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.