Jesus Is Tragic

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FILM

Jesus Is Tragic

KIDS ARE CUTE. Documentaries confirm this, from the nerdy word-whizzes of Spellbound to the agile dancers of Mad Hot Ballroom. But in the new documentary Jesus Camp, children are terrifying symbols of the Christian Rights power to indoctrinate, manipulate and control.

The film's creators, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, directed another kid-centered chronicle, The Boys of Baraka, which follows a group of inner city teenage boys from Baltimore as they spend a year at a school in Kenya. In Jesus Camp they venture to the American heartland for an eye-opening journey into the lives of Evangelical Christians, specifically their Jesus-loving spawn. Conservatives may hail the film as a celebration of their supremacy; for secular humanists, Democrats and the 49 percent of Americans who don't believe God created human beings in their present form, it's a shocking wake-up call. (If you thought that satirical Web map "Jesusland" was a joke, think again.)

Devil's Lake, N.D., is the site of the "Kids on Fire" summer camp, where Ewing and Grady's cameras capture the behindthe-scenes preparations of Pastor Becky Fischer as she readies her mostly pre-pubescent flock to speak in tongues. (Children as young as six-years-old participate in the possessed proceedings.)

Outfitted in war paint and army fatigues, the kids are first shown taking part in a choreographed dance number that evokes both Jesus Christ and combat. The images imply-and more explicitly so as the movie goes on-that these youngsters are "warriors" for God, engaged in a Christian jihad to change the face of the nation. Islamic radicals may garner the newspaper headlines, but as Jesus Camp makes clear, America's own homegrown radical fundamentalists may prove just as dangerous. Pastor Fischer puts it this way, "I want to see young people as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to Islam ... laying down their lives for the Gospel."

If it sounds ominous-and it is-it's also laughable. The rotund Fischer calls out to the children to make war on the government, primps in front of a mirror, asks God to bless her audiovisual equipment and damns Harry Potter ("Warlocks are enemies of God," she yells. "In the Old Testament, Harry Potter would be put to death!")

The filmmakers focus on three other characters, kids in the camp who are seen being home-schooled in creationism and pledging allegiance to the "Christian flag." Levi O'Brien, an aspiring preacher and overly serious 13-year-old with a long mullet, says he was saved when he was just five years old. …