Regardless of the highly obvious position taken by the makers of Jesus Camp, I found myself getting increasingly angry about the subject at the heart of this film. This documentary looks at a particular American Christian summer camp on which young and, most importantly, highly impressionable children learn about the importance of dying for Christ and preparing to fight a war for their Lord, in order to win back America. The film chooses to focus on a very extreme example of a religious holiday camp, a camp that places children in situations of extreme spirituality. I spent several summers of my own childhood on Christian camps and despite the claustrophobic and disorientating atmosphere that I remember them having, on reflection, there was a lot of enjoyment to be had in meeting new people, making new friends and participating in the outdoor activities. Those that attend the ‘Kids on Fire School of Ministry’ are displayed, in Jesus Camp, as only taking part in religious discussions, seminars and rituals. It is infuriating to watch these children being exposed to particular things. It is the children that appear to be the victims in this story and the leaders that are positioned as the villains. There is good intention in most of the subjects of the films but also a manipulation of youth that I found unforgivable.
In one particularly shocking scene, children who appear no older than ten are being told about abortion from a member of an anti-abortion group. To see a seven year old girl weeping and sobbing whilst addressing her God with the words “please Lord, no more. No more, no more” is concerning as well as heart-breaking. How can a child be expected to understand and have an individual opinion about an issue as complex and sensitive as abortion? Her tears appear to be for the unborn children whose murders she has been graphically told about. There is something so unjust and cruel about this entire situation. The film approaches such scene with the right attitude. The scene is documented from a distance; filmed as though for absent campers to watch at a later date. But once the crying and group prayer commences, the camera moves inside the action. The tears and angst of these children is forced upon you and, although it is powerful, it is occasionally a little too domineered. The actions and attitudes of such evangelical communities are discussed throughout the film through debates on what appears to be a late night American radio show. This provides some variety within the film and allows the spectator some time to process the scenes of youth being driven into trance like states through their loyalty, devotion and belief.
Being the cynic I am, it is so difficult not to judge these children. It was crucial that I reminded myself how powerless these children are in regards to their upbringing, education and teachings. Interesting facts are revealed during the documentary, regarding the shockingly young ages of most ‘saved’ evangelical Christians and the high amounts of evangelical families who are choosing to home school their offspring. This is a more than adequately made film with a powerful subject at its core. Insightful and honest interviews are given by the children’s parents and the clergy who blatantly see what they are doing as just and right. Even for those less cynical than me, it is hard to stop this film from getting under your skin. I was angered throughout. A documentary that acts as a strong reminder of the trust one puts in those around us to educate us until we are old enough to truly use our independent thought, Jesus Camp will both entertain and anger you. Its message, even seven years later, is just as important today – extremism, in any form, is wrong.
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