Children of Heaven

By Applebaum, Stephen | The Independent (London, England), August 24, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Children of Heaven

Applebaum, Stephen, The Independent (London, England)

A documentary sensation follows young Christian activists at a summer school. STEPHEN APPLEBAUM is on his knees

They look like any other American children, but the kids in Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's disturbing, Oscar-nominated, documentary Jesus Camp are part of an expanding Christian fundamentalist world where religion touches every aspect of their lives, and God and politics are intimately enmeshed.

When Tory, 10, dances, she is already aware of the shame of "dancing for the flesh". She prefers God-focused Christian heavy metal to the boy-centric pop of Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan, she says.

According to 12-year-old would-be preacher Levi's mother, who home-tutors her son, creationism holds all the answers to how we got here, and global warming is not a problem. Levi, who was "saved" at the age of five, reveals that his "spirit feels kind of yucky" when he meets a non-Christian.

Meanwhile, Rachael, nine, takes the concept of martyrdom cheerfully in her stride, and nervously proselytises during a family outing to a local bowling alley.

Jesus Camp is a jaw-dropping excursion into an unseen America that is "enormous and growing", says Ewing, who is Catholic (Grady is Jewish). "It's out there, and it's a very politically involved group, and they're raising their children up in a specific way that could, in the end, affect all of us."

The film-makers follow the children to the Kids on Fire summer camp in Devil's Lake, North Dakota, where its founder, the Pentecostal children's minister Becky Fischer, puts them through a psychologically and emotionally gruelling boot camp of Bible study and revival meetings. Children are filmed weeping, writhing convulsively on the floor, and speaking in tongues.

"The Devil goes after the young," Fischer warns her pre- pubescent, born-again, flock, holding up a cuddly-toy lion-cub to illustrate the seductive nature of sin. Even Harry Potter is a threat. "Warlocks are the enemy of God," she admonishes. "If he had been in the Old Testament, Harry Potter would have been put to death."

A woman encourages children to bless a cardboard cut-out of George Bush to give him spiritual strength. "Mr President, one nation under God," they cry together. Later, a pro-life campaigner hands out life-sized plastic foetuses like sweets and leads the kids in chants of "righteous judges".

Fischer rejects the idea that she is brainwashing children but has no problem with the word "indoctrinating". She equates what she is doing with the training of terrorists in the Middle East. "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," she says. "I want to see them radically laying down their lives for the gospels, as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine.

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