Saturday, 1 September 2012

Jesus Camp, dir/wr. Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady, st. Becky Fischer, Mike Papantonio

Apart from a .pdf file on radical Pentecostal children's pastor Becky Fischer's website Kids In Ministry, entitled "What's wrong with Twilight?", there's not a huge amount that rational members of the public will agree with during Ewing and Grady's film, and actively rather a lot that might turn your stomach. The main problem inherent in objectively researching extremism is that by its very nature, extremism doesn't stand up very well to a considered, balanced analysis. Both Fischer and another featured evangelist Ted Haggard have denounced the film as demonising their organisation, with Haggard going on to say, "Secularists are hoping that evangelical Christians and radicalised Muslims are essentially the same, which is why they will love this film." It doesn't help then, that Fischer's whole modus operandi is based around instilling an 'us and them' mentality in the children she preaches to, referring to followers of Islam as "our enemies" and suggesting that Muslim children are being ushered into mosques as we speak, only to be handed grenades and strapped into bomb-belts; there's not much context to be hewn from Fischer encouraging her children to repeatedly shout "This means war!" The film, to its credit, doesn't go so far as to call it what it is, but you'll all be thinking it. That the children featured in the documentary - the home-schooled Levi, and the tract-distributing Rachael - are seen to be intelligent, compassionate and charismatic only serves to further highlight the severe nature of their indoctrination. After spending the majority of the film using a series of manipulative, emotionally-cathartic methodologies, Fischer is seen near the end watching camcorder footage of her sermons, teary-eyed, stating that the kids' intensity and fervour is proof of the good work she's doing. "God hears the cries of children." she says. The difference between watching this and an exposé on other out-there fringe organisations is just that - Evangelicalism is not fringe. The National Survey of Religion and Politics puts them as comprising 26.3% of the total population of the US. With the Republican National Convention currently taking place in Tampa Florida, the rest of us look on in tired amusement as speaker after speaker spin and grin their way through speeches using words like 'God' and 'Family' as crowd-lubricants, and we watch with dropped-jaws their attitudes to issues like abortion but it's in scenes like those in Jesus Camp, in which the children are encouraged to enact a laying of hands on a life-sized cardboard cutout of George Bush whilst speaking in tongues, that one recognises and appreciates the foundations of such militant belief. Harrowing in the extreme.