Jesus Camp
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As with anything that’s the slightest bit religiously or politically based, Jesus Camp—a documentary that follows an Evangelical children’s pastor and the children who attend her annual summer camp with their families—is nothing if not controversial. The focus of the film is Becky Fischer, a pastor in North Dakota who gathers children, along with their families, together each summer for some go-karting, Bible study, prayer…and speaking in tongues. The main motivation of the camp is to strengthen the faith of children—who, of course, are the church, and the world leaders, of tomorrow—and to prepare them to fight in the “Army of God,” no matter what it requires of them.

Not only does the film interview Fischer, but it also spends time with the children. It follows them on a bowling outing, where one little girl reads religious material between turns—and, at one point, decides that she’s being led to reach out to a fellow bowler and share her faith. It interviews the children at home, where they talk about their hopes, their dreams, and their beliefs. And it eventually follows them to camp, where they participate in meetings, decry the evils in their country while praying for its future, preach sermons, and repent of their weaknesses, tears soaking their young faces.

The filmmakers manage to make it through the film without adding too much of their own personal bias and opinions—but audiences, of course, won’t be able to do the same. Personal beliefs, whether they’re religious or political, will play a huge role in audiences’ reaction to this movie. And while some will inevitably condemn it right from the start as laughable, it’s also important, as viewers, to stay open-minded and focus on the big picture. The film is about Fischer’s camp and the kids who attend—and it’s not necessarily about Fischer’s beliefs (which aren’t really explained in any sort of detail). Sure, her beliefs and techniques may sometimes appear to be radical—and she and the other people in this film are very vocal about what they believe (and, even more so at times, what they don’t believe). But, as far as I know, we’re all free to believe what we want in this country. I am. You are. So is Becky Fischer. And while not everyone will agree with Fischer’s beliefs, her dedication to those beliefs is definitely admirable.

Still, I found Jesus Camp to be exhausting and, at times, difficult to watch. While I believe in the same God that the people in the film do, I don’t necessarily hold the same beliefs as they do, nor do I agree with many of their practices. And some of the things in Jesus Camp brought me close to tears—especially the guilt and accusations often dumped on the heads of these children and the fear and mistrust they’re taught of the “outside world” and of people who might not be exactly like them. At the same time, though, it’s not my place to judge the people in this film or their beliefs. My job is just to review the film—and I think it was done well, presenting a fair and mostly unbiased portrayal of the film’s subject.

No matter what your beliefs, Jesus Camp is an eye-opening film. I wouldn’t put it on my must-see list, though—nor do I think it’ll lead to the nation-wide awareness and revival that Fischer thinks it will. Each viewer will have a different reaction to it. Some will be angry, while others will be inspired. The filmmakers don’t tell you how to feel—they just give you the facts. The rest depends on you.

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