Now that I have somewhat belatedly seen the documentary Jesus Camp, which has been quite the rage amongst disillusioned evangelicals, I have a few thoughts.

Before we go on, here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen it:

First things first, though. Let’s be honest: this thing was a hit piece, pure and simple, so of course, when they showed the people who homeschool their children, they’re going to show them discussing how to disprove global warming and how six-day creationism is the only logical option, and of course they’re going to use clips of Becky Fischer saying that she wants children to be radicals for Jesus, and that children are her number one targets because they are most moldable.

But those people aren’t representative of all Christian homeschoolers (heck, the original American homeschoolers, the Amish and the Mennonites, are nothing like those people), and the clips of Becky using battle talk have an Evangelical context that, frankly, wasn’t explored. Just because you hear something one way doesn’t mean it was intended that way. And no matter how you want to interpret it, and there are plenty of ways you can, Becky didn’t mean that she wanted the children to strap on dynamite packs to blow up busses.

With this in mind, I have a distinct feeling that while Becky may have known what was going on, the families followed in the documentary were probably not quite aware of how they would be portrayed. In fact, I think they were probably blindsided at their first screening.

On a different note, the clips of Air America host Mike Papantonio as the supposed voice of reason are both a poignant but very deliberate choice. He is supposed to represent reasonable non-evangelicals, but — even though I found myself in agreement with him more than once — in reality he’s no more an authority than a smartass kid in a dorm room (or a blogger).

That said, there were plenty of things to find disturbing about it, and a lot of why I keep an arms length from a lot of what evangelicals do.

Particularly disturbing was the fact that, while the name of Jesus was mentioned, there was never a clear presentation of the Gospel during the entire camp, at least during the parts of film that made the cut. Lots of talk about changing the world, but no Gospel.

There was loads of wonky Pentecostal-y religious stuff, but more unnerving to me was the sense of destiny the both the children and Becky seemed to have (all the talk of “this chosen generation,” etc.), and how much they linked it to America, and American politics. There was a strong, strong mix of false civic religion in with…whatever brand of Christianity they were practicing.

Here’s an example:

And that played right into the filmmakers agenda. The last 15 minutes of the movie was bits of news clips about Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s confirmation interspersed with clips of culture war sermons, as if to say, “It’s these people’s fault.” Sigh.

Concluding thoughts:

I’m not sure why the raves about this movie, from one side or the other. Evangelicals have been known to have a few goofy religious practices, and you’d have to be blind to think they aren’t politically activated, and that they have blended and confused politics and religion.

And yes, they have given plenty of ammunition to the firing squad.

But the people featured in this documentary are not representative of the evangelicals I know, and I live in the Bible belt where I have a pretty good chance that, if I  hunked a rock into a crowd, it would just as likely hit someone who would rather say, “Praise the Lord,” instead of cuss you for it. The people I know, while they love Fox News and think Barack Obama is probably the Antichrist and Nancy Pelosi is the Whore of Babylon, are not Becky Fischer. Nowhere close.

So, as with all polemical documentaries of this sort, what you are going to take away from it is going to depend on three things — perspective, perspective, perspective.

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