“Jesus Camp” – 2006 Tribeca Film Festival Review

The documentary “Jesus Camp” is a powerful look at a growing religious sect doubling as a political movement. When Pastor Becky Fischer – who runs a summer children’s camp for born-again Evangelical Christians in the ironically named Devil’s Lake, N.D. – compares the grooming of young kids as soldiers for Jesus to child soldiers being trained in the name in Islam, the film escalates with astounding, colorful anecdotes from America’s heartland. The children speak in tongues. They touch a life-sized cardboard cutout of President George W. Bush and simultaneously pray for “him.” They are educated by their parents with special textbooks; according to the film, 75 percent of the 1.8 million home-schooled children in the U.S. are Evangelicals. They even use hammers to smash glass mugs that symbolize the government. (Another statistic from the film: 80 percent of the Evangelical movement voted in the last presidential election.)

In “Jesus Camp,” no narrator needs to tell the story because the story tells itself. In fact, the main criticism of the Evangelical movement occurs during the radio broadcasts that segment the film. Mike Papantonio, a Methodist who co-hosts “Ring of Fire” on Air America Radio, takes aim at the movement in a rare display of a Christian targeting the religious right. The implied statement is that Christianity – or any religion, for that matter – is open to interpretation, but an identical label does not mean an identical definition.