Thursday, April 19, 2007

Review: "Jesus Camp"

The following is a reprint of a review I did for the documentary film “Jesus Camp,” and submitted to the blog of good friend Wayne Beamer whom I’ll be seeing this July at San Diego’s Comic Con International.

As Brak says: “I hope ya love it!”


On its face, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s documentary, “Jesus Camp,” has little to do with illustrated fiction - much less blogs on the topic.

But a closer look at the film echoes Wayne’s recent postings of a devout mentality driving censorship in various public libraries (Marshall, Mo.), albeit to be fair, this furor over various authors (e.g. Salinger, Twain, Blume) covers both liberal and conservative bents.

In what is framed as a notice on the rising American evangelical right, “Jesus Camp” profiles Pastor Becky Fischer’s “Kids on Fire,” a summer program wherein home-schooled Christian kids are coached to frame their faith as warfare. To this end, Fischer explains her goal is to teach young Christians to be so dedicated to their beliefs that it rivals Islam, whose believers (in Fischer’s terms) are taught early to “lay down their lives” for God.

Ironically located in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, “Kids on Fire” is typical of most summer camps, with such diversions as hiking and go-karts. And its charges are fairly ordinary too, with scenes of boys goofing off after dark, and girls chatting about dancing and music.

However, before “Kids on Fire” starts for the season, as we view Becky Fischer fervently praying over her chapel’s projectors and software (so it doesn’t crash), it’s a sign that “Jesus Camp” is about to take a sharp turn into Bat Country.

As a political action rally—which it truly is—the chief priority of “Kids on Fire” is to unequivocally ban all abortions. Time and again, campers are shown pro-life materials including toy fetuses, and encouraged to chant “Righteous judges!” in hopes of drafting the bench to their holy cause.

In these scenes, Becky Fischer clearly wants the next crop of evangelicals to be as dedicated to political activism as to their faith. Yet her camp’s platform is hardly consistent, as seen in segments where campers are encouraged to smash coffee cups labeled “GOVERNMENT,” while told to welcome a life-sized cardboard image of George W. Bush (as if it were the actual person).

Elsewhere, “Jesus Camp” then dives into the truly bizarre when—while warning campers against witchcraft—Fischer bellows that Harry Potter (a fictional character, mind you) would have been “put to death” had he lived 2,000 years ago.

Spotting demonic author J.K. Rowling at the rear of her chapel,
Pastor Becky Fischer commands her charges to stone her.

Yet beyond its religious subject, perhaps the most compelling aspect of “Jesus Camp” is how quickly life can turn on a dime for anyone, no matter how pious.

For example, since the film’s release, mega-church Pastor Ted Haggard (shown in “Jesus Camp” as railing against homosexuality) shocked his parishioners by admitting to a longtime gay affair. Then, the Christian right was equally blindsided when in 2006 voters ousted the congressional GOP majority, and shunted George W. Bush’s presidency firmly into lame duckhood.

In a few short months, everything that Becky Fischer wails about in “Jesus Camp,” an oncoming wave of Christian revival in America (or at least her version of it), is promptly bitch-slapped by the hand of karma.

And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t greatly amused…

There is no doubt “Jesus Camp” represents the pure extremes of the American evangelical movement. Yet the film is indeed useful when pondering what kind of person goes into righteous fits over Craig Thompson’s graphic novel “Blankets,” or Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home” being in a public library.

For readers who would prefer cultural crusaders like Becky Fischer mind their own damned business regarding what we choose to pick up, it’s wise to know one’s adversaries.

And to that end, “Jesus Camp” is as useful a guide as any.

1 comment:

StacekTheWise said...

"bitch-slapped by the hand of karma"

I love it! I am totally stealing that phrase for today.

BTW-Thanks for the warning.