What do Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Republicans, Air America Radio, anti-abortion protests and pre-teen children all have in common?  They are central to the focus of Jesus Camp, the new movie produced by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady.  In early October, I was able to see Jesus Camp playing in Knoxville.  Here are my thoughts on the movie and its impact.

In its details, the film gives an overview of the work being done by Becky Fischer who is a Pentecostal children’s minister.  She has run a camp (Kids on Fire) during the past several summers in which children are taught about the spiritual side of life.  (For more information on Becky Fischer, visit her website.)  As such, the film shows children worshiping God, participating in drama, preaching, praying in English and praying in tongues, repenting and learning about the principles of sin and grace.  This is a movement of its own, but it not a new thing.  The Kids inf Ministry website gives historical precedent for this.
In the larger perspective, the film focuses on one aspect of the work being done by Pastor Fischer, and that is the serious attention given by Christian leaders in training their children to influence the world around them, particularly in the political arena.  It is in the light of this that more emphasis is given to the political aspect of the work than the broader spiritual spectrum.  They could have chosen to focus on Christian children and their understanding of culture or how their faith affects their morality among their peers.  Yet, they brought the attention to Becky Fischer’s work in the context of politics.  I have a problem with that, because as a follower of Christ raised in a Pentecostal church, I realize that very little of our time was spent focusing on politics.
According to Ewing and Grady, in order to bring about some conflict in the movie, they introduced occasional commentary by liberal Air America host Mike Papantonio.  His commentary comes across as somewhat alarmist and high strung in the movie, although it is clear that he is passionately against much of what Pastor Fischer is doing.
Evangelical leader and recently defrocked minister Ted Haggard is brought into the picture to complete Ewing and Grady’s portrayal of this movement as a politically-oriented one.  There is little to argue with, at least from this segment of the movie, as Haggard smiles at the camera and states (brags?) about the Evangelical political movement, “It’s got enough growth to essentially sway every election.  If the evangelicals vote, they determine the election.”
From a general perspective, then, I would say that Ewing and Grady were pretty fair in their coverage of Pastor Fischer and the children they cover.  There is no attempt to mock Christianity or Pentecostals in particular.  The footage of children in worship is not obtrusive or tabloidish.  They give Pastor Fischer ample coverage in one-on-one interviews.
The problem comes from attempting to tie Christianity or Pentecostalism directly to political influence.  Have Evangelicals been more organized in the past twenty years of elections?  No doubt.  Do all Christians (Pentecostal or Evangelical) vote the same?  Hardly.  In a local Pentecostal seminary, there were people who voted for Bill Clinton during his campaigns for President.
After seeing the movie, I asked for feedback from others in attendance.  One group of young people with various church backgrounds or affiliations generally disagreed with what Pastor Fischer is doing.  “Abraham,” a young man with Jewish background, stated that he thought people like that are “absolutely insane.” A couple of others with Christian background said that they thought this type of movement was “scary” based on the idea that children should be allowed to think whatever they want without being so indoctrinated.
A local chemist had a different take on it.  He strongly questioned the motives behind Ewing and Grady in producing the film.  According to him, the filmmakers are attempting to do an expose on something that they perhaps consider to be dangerous.
Donnie Stewart, a visiting Pentecostal pastor from Scotland, thought that the overall coverage in the film was fair.  He was encouraged to see what Pastor Fischer is working to accomplish from the aspect of spiritual training for the young people she reaches.
My recommendation is that this is a movie worth seeing, for several reasons.  It does present an accurate view of how seriously many Pentecostals understand the next generation to be.  It gives an accurate view of at least one side of American Christianity which has become somewhat obsessed with politics.  And it gives an insight into the lives of children who are growing up in this country without the same influences of culture that define many of their peers.
The negative aspect of this film is that the Kids on Fire Camp has been shut down due to vandalism at the campground.  Perhaps the people who don’t like this film because of the supposed intolerance of Pastor Fischer should show some themselves by not vandalizing property.
Feel free to leave your own comments or thoughts, but only if you have seen the movie.