Jesus Camp (2006) (PG-13)

Perhaps the most infamous documentary of the last decade, "Jesus Camp" horrified viewers and put an interesting small cultish society in the front...or did it? Although directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady point the camera and blatantly judge, their opinions are subtle enough that to those zealots watching, "Jesus Camp" could seem—for most of the movie—like an exposé that works more like a promotional informercial. That is, if you cut out like the last twenty minutes.
There's a small community in Missouri that preaches evangelical doctrine to the youth of America. Pastor Becky Fischer takes it upon herself to be the prophet of the Lord, raising an army of spiritual warriors.
The children of this next generation are the key to this "war" that will be waged and Becky is convinced of her higher calling for this purpose itself.
I think that Ewing and Grady are assuming most people have not seen the inside of a charismatic or Pentecostal church and thus will be shocked to see Becky and co. walking through the aisles of the summer camp facility, laying hands on the chairs, speaking in tongues, and commanding that the devil not take over the sound equipment. I, on the other hand, was raised in this environment and it caused no great surprise to me—perhaps I was desensitized to the setting; but it wasn't as disturbing for me personally to watch than the average agnostic.
That being said, there are moments in the film that make you pause and question the sanity of thought involved. There are moments when Becky Fischer looks in the mirror and says that summer camp drains her energy...we can begin to question her authenticity that way; but I don't think we can ever question that actually emotion behind the film.
The movie's logical voice comes from radio talk show host Mike Papantonio who says the things that the "educated" audience is supposed to. But even from him, we get some sort of odd warning against the war...this time it's with politics. He warns us that the far right is training children to blindly side with the Republican part and that these voters now hold the keys to every election. Ted Haggard, a pastor who appears late in the movie, agrees with this.
Instead of being about the treatment of children in summer camp, which is what the name implies and became what I expected of the movie, "Jesus Camp" is much more interested in the political doings of George W. Bush.
What disappears are the stories of kids like Levi, who are seen submitting to the religious thought and even younger  kids who acknowledge publicly (and far more maturely than I could have at that age) that they have issues with faith concerning the Scriptural text of the Bible. These are the kids who could have made the film much more interesting, not that it isn't already.
"Jesus Camp" may send shivers up your spine and it may raise red flags against the Pentecostal denomination...I think that's its intention. But I do think that any member of the camp watching the movie would firmly believe that what they were doing was nothing wrong and nothing cultish...and that's what I find most disturbing.

Score: ★★★

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