With the upcoming 2016 election near at hand, I feel this is an important film to look to to understand the motives of people like Ted Cruz and his backers. “Jesus Camp” is quite possibly one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen, and certainly a tough one too watch. I should preface this by saying not all religious people behave in this way, nor are many religious people this fundamentalist. This film represents, thankfully, only a small portion of the American population, that has since lost most of their influence when this film was made.
Directed by: Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady.
Cast: Becky Fischer, Ted Haggard, Lou Engle, and Mike Papantonio.
Plot: This documentary follows the goings on of a radical, Christian summer camp in rural Missouri. The film explores the lives of several of the attendees, children who are indoctrinated from birth not only to accept Christianity, but reject evolution, climate change, and even Harry Potter. The children are sent by their parents to the camp, which is called, Kids on Fire. There, the children are “trained” to be “warriors for God”, and endure intense psychological abuse. They are led by Becky Fischer, and other infamous characters such as Lou Engle.
The film takes place during the presidency of George W. Bush, a beloved figure among right wing conservative evangelicals. When I say beloved, it’s no joke. In the film, the camp directors bring a cardboard cutout of Bush in front of everyone to pray over. It was hilarious, and also disturbing. As I mentioned, we have a presidential candidate who is already being backed by these people, and they’re starting to obsess over him as they did with Bush.
Moving on to the actual substance film, it’s very shocking. As someone who grew up in the south with people like this, I can’t say what goes on in the film is all that unfamiliar. Sure, the crying children convulsing on the ground and people screaming that we should be, “warriors”, was never a thing I remember. I do however remember quite well the indoctrination, hate of Harry Potter, and raging against evolution and science in general. The curriculum used in the film is very familiar. Kids in these areas are told by their parents and by “science books”, that “science can’t prove anything”. T
This is the worldview of Conservative Christians. The people in the film are almost a mirror of the Islamists in the Middle East. The camp director, Becky Fischer, actually in a way praises the Islamists. She speaks of how they also send their children to camps, training them to be child soldiers for Islam. She says it with this creepy sense of admiration, like she wishes she could do the same with Christian children.
Ultimately, the film is a showcase of what the kids in these environments go through. It was really hard watching little children from ages 5 to 11, crying their hearts out and rocking back and forth on the floor. Since this is hosted by a Pentecostal church, the children even speak in tongues. One child in particular, Levi, is given a lot of screen time in the film. He is a very bright young man, and it’s sad to see someone like him being warped.
“Jesus Camp” is a well made documentary that showcases a small percentage of the population with a very radical views of what America should be like. Ring of Fire radio is featured in this film, as they are one of the only news stations to report the goings on of these people. By the end of the film, you can’t help but wonder who these children will become when they’re older. Unfortunately, you don’t have to imagine it. Becky Fischer and Lou Engle are stark examples of who these kids could become when they grow up. Let’s just hope that children like Levi wake up, not necessarily from their religion, but frok their fundamentalism.