From the very first scene we are brought into a studio where a radio show is being broadcast and a radio personality expresses his frustration with George Bush and the war. The radio show serves as a counter to the footage of an Evangelical camp. As obvious as this may be, there are still some harrowing images when it comes to the children in the film. When asked if they believe that God can do anything there is a mother who forcibly raises her children’s hands. The children are encouraged to be the ones to make change happen in the world, but as positive as the message may be, there are times when it feels as though their hands are being forced by the adults who have strong beliefs. In open scene a parent sits down with her child and they study textbooks which sit next to a copy of The Lord of the Rings, against the political argument of global warming. Science doesn’t mean anything because they have faith.
We are told in one scene that Muslims are trained by the age of five to fast, which is meant to make us feel that this extreme training of faith for Christians is justifiable. Becky Fischer, a Pentecostal children’s minister, encourages this kind of dedication in children. She expects the children to fast, to pray, and even to speak in tongues. These children are soldiers in a war that needs training, so Becky runs a summer camp for Evangelical kids. What is somewhat disturbing is the way that Becky brags about the speed in which she can enter a playground and evangelize to a child until he is able to hear the voice of God and see visions. The importance she puts upon herself in the equation as well as the speed with which she claims to make children open to God without the background to the religion at all necessary is more than disturbing at times. Jesus Camp is all about how open children are and what they can do for Christianity, and that is an amazing sight which is proven true, but the adults made me equally wary.
At the same time that the methods can be unsettling, especially for those who aren’t used to the in-your-face religious experiences shown, the point comes across rather strong. One third of the world’s population is made up of children under fifteen and these kids are our future. As sure as there are temptations directed at children from a young age, there should be the opportunity for something more positive as well. The question put to the viewer is whether of not the methods Becky uses are the right ones.
The unfortunate choice to use such extreme viewpoints makes the film more interesting, but it is likely to turn audiences away from any positive elements within the film. While a documentary like Rize showed a group of kids who chose to do something positive in their life through dance, with many also finding that it brought them closer to God and in stronger faith, Jesus Camp doesn’t carry the same punch. These kids don’t seem to be in the real world. They are in an Evangelical bubble, mostly home schooled and never given the opportunity to come to conclusions about the world on their own. There are vacuums for the information given to them, but nothing more than what the parents see as appropriate.
Although there are some sketchy moments that make Evangelicals look like a national threat as well as others where extreme views on the other side can become creepy, the kids fall in safe ground. Everyone will find themselves starting to care about these kids, who all have a great heart. Where they are old enough to really know what they believe is an argument I don’t want to start, but they certainly aren’t old enough to be cynical. Everything they do sincerely seems to come out of their hearts and they become the inspiration of the film.