Jesus Camp

2006, Movie, 85 mins


Depending on your attitude toward the Christian right in the U.S., the scariest movie you'll see all year may not be THE DESCENT or TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING, but Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing's admirably evenhanded documentary. Using as a framing device the 2005 resignation of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and the ensuing battle over George W. Bush's nomination of Samuel Alito — a fight that quickly became a debate over abortion — the film centers on round-faced, charismatic Pentecostal children's pastor Becky Fischer, who's made it her mission to "reclaim America for Christ." Pastor Becky knows that kids are "so usable in Christianity," so every August she moves her base of operations from the Christ Triumphant Church in Summit, Missouri, to the provocatively named Devil's Lake, North Dakota, where she runs the "Kids on Fire" summer camp. For two weeks, Fischer preaches to the kids and their parents about the "sick old world" they live in, the dangers of Harry Potter ("If he were in the Old Testament, he'd be put to death!"), aborted babies, holy war and their own sinful preadolescent souls, and she doesn't quit until every last child is in tears and wailing, repenting his or her sins and speaking in tongues. Pastor Fischer makes no bones about the fact that she's training her campers to be warriors, soldiers capable of fighting the Islamist hordes she's convinced are being similarly trained in madrassas throughout the Middle East — the war paint and camouflage the kids wear in the pageant that opens the film are no accident. God's love means war, and Fischer is helping to build an army capable of fighting the good fight over abortion, school prayer and global warming (a scary indication of the reach of the neoconservative Republican platform). But this is just the tip of the iceberg: As Grady and Ewing follow three of Fischer's pint-sized acolytes to and from camp, we're also introduced to the larger world of evangelical Christianity, its Washington influence and the fact that it's no longer a lunatic fringe — Pastor Fischer and her ilk have moved front and center. One voice of reason is heard intermittently throughout the film — it belongs to liberal Christian radio host Mike Papantonio — and he's given the final word. But otherwise Grady and Ewing's depiction of this modern-day children's crusade is remarkably unbiased, so the fact that Pastor Fischer would probably consider the film an accurate portrayal of her mission may be the most terrifying thing of all. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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