|Directed by||Heidi EwingRachel Grady|
|Produced by||Heidi EwingRachel Grady|
|Starring||Becky FischerMike Papantonio|
|Music by||Force Theory|
|Cinematography||Mira ChangJenna Rosher|
|Distributed by||Magnolia Pictures|
|Release date(s)||September 15, 2006|
|All Movie Guide profile|
Jesus Camp is a 2006 documentary directed by Rachel Grady and Heidi EwingPentecostal summer camp for children who spend their summers learning and practicing their “prophetic gifts” and being taught that they can “take back America for Christ.”. According to the distributor, it “doesn’t come with any prepackaged point of view” and tries to be “an honest and impartial depiction of one faction of the evangelical Christian community”. about a
Jesus Camp debuted at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, and was sold by A&E Indie Films to Magnolia Pictures. Controversy surrounding the film was featured in several television news programs and print media articles in 2006 (see links below).
Jesus Camp is a documentary about the “Kids On Fire School of Ministry,” a charismatic Christian summer camp located just outside Devils Lake, North Dakota and run by Becky Fischer and her ministry, Kids in Ministry International. The film focuses on three children who attended the camp in the summer of 2005–Levi, Rachael, and Tory (Victoria). The film cuts between footage of the camp and a children’s prayer conference held just prior to the camp at Christ Triumphant Church, a large charismatic church in Lee’s Summit, Missouri; a suburb of Kansas City.
All three children, despite their youth, are very devout charismatic Christians. Levi, who has ambitions of being a pastor, has already preached several sermons at his father’s church, Rock of Ages Church in St. Robert, Missouri. He is homeschooled (as are many of the campers), and learns physical science from a book that attempts to reconcile the creationist account with scientific principles, occasionally by dismissing science altogether[verification needed]. He preaches a sermon at the camp in which he declares that his generation is key to Jesus’s coming back. Rachael, who also attends Levi’s church (her father is assistant pastor), is seen praying over a bowling ball early in the film, and frequently passes Christian tracts (including some by Jack Chick) to people she meets. She doesn’t think very highly of non-charismatic churches (or “dead churches,” as she calls them), feeling they aren’t “churches that God likes to go to.” Tory is a member of the children’s praise dance team at Christ Triumphant Church. She frequently dances to Christian heavy metal music, and feels uncomfortable about “dancing for the flesh.” She also doesn’t think very highly of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan.
At the camp, Fischer stresses the need for children to purify themselves in order to be part of the “army of God.” She strongly believes that children need to be in the forefront of turning America toward conservative Christian values. She also feels that Christians need to focus on training kids since “the enemy” are focused on training theirs.
In one scene shot at Christ Triumphant Church, Lou Engle, the chief “prophet” (a term not used in the film) for Harvest International Ministries (the “apostolic network” with which both the church and Fischer’s ministry are affiliated–an affiliation not advertised in the film) and founder of the Justice House of Prayer, preaches a message urging children to join the fight to end abortion in America. He prays for George W. Bush to have the strength to appoint “righteous judges” who will overturn Roe v. Wade. By the end of the sermon, the children are chanting, “Righteous judges! Righteous judges!” In another, a woman brings a life-sized cutout of Bush to the front of the church, and has the children stretch their hands toward him. Some media reports misinterpreted this as “worshipping” the president, but the children were actually “praying over him.” Indeed, the woman clearly says to “pray for” and “speak a blessing to” Bush. Stretching hands toward someone is a derivative of laying hands on someone, which is a very common practice in Pentecostal and charismatic churches.
There is also a scene at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Levi and his family go on vacation to hear its renowned pastor, Ted Haggard. (Less than two months after the release of the film, Haggard became embroiled in a high-profile scandal involving homosexual prostitution and methamphetamine use.) Afterward, Levi, Rachael and their families take part in a Justice House of Prayer rally held by Engle in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The DVD, released in January 2007, includes several deleted scenes. In one of them, Levi’s father and mother suggest that the next president may well have been at Kids on Fire. In another, Tory’s mother takes several of the kids to a pro-life women’s clinic located next door to a Planned Parenthood clinic. In an interview, the clinic’s director says that she was very pleased to see children so passionate about ending abortion. The DVD also includes commentary by Grady and Ewing. They reveal that when they arrived in Kansas City, there was a great deal of excitement over the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. However, according to Grady and Ewing, Fischer and the others didn’t see their activism for socially conservative causes as political, but as a matter of faith. They also reveal that Fischer and the others didn’t understand why some of the scenes of them speaking in tongues and praying over objects got in the film.
Jesus Camp was screened at Michael Moore‘s Traverse City Film Festival against the wishes of the distribution company, Magnolia Pictures. Magnolia had pulled Jesus Camp from the festival earlier in the summer after it purchased rights to the film, in a decision apparently inspired by Moore’s association with the film festival, with Magnolia president Eamonn Bowles saying “I don’t want the perception out in the public that this is an agenda-laden film.”
Haggard has disavowed the film, saying that “You can learn as much about the Catholic Church from Nacho Libre as you can learn about evangelicalism from Jesus Camp. It does represent a small portion of the charismatic movement, but I think it demonizes it. Secularists are hoping that evangelical Christians and radicalized Muslims are essentially the same, which is why they will love this film.” Director Grady states that, “I think he doesn’t like how he comes across in the movie.” The directors posted a rebuttal to Haggard’s objections in which they stated that he was the only person in the film who objected to how he was portrayed, as well as the only person in the film who had a problem with it on the whole.
According to Ron Reno of Focus on the Family, “The directors’ claims that they were simply trying to create an ‘objective’ film about children and faith ring hollow. I don’t question the motives of the Christians shown in the film. Indeed, the earnestness and zeal with which the young people pictured attempt to live out their faith are admirable. Unfortunately, however, it appears that they were unknowingly being manipulated by the directors in their effort to cast evangelical Christianity in an unflattering light.”
North Dakotans were largely shocked by the activities of Fischer, a native of Bismarck, as most born-again Christians in the state have more moderate views.
In November 2006, Fischer announced that she would be shutting down the camp indefinitely due to negative reaction to the film. According to Fischer’s website, the owners of the property used for the camp shown in the film were concerned about vandalism to the premises following the film’s release and thus will not allow it to be used for any future camps. Fischer has said that the camp will be indefinitely postponed until other suitable premises can be found, but it will be back.
Reviews and Awards
Michael Smith of the Tulsa World, gave it three stars (out of four) describing it as “…impressive in its even-handed presentation…”, “…straightforward…” and “…a revealing, unabashed look at the formation of tomorrow’s Army of God.”
The Chicago Tribune reviewer Jessica Reaves gives the film three stars (out of four) and writes that Jesus Camp is “…an enlightening and frank look at what the force known as Evangelical America believes, preaches and teaches their children…” and concludes that what the filmmakers “…have accomplished here is remarkable—capturing the visceral humanity, desire and unflagging political will of a religious movement.”
David Edelstein of CBS Sunday Morning, New York Magazine, and NPR finds Jesus Camp, “a frightening, infuriating, yet profoundly compassionate documentary about the indoctrination of children by the Evangelical right.”
Some reviewers responded negatively to the film; Rob Nelson of the Village VoiceChicago Reader criticized the film for “failing to distinguish the more fundamentalist Pentecostals” and for inserting “unnecessary editorializing” by using clips from Mike Papantonio’s radio show. called the movie “[an] absurdly hypocritical critique of the far right’s role in the escalating culture war”, and J.R. Jones of the
Jesus Camp was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary Feature section of the 2007 Academy Awards.
- ^ Watts, Tom. Real Detroit Weekly Ewing believes in Jesus Camp, 10/4/06. Retrieved on 12/11/06.
- ^ Christian NewsWire, Jesus Camp Distributors Adverse to Screening at Traverse: Michael Moore Ignores Request to Remove Documentary from Festival, 8/8/06. Retrieved on 12/11/06.
- ^ a b 79th Academy Awards nominations list. Oscar.com. Retrieved on 2007-1-29
- ^ Kilday, Gregg. Moore fest defies distrib over “Jesus”. The Hollywood Reporter, 2006-8-4. Retrieved on 2006-12-11.
- ^ http://www.indiewire.com/ots/2006/08/jesus_camps_uni.html
- ^ http://www.jesuscampthemovie.com/haggard_response.html
- ^ http://www.pluggedinonline.com/movies/movies/a0002908.cfm
- ^ http://www.kidsinministry.com/ClosingDownCamp.html
- ^ ‘Jesus Camp’ by Rob Nelson. Retrieved on 5-26-2007.
- ^ http://www.chicagoreader.com/features/stories/moviereviews/060929/ Retrieved on 5-26-2007.