Thursday, September 14, 2006

    Jesus Camp (updated)

    Recently one of the youth at church mentioned seeing this preview for the documentary Jesus Camp and she was clearly disturbed by what she saw and asked if we could go as a group to see the film and talk about its implications.

    A synopsis of "Jesus Camp" from Rotten Tomatoes:
    A growing number of Evangelical Christians believe there is a revival underway in America whereby Christian youth must take up the leadership of the conservative Christian movement. JESUS CAMP, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (The Boys of Baraka), follows Levi, Rachael, Tory and a number of other young children to Pastor Becky Fischer's Kids on Fire summer camp in Devil's Lake, North Dakota, where kids as young as 6 years-old are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in God's army. The film follows these children at camp as they hone their prophetic gifts and are schooled in how to take back America for Christ. The film is a first-ever look into an intense training ground that recruits born-again Christian children to become an active part of America's political future.

    My initial reaction to viewing the trailer was to remember that the first region of a young person's brain to fully develop is the emotions center. This explains much of what I have witnessed at Christian teen events where the adults seem particularly astute at working the young people up into an emotional frenzy ending in tears rolling down their faces and declarations of devotion to Christ. This emotional high, of course, quickly wears off as the youth return to their regular lives and that devotion to Jesus is subsumed by the next thing that grabs their emotional attention.

    One homeschooling site include this unattributed observation about the film:

    The problem liberals encounter with ‘Jesus Camp’ is that it’s a challenge. These kids are smart and motivated and know what they’re fighting for. Liberals, on the other hand, generally aren’t absolutists about their beliefs. They tend to let their children come to their own conclusions.

    I think there is a great deal of truth in that statement. Fundamentalist youth are taught early on what is true and truth and what a Christian believes. Liberal youth, like the ones I tend to work with, are much less likely to be able to articulate Church doctrine, quote supporting scripture for their positions, or say unequivocally what they believe "the" Christian position to be on hot button issues. But is this a problem? What I do notice in liberal Christian youth is that they tend to have a well-developed understanding of justice and what it means to care for the "least of these" and to accept and love those who are different.

    Though I'd be interested in showing "Jesus Camp" to my youth, I'd be more likely in the near feature to watch with them this film from the PBS P.O.V. series: The Education of Shelby Knox. In this documentary, a senior high girl living in the Bible belt goes on a crusade to bring sex-ed to her school where a disproportionate number of teenage pregnancies are occurring. She is met with opposition from every side: the school faculty, board of education, town leaders, local pastors. Yet she persists because for her it is a justice issue. In the second half of the film, Shelby gets caught up in another controversy when she is asked to support the founding of a gay/straight alliance in her school and she finds herself in more ambiguous territory about what she thinks is the right thing to do. This film would provide an excellent spring board for a youth group discussion on issues of justice, left/right politics, the diversity of Christian thought in America, leadership, and what it means to stand up for those you consider to be "the least of these."