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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Fighting Fire With Fire

Jesus Camp (2006) on IMDb

Plot Overview

“Jesus Camp” is a 1½ hour documentary on the mobilization of Christian evangelicals to effect the out­come of the “Culture War” (“We want to reclaim America for Christ.”) In 2005 the first woman Justice on the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor, announced her resignation, prompting Christian spokes­men (such as James Dobson) to urge that “Christians should get involved” and “pray urgently.” President George W. Bush would go on to appoint the more conservative Samuel Alito as Associate Justice in her place, to be confirmed by the Senate 58 to 42 on June 31, 2006. “Camp” details some of the spiritual struggle to make this happen.

This movie is what “Selma” isn't. The latter is a portrayal of the efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 despite the obstacle of President Johnson. Historically, Johnson was not an obstacle; this was his baby, but the movie-makers didn't want it done by a great White savior. They made him the boogey­man so as to high­light the grass roots efforts. In “Jesus Camp” President Bush is portrayed as being on board the Christian cause from the get go (“He has really brought some real credibility to the Christian faith.”) “Selma” did not succeed in their goal, because the lion's share of camera time went to one public speaker, Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) while the protesters who dedicated their lives for the cause were but quickly panned in a pastiche. In “Jesus Camp” Ted Haggard president of the 30 million strong National Association of Evangelicals is shown speaking on stage but briefly. The movie spends most of its time following the lives and efforts of Becky Fischer a Pentecostal children's minister and the children she brings along, particularly three of them, giving us a chance to connect down on that level.

Nine-year-old Rachel describes “certain churches, they're called ‘dead churches’” that sound an awful lot like my church as opposed to her kind of “churches where they're jumping up and down, shouting.” Evangelicals cover a broad spectrum of worship styles, but it's the Pentecostals that will look most interesting on camera. Oh, well. She is particularly bold in sharing her faith with strangers. Reminded me of the Girl Scout cookies being sold out­side the library where I saw the movie. You don't have to buy them. Her most impressive scene was where she ritual­istic­ally took a “Holy Ghost hammer” to break china cups to represent victory over evil in the world. After the show I had to wait outside a Middle School to transfer buses, and a kid there was explaining to his father how he was going to subdue the bad guys: he'd don his super­power uniform and use mind control to get them to fight each other. Becky was most disapproving of Harry Potter type heroes (“Warlocks are enemies of God”), but I think we need to let kids be kids. Peter, Paul and Mary did sing about employing different implements in “If I Had a Hammer.” If one kid had a Holy Ghost hammer, and another a mind control bell, and the hippies have a protest song, then we'll probably all be hammering, and ringing, and singing.

Levi is a little rat-tailed kid who has preached at his church several times. He preaches against hypocrisy and for “allegiance to the Bible,” it being (Psalm 119:105) “a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” That's how we come to know the truth, as even the engraving on the outside of the library where I viewed the movie intimates, (John 8:31-32) “the truth shall make you free.”

Victoria is a young girl who enjoys dancing, being careful to keep it in the Spirit, not in the flesh. Since Haggard preached that he believes in “the ten year rule about dating”—what­ever that is—and in our mobile society any ten year delay will likely mean at least one of any couple will have moved away before they can get to the next stage, it might be handy to have a sense of rhythm gotten from dancing if one is to hope to ever get married in this company.

Becky led a prayer (“Dear Jesus, please let the electricity not go out”) to thwart the devil from cutting their power during the service. I lost power to my DVD player when I jimmied the plug. Had to go back to the china-busting scene and watch the breakage all over again. But since my back­ground is electrical engineering, I attributed it to a technical failure, not super­natural interference. Maybe things work differently in Devil's Lake, ND where they have their camp.

They refute global warming, because even though they had a hotter-than-usual decade, it was only .6°F higher (on an 88° day). And when they used tiny baby dolls to represent the humanity of a fetus down to 7 weeks, they concluded, “A person's a person no matter how small.” In one case smallness didn't matter, and in another it did. That is way to philosophical for this reviewer to figure out.


In George Washington's farewell address of 17th September, 1796—quoted annually on the floor of the Senate—, he characterized the American people: With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. It was a pretty uniform culture. This movie makes the point that Americans are still by and large conservative, but they've become ruled from the top by liberal laws and/or court inter­pret­ations. If India is the world's most religious country and Sweden the least, then America is “India ruled by Sweden.” Conservatives didn't start the “culture war” but they want to finish it. This movie's plan is three­fold as represented by the three children: go out and make converts; preach to them to have them become good citizens and Christians; and pass along their heritage to their children. The Supreme Court Justices are appointed by the President, a president whom the people elect. There are lots of evangelicals. “If evangelicals vote, they determine the election.”

Interspersed within the documentary is Mike Papantonio, commentator on WCPT radio's “Ring Of Fire” who interjects a voice of reason, or at least of a different perspective, to the “Kids On Fire.” If nothing else, it keeps the documentary interesting. He says the “Us vs. Them” mentality of “the religious right is dividing the country.” I'd say the country is already pretty divided politically (“A lot of people in America just aren't following God”), but these evangelicals are not especially divisive. As Ted Haggard puts it: “We've decided the Bible is the word of God. We don't have to have a General Assembly about what we believe. It's written in the Bible.” Further­more, in this movie they use the most widely accepted English version of it, the KJV, to further reduce division.

Mike Points out (from Matt. 5:9), “Jesus told us to be peace­makers.” There is some­thing to be said for that. Catholic visionary Maria Valtorta describing 163. Dinner in the House of Eli, the Pharisee of Capernaum, says he was concerned, “they might disdain to come to my house, owing to past light disagree­ments,” where­upon the Lord replied, “Oh! no! My disciples do not nourish proud touchiness or incurable grudge” (87). The day-to-day lives of these children disciples are peaceful as can be, with them­selves and with out­siders. The Lord goes on to lecture:

Listen, Simon. Remember the book of Kings. Saul was at Gilgal, the Philistines were at Michmash, the people were afraid and dispersed, the prophet Samuel was not coming. Saul decided to precede the servant of God and offer the sacrifice himself. Remember the answer that Samuel, on his arrival, gave to the imprudent Saul: “You have acted like a fool and you have not carried out the order that the Lord had commanded you. If you had not done that, now the Lord would have confirmed your sovereignty over Israel forever. But now your sovereignty will not last.” An untimely and proud action served neither the king nor the people. God knows the hour. Man does not. God knows the means, man does not. Leave things to God and deserve His help by means of holy behaviour. My Kingdom is not a kingdom of rebellion and ferocity. But it will be established.

Mike's criticism is more apropos of “Selma” where MLK did act in “rebellion and ferocity” marching without a parade permit in “An untimely and proud action” to force an issue. The Bible enjoins us, (Romans 12:18) “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peace­ably with all men.” The evangelicals having been put in a cultural bind are following Paul's example in Acts 16:35-37 to use their citizen­ship, here to vote in a lawful election, not engaging in rebellious demonstrations.

Mike goes on to point out, “There's the entanglement of politics with religion. What kind of lesson is that for our children?” George Washington put it this way (as the Senate is reminded every year):

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispens­able supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness — these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the suppo­sition that morality can be maintained without religion. What­ever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Mike goes on to complain that these evangelicals are chipping away at the “separation of church and state” that has worked fine for two-hundred years. Actually, that “separation” metaphor has been used in legal contexts only in the last fifty or so years, the actual first amendment forbidding Congress from establishing a religion or from inter­fering with the free exercise thereof. That's what worked for the first hundred-and-fifty years, being chipped at by a misapplied metaphor for the last fifty. Metaphors are kind of flexible lending them­selves to sundry applications, not best suited for the making of laws out of them. For instance, the Pharisees were complaining on “the eternal topic of the enslavement of Palestine by Rome: … ‘You know! They want to pry into our income, down to the last coin. And as they have realized that we meet in the synagogue to speak about that and about them, now they are threatening to come in, without any respect. I am afraid they will enter also the houses of priests, one of these days!’” Some kind of Jewish wall to separate synagogue and state would suit them just fine. Though it be not the US Constitution, the same metaphor could be used. That's why we need to look at the specific law and not be overly attached to a particular metaphor.

Production Values

“Jesus Camp” (2006) was directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. This is a documentary featuring Mike Papantonio, Lou Engle, Becky Fischer, and a number of kids, with some footage of Ted Haggard—he hams it up. The movie is well paced, changing perspective between the advocate and critic from time to time, and inter­spersed with inter­titles to quickly orient us to the material. The way the kids use props to learn (“This is a sight and sound generation”) lends itself well to the film medium as does the Pentecostal demonstrable wor­ship practice. We come to know a few of the tiny characters. MPAA rated it PG–13 for some discussions of mature subject matter. The heavy metal music wasn't too offensive, and it ended in a rousing “Spirit in the Sky.”

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

“Jesus Camp” is a well put together documentary that lets the characters speak for them­selves while the camera remains detached. A radio commentator's incisive remarks keep it from becoming an indoctrination, but there's some ancillary material in which Becky explains what she believes. I think most anyone can enjoy it, although people will be thinking different things depending on their backgrounds.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years. Special effects: Wake up and smell the 1990s technology. Video Occasion: None of the Above. Suspense: Not suspenseful at all. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quotations are from the King James Version, pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Valtorta, Maria. The Gospel as Revealed to Me. Vol. 2. Translated from Italian by Nicandro Picozzi, M.A., D.D.  Revised by Patrick McLaughlin, M.A. This 2nd English Edition has now replaced the First English Edition, The Poem of the Man-God. Isola del Liri, Italy: Centro Editoriale Valtortiano sri, 1987. WEB, print.