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Film / Jesus Camp

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In the Lord we trust.

"I want to see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as their young people are to the cause of Islam. I want to see them as radically laying down their lives for the Gospel as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine and all those different places, you know, because we have … excuse me, but we have the truth!"
Becky Fischer

Jesus Camp is a documentary about Kids on Fire School of Ministry, a fundamentalist Christian summer camp in North Dakota, and about three children from Christian families in Missouri who go there. It examines how the evangelical movement seeks to attain political power in the United States, and how they are seeking to convert young children in order to further their agenda.

The camp's blatant indoctrination tactics are genuinely horrifying to watch, regardless of what you believe. Even some more moderate fundamentalists, who are afraid that people will think all fundamentalists are like those in the movie, consider this film terrifying.

Shortly after the film was released, the camp closed but was reorganized under the name "Kids in Ministry International."

This film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Armoured Closet Gay: A scandal that transpired after the film's release revealed that pastor Ted Haggard's condemnation of homosexuality apparently had quite a bit of this in the subtext. Haggard condemned the film and told his followers not to watch it, garnering a personal response from the film's directors on its official website.
  • Artistic License – History: Levi believes Galileo gave up science for Christ. In reality, Galileo was hauled to the Inquisition because he wanted his theories to have the theological backing of the Church, that is: he wanted for his views to become dogma. Given that he couldn't satisfactorily explain inconsistencies in his theories (he had circular orbits, not elliptical ones, his theory of tides was off the rocker, etc.) he was condemned to house arrest and given a rather large stipend, as well as the freedom to talk about his theories as theories and not dogma. Meaning Galileo actually didn't give up much in terms of science, and he wanted them combined with Christian (Catholic) doctrine.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Dominionist preacher Lou Engle tells Levi that God chose him (Levi) to become a faithful Christian and preacher before he was born.
  • Black-and-White Morality: Levi's mom divides the world into two groups: "people who love Jesus and people who don't."
  • Blatant Lies:
    • "I am not going after my kids politically..." It's worth noting that those portrayed seem to sincerely believe this. Which raises an important question - if they honestly believe it, is it rightly called a "lie" or simply a "fervent delusion"? There's more of it in the deleted scenes included in the special features on the DVD.
    • This is after footage of a camp meeting where Becky instructed the kids to pray for George W. Bush, complete with a cardboard cutout of the same.
    • And after recordings of Becky telling the children that we need more "godly" people in government and after footage of the kids protesting abortion in front of the White House.
  • Boomerang Bigot:
    • Becky tells the children that there are too many "fat and lazy" Christians who don't want to "give up their evening meals" and "fast for three days." She was quite heavy when this footage was taken, and she doesn't make any exceptions for people who are heavy due to a condition.
    • Pastor Ted Haggard preaches against homosexuality but was revealed to have been in a three-year, homosexual affair shortly after the release of this film.
  • Brainwashed: More or less admitted by the people featured in the film; when accused of doing so during an interview, the ministry's head pastor responded by saying:
    "I'd like to see more churches indoctrinate."
  • The Chosen Many: What speakers at Jesus Camp tell the kids they are.
  • Christian Rock: Various Christian forms of contemporary music styles are mentioned and shown.
  • Culture Police:
    • One of the guys running the camp chides the boys for telling ghost stories because ghost stories don't further their religious goals.
    • Becky includes a brief rant about Harry Potter in one of her sermons, shouting that "warlocks are enemies of God" and that Harry Potter should be killed. Later, some kids at a meal discuss Harry Potter, and all but one claim that they are not allowed to watch it "because of witchcraft". When one boy says that he just watches the movies at his dad's house, the other boys react with shock.
  • The Cutie: A lot of the kids are absolutely adorable when they're allowed to just be themselves.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The head pastor at the camp talks about turning the children into an "army of God," and tells the kids that they should be ready to lay down their lives in the name of God. Explicit comparisons to Muslim extremists are brought up... by the pastor, who openly acknowledges that she was inspired by the way that they indoctrinate their youth.
  • Feeling Oppressed by Their Existence: Levi, at one point, talks about how he "feels ickiness in his spirit" whenever he's around non-Christians.
  • Homeschooled Kids: Several of the children are homeschooled. We see some of their lessons, including a video about Creationism teaching that Science Is Wrong.
  • Kick the Dog: Ted Haggard smugly mocks Levi, who had previously professed his admiration of Haggard and desire to become like him, for his "lack" of good content in his preaching. The fact that this moment came directly after Haggard delivered an anti-gay sermon and the fact he was later revealed to be sleeping with male prostitutes at that time period makes this act of jerkassery all the more dickish.
  • Manipulative Bastard:
    • There are elements of this at times. The camp seems to have a method of making the kids cry and then using their emotional tumult to really cement their message.
    • Relevant or otherwise, this and similar are popular tactics for indoctrinating child soldiers; break them psychologically, then give them an out in the form of enlisting. Here, you make the kids cry, then persuade them to work for Jesus in His armies.
  • Meaningful Name: The camp was held near Devil's Lake. Make of it what you will.
  • Military Brat: Tory's dad is in the army.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast:
    • Really, who thought it was a good idea to call the camp Kids on Fire?! For bonus points, it was held in Devils Lake, ND.
    • After the film prompted vandalism against the campsite, Becky re-tooled her indoctrination program as the School of Supernatural Children's Ministry.
  • Negated Moment of Awesome: Becky uses a plush lion cub to represent sin early in life, when it (supposedly) looks "cute and cuddly." Then she picks up a plush lion. Now, anyone familiar with the Bible might reasonably expect her to quote or paraphrase 1 Peter 5:8 (which likens Satan to a prowling lion), but instead she swings the plush lion around by the tail, saying that if you give in you'll eventually realize "you've got a tiger by the tail." Basically, Becky had the perfect chance to use actual scripture, but instead used a badly shoehorned figure of speech.
  • Noodle Implements: As Becky shows the camera crew some of her "activities" for the kids to do, such as brain-shaped Jell-O molds, some weird things pop up. A scythe and fake heart come to mind, as does a small stoplight.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: By Becky's own remarks, it's difficult not to see her and her ilk as no different from the Islamic extremists that she condemns. Becky outright admits to being inspired by the commitment of young soldiers in Islamic countries, and seeks to inspire similar feelings in young evangelists. From her own point of view, she's different because she happens to hold the correct belief — a conviction that any extremist Muslim probably has in equal abundance.
  • Only Sane Man: Mike Papantonio, a radio host and devout Methodist who criticizes the evangelical movement, claiming that their fire-and-brimstone preaching runs counter to what Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount, and that they are trying to subvert American democracy. Clips from his show are interspersed throughout the film.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Tory and her family pledge their allegiance to the Christian flagnote  and the Bible every day.
  • Principles Zealot: Becky declares that Harry Potter would have been put to death for sorcery in the Old Testament, regardless of what kind of hero he was.
  • Religious Horror: According to Fischer's doctrine, the possibility of Satan and his demons literally destroying you is a very real one.
  • Science Is Bad: Levi says "personally, I think Galileo made the right choice giving up science for Christ."
  • Science Is Wrong: The children are taught that science is wrong about the big bang, evolution, and global warming.
  • Take That!: They seem pretty fond of taking pointless potshots at pop culture. For example:
    • Tory says how much she likes Christian metal and rock (fair enough), then says that she could care less about Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan because their music is "mainly based on guys and girls."
    • Becky says "Unlike McDonald's, this is not about how fast you can go through the drive-through!"
    • Harry Potter is a warlock and an enemy of Christ. But of course!
  • That Satisfying "Crunch!": Kids use a hammer to smash ceramic cups symbolizing the things they want to break down, to symbolize "breaking the power of the Devil."
  • The Theocracy: What the kids are being trained to instate in the US, essentially. Becky even criticizes democracy because democracy means giving everyone equal freedom.
  • There Are No Coincidences: Becky apparently thinks that power outages and equipment failures are the work of Satan.
  • Totally Radical: The Christian rap piece heard in the film. "JC is in the house today!" "We kickin' it for Christ!"
  • Tribal Face Paint: Tory's dance group wears this as part of their performances.
  • War Is Glorious: "Take these prophecies and do what the apostle Paul said and make war with them! THIS MEANS WAR! THIS MEANS WAR!" One hopes Becky means spiritual warfare...
  • The War on Straw: The anti-evolution film the kids watch brings up the old "the Big Bang was an explosion" and "life came from goo" canards.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: As the documentary goes along, it focuses much more on Levi and Rachael and much less on Tory. We're never really given any reason why either.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Many of the kids, but quite noticeably 9-year-old Rachael, who wants to open a manicure salon when she grows up so she can try to convert customers while they're getting their nails done.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: How many adults in the film see Levi, who is quite a talented preacher for his age. Those who feel differently about the impact of charismatic Christianity on kids may view his talent as Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour.