Jennifer Merin reviews “Jesus Camp”

0 Flares 0 Flares ×


“Jesus Camp” is one of 2006’s most terrifying films– even though it’s not a thriller.

In fact, it‘s a purely observational documentary– one that serves as a galvanizing cautionary revelation about Evangelical indoctrination of children in heartland America.

Framed by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s resignation and confirmation of ultraconservative Samuel Alito as her successor, we witness home-schooled preteens, Levi (12), Rachael (9) and Victoria (10) delivered by their Evangelical parents unto Bible camp at Devil’s Lake, ND, where Pentecostal Children’s Minister Becky Fischer “hooks them up” (her words) with Jesus. While prepping camp, Fischer actually admonishes the devil not to disable auditorium lights. She boasts she can “have kids ‘saved’ in minutes because they’re so open” and comments “they’re so useful to Christianity.“ Scared yet? Wait ‘til ya meet the kids. Levi, ’saved’ at age five, knows Creationism’s the only possibility and science doesn’t prove anything. Rachael thinks martyrdom’s “really cool.“ Victoria owns guilt about dancing “for the flesh,” which leads to damnation. Worse, these and other campers are conditioned to believe they’re soldiers of God– ready to die for Jesus. Fischer preaches about how Al Qaeda’s kids fast, bare arms, sacrifice themselves for Islam– warning kids what Christian America’s up against. Juxtapose such fear-invoking propaganda with “they’re so useful to Christianity” statements and draw your own conclusions. Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady don’t preach. To their credit, “Jesus Camp” is so devoid of Michael Moore-ishness, you’re not sure where their beliefs lie. Fischer may think “Jesus Camp” glorifies her. The film gives statistics: 75% of home-schooled children are Evangelicals, 43% of Evangelicals were ‘saved’ before age 13, 25% of our population– or 80-million people– are Evangelicals. But there‘s only one opposing presence, Christian talk radio host Michael Papantonio, who expresses alarm about Evangelical fanaticism, as he chats with callers and conducts on-air discourse with Fischer– during which she asserts her program’s apolitical. Apolitical? Why, then, are campers instructed to pray– in tongues– over a cardboard cutout of GW? And why stir them into such frenzied chanting about banning abortion and creating a Christian America that they enter trance-like states, some falling convulsively to the floor? These hair-raising moments are reminiscent of scenes from Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” Think about the ending of that cautionary tale while watching Levi receive preacher-to-preacher advice from Ted Haggard, Evangelical pastor to 30-million people, who frequently visits GW, assails homosexuality and boasts he has the numbers to elect our government. If you care about our civil rights and democracy, you must see “Jesus Camp” and let it open your eyes to what’s happening on our home front.

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 0 Flares ×

Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).