Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Jesus Camp

When I checked out “Jesus Camp”, the documentary expose on the threat posed by the indoctrination of the kids of the Christian Right, I was all set to be outraged. I figured I could enjoy being outraged on two fronts at once.

First, I expected to be outraged at how Hollywood would edit and skew the storyline to mock Christianity. Second, I expected to be outraged at how badly the Christian Right would represent the Christian Gospel, if in fact they mentioned it all amidst their legalism and political action agenda.

So I pulled up my chair, braced myself with popcorn, and prepared for the worst.

What a disappointment.

The so-called “threat to America” turned out to be a portly, middle-aged Pentecostal lady who ran a summer camp for a bunch of sweet kids from Pentecostal families. The camp meetings resembled a typical Pentecostal meeting, with lots of hollering, repenting, crying, repenting, falling on the floor, speaking in tongues, repenting, condemning of the devil, sin and the worldliness of the world, etc. etc. The woman’s arsenal consisted of a bunch of object lessons that included foam rubber brains, a cardboard cutout of George Bush, and a cute stuffed tiger that represented sin (The kids were warned that it would grow up into a big stuffed animal [which still looked cute to me] and they would end up having “a tiger by the tail.”

Ok, I know it wasn’t intended to be a comedy. And I shouldn't have really chuckled at all this. I knew I was supposed to be outraged. But if this is the best they could find to scare America, I think America is safe. Filming Pentecostals doing their Pentecostal thing is not exactly tough journalism. It doesn’t take much editing effort or storyline skewing to make a Pentecostal meeting look ridiculous. But I don’t think this lady speaking in tongues holding a stuffed animal is going to frighten, shock or scare anyone.

Most of the Christians in the documentary, of course, did focus their passion on a legalistic and moralistic message. The Gospel was absent, except for one small slice which came from an interview with Ted Haggard (filmed before his fall). He said something like this, “Of course the kids love to come here (to his church). At the public schools they are taught that they are cosmic accidents - animals descended from monkeys. Here we tell them that they are precious souls, loved by God. Why would they not love to come?”

That little excerpt redeemed the dominant legalism of the Pentecostal lady and (especially coming from Ted Haggard) eliminated any last vestige of hope for my outrage.

Lacking outrage and anything remotely informative (Religious people are teaching their children what they believe. Imagine that!) , the movie is not worth the time it takes to watch it. It was nominated for an academy award, probably not for its quality, but for its political agenda. It lost out to another second-rate documentary (An Inconvenient Truth), which was probably nominated for the same reason.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

"Filming Pentecostals doing their Pentecostal thing is not exactly tough journalism. It doesn’t take much editing effort or storyline skewing to make a Pentecostal meeting look ridiculous."

In light of the above comment I just have to say a couple of things in defense of the pentecostal movement. While I admit certain extremes within this movement may appear ridiculous they are in fact an invaluable part of the body of Christ. Within the overall flow of church history, pentecostalism, the charismatic movement and the 'third wave' have done much to establish the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. As the gifts and ministries of the Spirit dried out, the church developed the 'cop out' doctrine of cessationism. Pentecostalism has effectively overthrown cessationism. Today those who want to deny the continued presence of both the gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit until the Second Comming are having to fight a reguard action against the evident power and growth of this portion of the church. The people of God are voting against cessationism with their feet. These movements are the fasting growing church movements in the world currently while many other movmements are declining.

Hmmmm... maybe there is something to that speaking in tongues business.

T. Hahm said...

That sentence was intended as a cheap shot at the film producers, but admittedly it also comes across as a cheap shot at Pentecostal worship and perhaps Pentecostalism in general. So strike it from the record.

If I ever feel inclined to comment on Pentecostal theology, I will do it more thoughtfully and directly, not as a cheap shot in a movie review.

Thanks for your defense of the charismatic movement. I am neither cessasionist nor charismatic, but I've come to learn that limiting the power of God to what we think is "reasonable" - or dictating God's modus operandi - is almost never a good idea.