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Jesus Camp (2006)
Rated R

Starring: Becky Fischer, Ted Haggard, and Mike Papantonio

Rating:
****1/2
out of
*****

Jesus Camp is the single scariest movie I've ever seen. It also works as hilarious comedy. The problem is that it's a documentary and its subject is the brainwashing of children -- and there's no other way to put it -- by Evangelical ministries to turn them into Christian warriors who will fight to take the country back from those who'd dare teach evolution in the schools, believe in pro-choice, and "dance for the flesh."

Jesus Camp focuses on three children -- Levi, Rachael, and Tori -- as they attend Kids on Fire, an Evangelical camp run by Pastor Becky Fischer. Fischer envisions the camp as a way to get to children to make them dedicated Christians in the way she feels that Muslims do to make their kids into soldiers and suicide bombers. Fischer's goal isn't to literally make the Christian kids into soldiers but to convert them into people who will champion the causes of the religious right by voting like-minded candidates into office so that the United States can convert the rest of the world into Christianity.

Through interviews with the kids, their parents, and Fischer, we're shown their focused determination to eliminate from their minds any questions about global warming, evolution, being pro-choice, and Harry Potter. These are all completely unacceptable to the Evangelical Christian. Global warming is a lie. Evolution is an incorrect belief. Being pro-choice means the death of 53 million people whom for which God wasn't able to carry out a plan. Harry Potter, no matter how well he is portrayed, is a warlock and warlocks can never be heroes.

One notable sequence features a trip to Colorado Springs to see Reverend Ted Haggard at his New Life Church. As Haggard meets with Levi -- himself a preacher at 11 years old -- Haggard tells him to work the "cute kid" thing until he's 30 and then he'll have some real content.

Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady have taken their cameras into the homes and hearts of the Evangelical Christians and the movie doesn't attempt to portray them in a negative light. Their own actions and words can be taken as you'd like them: as the words of a bunch of lunatics or as the words of those who truly believe that God is telling them to convert the country to their way of thinking.

Jesus Camp is unflinching and eye-opening. If you're expecting a one-sided attack on religion, this film won't give it to you. It will simply make you think about and discuss what you've just seen. That's the mark of a truly successful documentary.

Trivia: Jesus Camp was screened at Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Festival against the wishes of the distribution company, Magnolia Pictures. Magnolia had pulled Jesus Camp from the festival earlier in the summer after it purchased rights to the film, in a decision apparently inspired by Moore's association with the film festival, with Magnolia president Eamonn Bowles saying "I don't want the perception out in the public that this is an agenda-laden film." (Source: Wikipedia.org)

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