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Jesus Camp

The New Army of God

If you think the religious right in this country are gaining more and more control, you would be correct. The startling documentary Jesus Camp will surely erase all doubts otherwise. Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (The Boys of Baraka), the film follows several evangelical Christian children as they engage in their faith and attend a Christian summer camp.

The Kids on Fire camp, which reminds one of an al-Qaeda junior training camp with, perhaps, a tad less hatred, is one of many hot spots all around the country where children are being taught tactics for the ongoing "culture war" (Christianity vs. everything else). It is a training ground for a burgeoning Christian army where children are taught how to "reclaim America for Christ" and go to "war" in the name of God (and not just any god -- they only mean Jesus). Many are willing to die for their cause.

Passion plays are enacted replete with camouflage and sinister sounding Christian heavy metal echoing off the church walls. Meetings convene with a writhing mass of children channeling the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. If you think this is some kind of cult then you are mistaken. 25% of the country consists of evangelical Christians; that's 80 million people.

Becky Fischer, the Pentecostal children's minister who hosts this week-long summer camp, teaches the children about everything from resisting sin and the responsibilities of being a good Christian to paying homage to President Bush and warning them that Harry Potter is an enemy of God. Attending the camp are Rachel, a 9-year old who possess a zealous religious fervor that compels her to pass out religious booklets to total strangers in order to do her part in spreading the Word and Levi, a be-mulleted 12-yr. old preacher in training whose focus and eloquence indicate a long and successful career in the ministry.

Sprinkled throughout are snippets from radio personality Mike Papantonio who hosts a moderate to left-leaning (translation: not right wing) talk show, aptly called Ring of Fire, whose main focus seems to be religion and politics. These interludes along with factoids and the subtle angle of questioning, make it clear that Jesus Camp is no "unbiased" documentary. You know early on which side of the culture war the directors are situated.

Jesus Camp poetically and unflinchingly captures this segment of the American populace. It balances the portrayals with moody shots of Midwestern industrial bleakness that infuses the film with a desperate air. This is offset by the candid and passionate subjects who all felt obviously comfortable enough with the filmmakers to bare their beliefs. A task that, one would assume, took a bit of savvy.

In a country where there is supposed to be separation between Church and State, the fine line between the two is becoming increasingly thinner. Case in point: Jesus Camp points out that Ted Haggard, president of the Evangelical Organizations of America talks to President Bush and his advisors every Monday. Unsettling yet not so strange once you realize that in the last election over 40% of all his votes came from evangelical Christians. And if Becky Fischer and others like her have anything to do about it, this is just the beginning.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars