So, this evening I have been catching up on my Netflix, and I watched Jesus Camp, a little gem of a movie directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady that was released in 2006. It is about a children’s ministry run by Becky Fischer, a ministry intended to prepare young people in North Dakota for their role as political Christians and as soldiers of God. It demonstrates a multi-generational strategy for cultivating a political coalition of born-again citizens who are willing to devote their lives to bringing the nation back into alignment with the Scriptures and God’s Word. I think it does a great job of covering multiple topics that students would need to think about to understand the resurgence of political Christianity in the late twentieth century. It also answers what has for me been a difficult question: who are those people that account for George Bush having any approval rating at all at this point in his presidency?
Now it would be tricky to teach this film, in part because if your students are unfamiliar with the material — home schooling, speaking in tongues, the radical pro-life movement, intelligent design — they will exoticize the subjects of the film, miss what they are really saying, and fail to take their status as believers seriously. I think teaching it as an ethnography would move students away from knee jerk reactions, pro or con, and toward a more nuanced discussion about the intersection between conservatism, nationalism and religion. But part of what’s great about this film is that there is virtually no commentary, except by a Christian radio talk show host who challenges the role of religion in politics and a few little factoids pasted on the screen. And the children are incredibly compelling and sincere.
Queer people and those who are allied with them, will particularly like the segments with the now-disgraced Ted Haggard of the New Life megachurch of Colorado Springs, Colorado,where, according to the movie, there are more evangelicals per square mile than anywhere else in the nation — who knew? You see film of this guy and you wonder — how exactly did anyone miss it that he was struggling with being gay?
Here’s a clip to get you interested: