Saturday, October 07, 2006

Happy Campers

So last night I saw "Jesus Camp", a new documentary by the women who did "The Boys of Barakah". It's being marketed as a scary, sensational view of Crazy Christians. In reality, it's much more complex.

I was surprised at how fair the whole thing seemed - I've heard the subjects of the film were pleased with how it turned out, and I wouldn't be surprised. It was straightforward, this is what Pentecostals do in worship, this is what homeschooling moms believe, etc. I didn't think it was against the people, it was simply presenting them as they are. Which yes, is scary for those of us who had bad experiences there or those who didn't realize this level of vigor exists. But it's true.

In fact, the film seems primarily to be an attempt to educate Americans as to this growing, very powerful voter bloc that many people are ignorant about. It aims to teach us a bit more about not only their values but how they train the next generation, why they believe the way they do, and the sincerity of their faith that backs up their behavior.

But here is where I must fault the film. For in aspiring to educate about Evangelicals, it paints a very broad picture without drawing necessary distinctions between types. From the film alone, one might think that speaking in tongues is common practice in all Evangelical churches; that the style of preaching and singing at Ted Haggard's megachurch is how we all worship; that all the homeschooled children are learning the same stuff (what Studio 60 cleverly called "Science Schmience" on last week's ep). There was no attempt to distinguish between very different kinds of Evangelical Christians, and that disappointed me. I'm sure Ted Haggard, or other megachurch pastors, wouldn't go in for the super-charismatic worship shown in the Pentecostal church scenes. I'm sure the Pentecostals would have theological differences with other churches (actually one kid, describing a "dead" church, said it's a place where they "sing three songs then listen to a sermon" - which is a megachurch description, not a mainline!). So it lacked subtlety.

But overall, it was a bit disconcerting and mostly just fascinating. I was mostly fine with it until they brought a cutout of George Bush into a church service and essentially started worshipping it. I didn't like all the military language that is being tossed about without strong distinctions between the way of Jesus and the way of war. And I hate how abortion is the only issue they care about - they will bawl and chant "righteous judges!" but they would probably not vote for someone who would put more help systems in place for poor unwed mothers (since that person is likely to be a Democrat).

Mostly I was upset that the main protagonist, a children's pastor named Becky, sees her mission as indoctrinating the next generation so that they will grow up to be warriors for Jesus. Her defense of this is that other religions (particularly Islam) supposedly do the same to their children. But just because they do it, that doesn't mean we should! Just because they create child soldiers, so should we? Even if they are child soldiers fighting for Jesus?

Anyway, I hope some more people will see it and let me know what you think. It's in pretty limited release but maybe the Evangelicals could help it grow. I mean, I was watching it thinking it could have been made by Evangelicals. For the most part, it played like a nice advertisement for them - you would only be offended if you weren't on their side. I feel like it could play to both sides, and that's extremely hard for a documentary to do. So kudos to the filmmakers.

4 comments:

Leila M. said...

"Her defense of this is that other religions (particularly Islam) supposedly do the same to their children. But just because they do it, that doesn't mean we should! Just because they create child soldiers, so should we? Even if they are child soldiers fighting for Jesus?"

Sorry, but last time I checked, we don't.

Anonymous said...

...this is what homeschooling moms believe, etc. I didn't think it was against the people, it was simply presenting them as they are.

I find it hard to believe that this film represents all homeschooling moms and summarized in a nutshell what they believe - particularly since the film is not primarily about homeschooling. Or do you mean that the ones in the film reinforced your own personal stereotyped version of a homeschooling mom?

Elmo said...

Anon -

I think what she was saying is that the film put facts on screen with as little editorial comment as they could. Maybe she should have stated "this is what these Pentecostal homeschooling moms believe".

Fem -

I've been looking at this movie wondering if I want to go see it. All I ever see about it are from bloggers and forum posters who are adamantly against any form of Christianity, or against those who believe Christ to be the only way. They focus on the cardboard cutout of Bush, and the soldier language...

It's unfortunate that they would paint the Evangelical/conservative church with such a broad brush, because there are many conservative churches that are sensible about educating their kids, political discussion, and difficult subjects like abortion. It also ignores the work that is done by these churches to feed the poor, clothe the naked, and spread the Good News.

Of course, someone has to capture our flaws, or it'd be called propaganda...

The Feminarian said...

OK, first to Leila - this woman in the docu was giving the defense that Muslims train children to be soldiers. I don't think she's right - your beef is with her (and the supposed "websites" she says she can show you). The film doesn't comment. I was just saying that if it were hypothetically true, that doesn't justify it as a defense of training more child soldiers in any religion. Ummm...one religion doing something doesn't make it OK in another religion if it was wrong to begin with. I think that's what I'm trying to say (leaving names of religions out of it, and certainly speaking entirely hypothetically).

To anonymous, what I meant was that I was watching thinking "OK, I can believe there are normal rational people who believe these things." Not that they represent even a majority, but I was just trying to say I thought they were presented fairly. I am not sure how you got your interp of my comment (I think you maybe read into it a fear of a prejudice I don't have?), but it wasn't my intention to say the film represents all homeschooling moms, nor that I believe all are like that. SOME must be, because 2 of 'em were in the film. Maybe they are the only ones, fine. I was just saying they didn't present them as freaks. Which seeemed to me like a good thing. Perhaps not - perhaps the film should have said "these are the only 2 homeschooling moms in America like this and we picked them for their extremist viewpoints." But that would have gotten silly. And besides, my main criticism of the film in general was that it made lots of broad generalizations that were unfounded and untrue.

And finally, Elmo (thanks for all your recent posting and the defense of me which was correct), I can't say whether you should see it. I will say that there was an opposing voice IN the film and that person was a Christian, which made me happy. I felt they presented both sides. And really, it's a documentary in the old style - just presenting the way a situation/people really is and avoiding comment. Before Michael Moore got all editorial, documentaries were a lot more about real "reality".