An Unnerving Summer Excursion

Cape Times (South Africa), November 30, 2007 | Go to article overview

An Unnerving Summer Excursion


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JESUS CAMP. Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, with Becky Fischer and Mike Papantonio.

Review: KENNETH TURAN

You'll never think about summer camp the same way after you've seen how they do things in Jesus Camp.

And that's not the only illusion this unsettling documentary shatters. Though most Americans like to believe that what we have in common unites us more than our differences pull us apart, the uncompromising zeal of the charismatic branch of evangelical Christianity portrayed in the film - God's soldiers determined to "break the power of the devil in this nation" - calls that into question.

Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, who did the excellent, empathetic The Boys of Baraka, Jesus Camp has presented itself as an even-handed look at the growing evangelical movement and one particular Kids on Fire Summer Camp run by children's pastor Becky Fischer in (no joke) Devil's Lake, North Dakota.

But though the film takes no overt Michael Moore-type swipes at anyone, Jesus Camp is more likely to afflict the godless than comfort the God-fearing, who already know what's going on. Whether you are a religious, church-going person or not, if you are the least bit liberal or tolerant in your world view, this has got to be one of the most unnerving films of the year.

For one thing, the charismatic evangelicals depicted in this documentary are confident, organised and goal-orientated in their determination to "stand up and take back the land". If smugness were something you could eat with a spoon, the attitude of the Reverend Ted Haggard, head of the National Association of Evangelicals, would rob anyone of his or her appetite.

The part of this plan Jesus Camp concentrates on is the tools evangelicals use to indoctrinate their children at a young age to both share their parents' beliefs and act on them.

Jesus Camp tells us that 75% of home-schooled students are evangelicals. "Our children are on loan to us from God," one mother says, "and some day we're going to have to answer to him. …

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