’s my point of view, but I’ve heard that line of thinking used before (not to condone abortion, but to put it into perspective). What do the rest of you think?

    (and let’s try to keep our comments short, people…)


  4. I, like you, was torn apart when I watched this. On the one hand, I was very sad/angry. On the other hand, I admire the commitment that these people had to do exactly what they think it the right thing to do. I also saw, in those people, some people that I love dearly. It was a strange experience.

    I did think the film was well-made. It didn’t come out and say either side was right or wrong, and it presented two different sides of the issue (I’m thinking of the talk radio dude).


  5. I am a proponent of the fact that the message of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God is a present reality that has implications within the rhelms of every aspect of life (politics included.)

    I am a proponent of the message of Christ being preached with bias attached (because God knows that I have a bias when I preach.)

    I am, however, confused at how people can come to the conclusion that THIS is the best way to preach Christ. It frustrates me to think that an entire generation is being brought up to see the propogation of the right-winged conservative ideals is advancing of the message of the Gospel.

    Bottom Line: If abortion, homosexuality, high gas prices, and liberals are allowed in America, the Gospel will still go on.

    Yes, we should pray for our leaders (maybe not with a cardboard cut out of him standing over our children.) Yes, we should vote for and voice what matters (maybe not with picket signs and demonstrations.) Yes, we should inform our children of the right things to do (maybe not overwhelm their already easily triggered emotions.)

    But, once…just once, I want to sing “God has Already Blessed America…so now let’s be a blessing.”


  6. Roberto said “Bottom Line: If abortion, homosexuality, high gas prices, and liberals are allowed in America, the Gospel will still go on.”

    Amen. Maybe we should recognize that not everyone in America adheres to the way of Christ. Why should we expect people to make laws and act in accordance with something they don’t identify with? The more I read about Jesus, the less I see him trying to change the governmental system, and the more he’s calling people to follow him in a new life…down a new path…no matter what is going on in the world. I want to be about bringing others along in that journey.


  7. I’m honestly confused by ya’ll’s rhetoric. (Although I am a Yankee, I currently live in VA – how do you like my usage of “ya’ll’s”)

    I just wrote Steve a couple emails. With all due respect for Steve and for everyone else, I would like to engage in a frank discussion about when it is and is not good, right, true, acceptable, praiseworthy, and/or desirable to mix faith with politics.

    Let’s do a quick poll:

    Option A: It is never right to mix faith with politics, and anyone who claims to follow Christ should not be involved in politics of any form ever.

    Option B: It is never right to mix faith with politics, but being somewhat involved with politics is okay. Just leave your faith at home.

    Option C: It is sometimes right to mix faith with politics.

    Option D: It is always right to mix faith with politics, when you are involved with politics. However, we should not be defined by politics.

    Option E: It is always right to mix faith with politics, and politics matters above all else.

    Depending on how politics is defined, I would put myself somewhere between D and E, but closer to D.

    If you choose A, then that means you should never vote, you should never be a part of a Town Meeting. You should never be involved in a school board meeting. You should not be involved in what is happening in the Supreme Court or in Congress. You should not picket. You should not write to your Congressman.

    What about praying for your Congressman? Apparently, if you choose A, you can’t do that either. Because then God might get involved in politics due to your prayer – which means that indirectly, you got involved with politics. The fundamental rules of Option A is that we are not to be involved in politics and we are not to mix faith with politics. So, it seems that Option A means we can’t pray for our leaders. (Or if we do, we can only pray that God will influence their “private” lives, and not their “public” lives.)

    Clearly, Option A is unbiblical. Scratch that one off the list.

    Option B… Do I even need to go through this. “Whatever is not of faith is sin.” If we are to engage in politics at all, we must do justly as God defines justice. We must live for the glory of God. Jesus is Lord of all. etc. If we engage in politics, but leave our faith at home, then we are in sinful idolatry. Scratch B off the list.

    Option C. See my analysis of Option B. Christ is Lord of ALL and that ALL the time. We are not allowed to “sometimes” treat God as if He is irrelevant. Scratch it off the list.

    Option E. I don’t think anyone here is considering this option – except maybe me – somewhat. Again it depends on how we define “politics.” One can argue that all human interaction is “political” in nature. But let’s just say that some people are addicted to Fox News (or CNN or MSNBC or the New York Times, etc) and they are always ready for a good brawl about politics, but they never spend time in the Bible. They become idealogues, and they have a political – and maybe even a theological – solution for everything, but there is little to no evidence of Christ being lived out in their lives. They are “religious,” but they have lost connection (or never had connection) with Christ. They are not living “incarnationally,” but only theoretically. I confess that I need to stand my guard against this kind of thing.

    Option D. We should care about justice for all – justice for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the Sudan, the unborn, the schools, the neighborhoods, the families, the courts, Congress, etc. We are commanded to care about justice and to do justly. To preach the gospel without contending for justice is to fail to preach the full gospel. We desire to live under just laws. How do we discern what laws are just? Justice/righteousness can not be defined accurately a part from Yahweh; thus, we contend (whether or not we get our way) that the law of the land must be based on the truth about Yahweh.

    Establishing justice in this manner is a crucial part to the fulfillment of the Great Comission.

    Why is it that many Christians applaud “Amazing Grace”, but become infuriated by modern day selfless heros who are demanding that our government recognize the personhood and the value of the unborn? Why is it that many Christians are not at all disturbed by children in the public school system being brainwashed into secular humanist apologists, but they are so quick to criticize those who assert that the LORD God is relevant in public schools and should thus be acknowledge and worshipped? Why do we care more about the 1st Amendment than we do about the 1st Commandment?

    Why is it so hard to understand that if we are to have law at all, then we are to have laws that are moral? Why is it hard to understand that if we are to have laws that are moral, then we need to base our laws on God?

    Read 2 Kings, Proverbs, and Psalms.

    Chrissy, you said, “Maybe we should recognize that not everyone in America adheres to the way of Christ.”

    Note sure what you mean by “recognize.” If you mean merely that the facts are that such people in America exist, then of course, everyone “recognizes” that. If you mean that their views should be legitimized, then I’d have to fundamentally disagree with you.

    Not everyone in America is Christian. So?

    There are also racists in America. Should that fact stop us from condemning racism in the public school classroom? Should that fact cause us to only make laws that won’t offend racists?

    Learn to obey God by praying the imprecatory Psalms.

    Psalm 58:1-2
    “Do you rulers indeed speak justly? Do you judge uprightly among men? No, in your hearts you devise injustice, and your hands mete our violence on the earth.”


  8. Steve,

    The idea that all infants who die before a supposed “age of accountability” doesn’t seem to be founded in Scripture. But either way, this thought is completely irrelevant to whether or not abortion should be legal.


  9. Posted by Steve on April 27, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    I’d comment, but I need to act justly in my workplace by being productive.


  10. Posted by Mateo on April 27, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    Hi CE,

    It is obvious that you have spent a lot of time thinking about these issues and really want to honor God in your conclusions. Thank you for taking these things seriously. I think this conversation is particularly difficult because the governments we read about in the Bible were not democratic. We see God appointing leaders either directly or with prophets early in the OT. He then leads them into times of war and peace according to His will.

    The New Testament situation is completely different, with Jesus showing how to live under an oppressive government, submitting to its laws, but striving to impact the world at a personal level. He showed us how to love people around us and He called us to make disciples of this life of sacrifice. Even better, He still lives with us and will guide our every step as we submit to His authority.

    We are in an interesting place today where we must both submit to the authority that governs us, but also participate and shape it. You are right when you say we can’t separate politics from faith. As far as we are involved in politics we should be completely driven by faith in God. How involved we should be in politics is between each person and God, depending on the giftings and call God has put on each of us.

    Yes, we each need to figure out what part of the political process we are called to participate in and we need to pray for our leaders, but God cares a lot more about our personal obedience than us having a successful government. I’m trusting Him to show me what perfect government looks like when we get to live in the one He sets up. Hallelujah!


  11. Posted by Steve on April 27, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    Just to piggy-back Mateo’s comment, it is crucial to understand that when God deals with the Israelites in the Old Testament, he is dealing not with some random government — He is dealing with His people, chosen to reflect His glory on the Earth. But as a government as well, this tiny nation was called to reflect the justice and righteousness of God in their laws and priorities.

    Who are the people of God under the headship of Jesus Christ in the New Testament and beyond? Clearly, the church. So when we read Old Testament verses where God mandates justice in laws and such, it is more applicable to read those verses as mandates to those underneath his lordship, not Earthly governments.


  12. As someone interested in atheist-theist dialogue, I thought you and your readers might be able to help me out with some questions:


  13. Somehow I feel like commenting about the original topic would be, well, off-topic, but I saw the movie. Ewing and Grady aren’t above a couple easy shots &emdash;the reaction shot to a dog when the family pledges to the Christian flag turns a disturbing moment of brainwashing (hey, CE, what do you know, Christians do it too) into something merely “wacky.” But the film is a stunning one, and a terrifying example of children being manipulated by adults. Kids are, by and large, kinda stupid, and that’s OK; at 11 years old, you’re supposed to be emotionally and intellectually inferior. But for the proprietors of the camp to take advantage of that underdevelopment is shameful, and the way they pervert the gospel by teaching the kids to be hateful antagonists for Christ is just appalling. I wish more people knew that the brand of militaristic Christianity portrayed in the film is in no way indicative of the kind of genuine faith practiced by so many people in America.

    Anyway, it’s a powerful film, and a good conversation-starter. Definitely worth seeing.


  14. Posted by dana on May 3, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    I was riveted by this movie. While I don’t agree with a lot of the principals that the Evangelicals have, I do understand that by the act of having children we each impose our beliefs on them. Every parent who spends time with their children will have to explain their beliefs on death, life, right and wrong, politics, sex, and housework. There is no way these parents and pastors could be expected to not share and “indoctrinate” what they believe passionately.
    Do large corporations not believe that they need money, and the individuals on the board of directors decide to give money to a political campaign to push their agenda? No matter how you fight for whatever, you are reflecting your beliefs every time you leave the house and have a conversation. Every one here has brought their beliefs to the political arena.
    My point is, whatever your view Jesus Camp, getting angry because these people teach their children and go into society is deluding yourself. We all teach our children and expect them to believe. Even if that belief is that they should be individuals and decide for themselves, it is a belief propagated from the time of birth.


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