Sunday, January 28, 2007

Jesus Camp

I need to catch the 9:30 ferry and go to Vashon this morning to participate in the memorial service for our beloved Doc Eastly, but I watched the documentary "Jesus Camp" last night and need to write a review of it before the horror of it subsides.

Jesus Camp is an hour and a half of horrifying footage about how a group of evangelicals (and I know this is NOT true of the evangelical Christians I know personally) in the midwest is schooling children to be "warriors for God".

I watched in growing apprehension as I watched adults deliberately groom and seduce children into behavior that was quite unchildlike, quite inappropriate for their age level, and quite disturbing in its emotional destructiveness.

I made notes as I watched and I'll just list them here, rather than expound in depth:
1. We know too-early sexualization of children is sexual abuse because of the coercion and betrayal of trust involved; what about too-early religionization, induction into a point of view and behavior that are beyond a child's ability to grasp, and achieved by grooming and seduction and threats of hell?
2. If sexual abuse violates the self through the body and mental abuse violates the self through the brain, does spiritual abuse violate the self through the heart? Will the victim ever recover his/her selfhood?
3. I couldn't help thinking about the likelihood that many of these kids will eventually get disgusted and leave, some with their selfhood intact and others with damaged and violated selves.
4. It was creepy to watch the adults in relationship with these kids, particularly as they whipped the kids into a frenzy with music, with rhythm, and with threats of sin and degradation. The look on adult faces was almost gloating, as the kids cried and raised their arms to the sky. One little boy was in tears the whole time, it seemed, and he appeared to be genuinely concerned that he was doomed. I wondered if he was a child who already knew he was different sexually (and the message about homosexuality was clear, though not much articulated verbally) and was pleading with God to change him.
5. The kids at times seemed to be parroting the message in order to get adult approval. I could hardly believe that they actually understood and were committed to what they said.
6. The kids were charged with saving the nation from abortion. Tiny fetus dolls were passed out for the kids to handle and keep and most of the kids wore red bracelets signifying the blood of Jesus and the sin of abortion.
7. Ted Haggard was featured decrying homosexuality. And though my gaydar is not great, I thought "oh, yeah, buddy?"
8. The faces of the kids showed uncertainty at many points and I wondered where they would be in ten years---dead of suicide because of their self-loathing? stuck in the same rut? doing this to other kids? or revolting against it all and hating religion?
9. Several scenes portrayed ritualistic bobbing up and down, for no apparent purpose, though it reminded me of worshippers at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Many of the kids had red tape with the word LIFE marked on it over their mouths as they protested at Pro-Life rallies.

And over all the movie, the figure of Pastor Becky Fischer, the woman who invented Jesus Camp, intoning her message "We're telling kids about Jesus, we're telling kids about Jesus. Jesus wants them to save the nation. Jesus wants them to save the world."

In reality, there was nothing about Jesus in this movie and everything about sadistic and manipulative adults, using children to get their jollies. How sick is that?


LinguistFriend said...

On first reading, I somehow assumed that you were commenting on a film which was a sobering but fictional expose' of how such a camp might run. On second reading, I belatedly caught that it was a documentary about a real camp. Ouch. Although I have a deep conviction of the importance of Christianity, I doubt that I could identify it with what you describe.

Miss Kitty said...

An excellent post. I dread seeing this movie, though I think I need to.

I grew up in & live in the Bible Belt and was traumatized early on by the sort of people we see in Jesus Camp. One babysitter took my sister and me to her Pentecostal/Charismatic church, and as I (a scared 10-year-old) watched the adults writhe and moan on the floor, I prayed, "Lord, if you get me out of here, I promise never to be bad ever again, or ask for anything."

The same babysitter told my sister & me that we were sinners, and that Jesus hated us because we liked pop music (The Police, Paul Young, Duran was the early 1980s).

Jesus Camp is real. That's why I dread seeing it. But I think it'll help me better deal with the crazies down here in Georgia, and to process the damage our babysitter and her church cronies did. I have many religion/church issues even today.

Mile High Pixie said...

Some folks have panned the movie, since it was directed by Nancy Pelosi's daughter and felt like the movie's subjects were being made fun of. However, as someone who's met folks like you described in the movie, I find that all one needs to do is give them enough rope and they'll hang themselves, as Ted Haggard did.

I would agree that these adults are very possibly doing spiritual damage to these children. The best thing our parents ever did was allow us to discover the Great Unknown on our own terms so that we didn't hate spirituality when all is said and done.

ms. kitty said...

I wouldn't say there was any "being made fun of", but it certainly didn't portray the camp in a good light. It was pretty awful.

Thanks for your thoughts.