My latest Netflix documentary find is “Jesus Camp.” “Jesus Camp” is described as
“an unfiltered look at a revivalist subculture in which devout Christian youngsters are being primed to deliver the fundamentalist community’s religious and political messages. Building an evangelical army of tomorrow, the Kids on Fire summer camp in Devil’s Lake, N.D., is dedicated to deepening the preteens’ spirituality and sowing the seeds of political activism.”
Unlike some of the documentaries I’ve recently watched, I was familiar with “Jesus Camp” and could vividly recall the first time I saw the trailer for this documentary. It is a documentary that I had no desire to view, but decided I would give a chance (instant streaming via Netflix has released many movies and documentaries out of my “don’t see” closet). Approximately 10 or 15 minutes into the documentary, I knew my initial response to the trailer was correct. Before I explain why I believe that “Jesus Camp” is one of the most disturbing documentaries ever recorded to film, I should say that I identify myself as a Christian. While as of late, I haven’t been as conservative a believer as I once was, I nonetheless believe that God exists, that Jesus Christ is God incarnate and that He died on the cross, rising on the third day, defeating death and sin and that the gates of heaven are open to all of those who believe and receive Him. “Jesus Camp” is one of the most egregious distortions of Christianity that I have ever seen. From beginning to end, “Jesus Camp” bombards the viewer with a steady stream of indoctrination tactics used by camp directors, camp personnel, and parents on the children they are grooming to become evangelical foot soldiers in their army of Christ.
One of the most striking moments in the documentary for me is the scene when one of the campers confesses to having a lack of faith in God. The camper, a young boy, receives nothing but jarring stares from the adults and the children when he reveals that at times he has a hard time believing in the existence of God and in the bible. This confessional ended with the young boy crying and praying profusely over his bible. At various points in the documentary, this young boy can be seen disturbingly and desperately crying out and praying to a God that he confessed he did not always believe existed. Could there have been a trans formative shift in this young boy’s faith that was not highlighted in the documentary, I suppose there could have been. However, for me the point is not whether this young boy genuinely came to a faith in God, rather, it is with the demeanor and tone of the camp itself. Almost immediately, I became aware that this camp is not designed to nurture and dialogue with sometimes questioning young children, it is structured to tow a hard line against sin and to rapidly set apart and expose the people the camp director labels phony, wishy- washy Christians. The phony and wishy- washy Christians are those the camp director says are not prepared to fight in the army of Christ, those who question the Word of God and who frequently allow the devil to beguile them into sin. With a bottle of water in hand, the camp director calls out the phony, wishy-washy campers to come front and center have their sins washed away so that they may be fortified to fight in the army of Christ.
As a Christian, is it okay to have moments of doubts with respect to the existence of God and His Word. The answer to that question for me is yes, and as such, I find it deplorable that the “Jesus Camp” attendees are made to feel like they are enemies of God for having what are normal doubts and questions. Probably more so than adults, children tend to have an insatiable desire to question the world around them, to experiment and soak in as much of the world as they can. It is not uncommon for children (and adults) to go through many stages of exploration. The challenge for Christian parents and adults is to carefully and lovingly steer children through the Christian faith, being careful not to superimpose their beliefs onto the children. Ultimately, a genuine faith in Christ is something that happens outside of tutelage, it is a working of the spirit of God. God calls and seals those that are His to Himself. No amount of badgering or paramilitary training will quicken or secure that process. It is my hope that despite the exposure to Christianity that the “Jesus Camp” children have experienced thus far that they will one day come to a genuine belief and faith in God.