Jesus Camp

Not the "camp" humor I thought it would be.

"There is no question but that if Jesus Christ, or a great prophet from another religion, were to come back today, he would find it virtually impossible to convince anyone of his credentials ... despite the fact that the vast evangelical machine on American television is predicated on His imminent return among us sinners." Peter Ustinov

Evangelical Christians are easy to pick on: Their certainty that everyone else needs to accept Jesus, their passionate expression of love for Him, and their incessant proselytizing elicit snickers from those liberals dedicated to ambiguity and the uncertain and random nature of life. But the film Jesus Camp is not the "camp" humor I thought it would be; it is rather thoughtful and probably accurate about a camp that prepares future Christian leaders in society.

The personable founder of the camp, Pastor Becky Fischer, claims to "take back America for Christ." Her charges are indeed indoctrinated into fundamental Christianity with its emphasis on simplicity (good and evil) and the power of Jesus. She is a portly middle aged do-gooder whose sincerity cannot be challenged. She asserts she can "go into a playground of kids that don't know anything about Christianity and lead them to the Word in no time at all," She is worth seeing in action for light fall viewing. She's one of the best representatives ever of moderate Christian worship and doctrine.

Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelists (30 million strong), claims to speak to President Bush and his advisers every Monday and brags that evangelists can deliver any election. Nine year old Rachael, the most fervid of the children, says being martyred for Jesus would be "really cool." Twelve year old pony-tailed Levi is already preaching for Jesus, although a career as a trial attorney or career politician would be my choice for this gifted believer.

As the antidote to this Bush-like, uncompromising devotion is an occasional comment by Air America's radio host Mike Papantonio, who is a practicing Christian but miffed at the Christian fundamentalists' politics. Indeed the participants in Kids on Fire Camp are encouraged to bless a cardboard cut-out of President Bush to help secure a pro-life Supreme Court appointment. Somehow the filmmakers avoid the Michael Moore liberal slams that could easily flow from Jesus Camp and give us a film less about fanaticism and more about people who actually believe in something that moves them toward good.