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With: Becky Fischer, Mike Papantonio, Ted Haggard
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some discussions of mature subject matter
Running Time: 87
Date: 09/15/2006
IMDB

Jesus Camp (2006)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Lord Have Mercy

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Just when I was about fed up with the same old PBS documentary format (talking heads-clips-photos), as evidenced in the upcoming The U.S. vs. John Lennon and the new DVD Ballets Russes, a new doc arrives that not only blow the doors off the old format, but also blow the doors off the theater.

Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's astounding, must-see Jesus Camp abounds in dualities and hypocrisies. It shows images of the U.S. flag flapping alongside a Christian flag, and signs that read "God Bless the U.S.A." as if God couldn't possibly exist in any other country.

According to Jesus Camp, this same exclusionism has spread to our own country, and the Evangelicals that make up at least one-quarter of the United States population have all but declared war on the rest.

The new soldiers are children, snatched up at an early age and taught all about our "sick old world" and about the evils that lurk therein. Pentecostal Children's Minister Becky Fischer preaches the Holy Spirit to children both weekly and annually at her weeklong summer camp in North Dakota.

Her fervent sermons frequently get the children crying, shimmying and speaking in tongues. The three most prominent children, Levi, 12, Rachel, 9 and Tory, 10, seem genuine in their love for the Lord.

According to Fischer, "our enemies, the Muslims" send their children to camps at the same age, teaching them how to hate and how to lob grenades. She says she's doing the same thing; the only difference is that "we have the truth."

Ewing and Grady's unobtrusive cameras take viewers directly inside the camp, where they learn the evils of abortion and Harry Potter (no joke), as well as sending a few prayers up to the White House. (They pray for Justice Alito's confirmation.)

The film's other main character is Air America DJ Mike Papantonio, a seemingly religious man, but one who does not subscribe to Fischer's point of view. He directly asks her why she thinks Jesus wants her flock to vote Republican. She directly answers that she is unaware of any such correlation.

Later, president of the National Association of Evangelists Ted Haggard -- who has direct access to the President and meets with him every Monday -- brags that the Evangelists control the vote in this country. "That's a very satisfying feeling," he says.

Ewing and Grady's greatest achievement is that they've pulled off a film as strikingly double-sided as its subject. For liberal viewers, the film offers a sobering look at the current American climate, and for conservatives, the film celebrates moral victories and political momentum.

Only the subtlest maneuvers slant the film slightly toward the left. The presence of Papantonio raises necessary questions about Fischer and her movement, and he's often allowed the final word on a subject.

Certain small edits reveal similar tactics. When Fischer asks her congregation "who loves the Lord?" one woman forcibly raises her children's hands. Another young boy brags that, while his mother forbids him to watch the evil Harry Potter movies (they condone witchcraft and sorcery rather than the Lord's miracles), he watches them at his father's house.

Not all Republicans will be convinced, however. Some conservative bloggers have already spoken out against the film (without having seen it).

There's much more to Jesus Camp. Every scene is loaded enough to infuriate some and to rouse others. It results in two final, opposing questions: How did we let this happen? and Where do I sign up?

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