“God doesn’t go to dead churches!”
Jesus Camp was one of the most interesting movies I have ever seen. The documentary follows the leaders of a cult sect of the Evangelical Church, highlighting their ideals of indoctrinating youth to follow their extremist views. The movie centers around a weeklong summer “camp” held for the youth as a way to teach and show them how to live according to the ways of Evangelism. The movie follows around specific children from ages 3 to 9, showing their growth as a result of these teachings, blended in amongst their family’s views and teachings. Although most of the movie is shot in and around the church, quite a few scenes show the youth “spreading the gospel” out into the community.
What is most interesting however, is the fact that this movie was not produced by an anti-religious organization as a way to “bash” Christianity. Ninety-five percent of the video is material of this extremist group. The other five percent is a Christian radio show host talking about the other group. This man sets up the source credibility. Because he admits to being Christian, his arguments against this group are strong because he also knows the bible and teachings that they use to justify their actions. Therefore the viewer is more inclined to believe him more because he appears to be educated in what he is talking out against. Also, having him in the video challenges the notion of “normalcy in Christianity”. Religious people are sometimes seen as crazy or fanatical, much like the Evangelical group in the video. Therefore this video against the Evangelical group is more effective because the viewer is presented the binary of the “good church” vs. the “bad church”.
Although cameras documented a full week of the camp, the video is only an hour and a half long. Therefore, the final cut is only a small selection of what actually happened. In order to convince the reader to also see this group as a “child brain-washing cult”, the producers chose very specific elements to include in their message. At one point, the leader of the cult discusses how what she is doing is similar to, but better, than the Islamic groups who teach their children to become bomber martyrs at a young age, because she is “teaching kids to be good”. This material is also connected with statistics like 1/3 of the population is under the age of fifteen. When talking to the youth, the leaders language include almost all of the verbs are imperative. They tell the children that they “must” pray and that if they want to go to Heaven they “have” to follow God and they “need” to tell others. When presented together, along with their imperative verb usage, these points only further bastardize the Evangelical church in question.
This video serves as a biased attack of an Evangelical church by questioning the normalcy of Christianity and education. The producers mask the logical and ethical appeals that this indoctrination is brain washing and corrupt by using creating an emotional space for the viewer. The video portrays the leaders as angry forces who compel the children to simply believe what they are teaching because they realize that brain washing is most easily done through children. Also, the producers clearly attack the political views of this Evangelical group by including hot topic issues like George Bush’s presidency and abortion. These two main issues are ones that tend to be very well debated, and ones that many people feel strongly about. Therefore, the producers chose to include these as a way to most likely create a very emotional experience for the viewer, and therefore, be more interested in hearing the message. I am more likely to be appalled at the images of the abortion sermons than I am at the idea of it.
Jesus Camp is packed full of images and ideas that are simply appalling. I had watched it before, but had not thought about it then as a propagandistic text. The second time viewing, however, I thought very differently of the material because I actually spent time picking out the stratagems of influence. This video is very effective because it simply asks the viewer to be appalled at what is bring presented through the producers, and not to question the material. Looking at it through this analytical lens, I better saw why they producers chose what they chose to represent, as well as how that was structured and presented through people in order to create a specific image.