I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called Jesus Camp. You may have heard of it before.
My siblings and I watched it, joking that we would see how mild our parents actually were, and it proved more thought-provoking than I thought it to be.
Jesus Camp (2006) examines evangelical culture in a children’s church camp setting. As someone who grew up in a conservative and evangelical bubble, many aspects of the documentary were hilariously familiar. As it turns out, a few of these children were home-schooled and even used some of same textbooks that we used (Exploring Creation with Physical Science, anybody?). These children pledged allegiance to the Christian flag. Global warming was never presented as real and serious. I was fed on Christian heavy metal. Let’s not forget the classic Harry-Potter-Hating. These are all things that I was accustomed too.
However, many aspects of the documentary disturbed me. Jesus Camp has many layered, extreme and emotional scenes of children praying and sobbing. To see young children all speaking in tongues and sometimes convulsing is alien and shocked me.
Another element was references to the culture war that was going on during that time. The adults were straightforward saying that they are training their children to be ‘soldiers’. The children even reaffirm this, saying that they thought that they were being trained to be ‘warriors’. All through the documentary, there is a push and talk about ‘reclaiming America’. This idea is also familiar to me. This quite possibly disturbed me the most.
It is familiar in reminders. America has been blessed by God, America is the greatest country in the world, America is a Christian nation, America used to be a Christian nation, and we need to make our country the great Christian nation that our founding fathers meant it to be. These are reminders that I have heard. These are reminders that you possibly may hear in this documentary. It all comes down to the idea of ‘reclaiming America’. Ultimately, ‘reclaiming America’ is a message of patriotism, politics, and pride. It is pride that leads us to think and act in this way.
It’s uncomfortable but maybe we need to talk about this. The problem with this, ultimately, is not the politics (which you all argue another day) but our emphasis on the message and our methods. The message of patriotism and politics should not be more important than the message of Jesus and yet, it often is. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. Christians should not be known by political lobbying but by our love for our God and for the people around us. We should not be known by pride.
There has always been this feeling that people have that they are losing the country that they have known and loved because of change. I get that. I have felt that. However, I would argue that the country was never ours in the first place. We only occupy Earth. We do not own it. The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness’ (Psalm 24:1a).
I keep on thinking why talk about this now when it was a 10 years ago and a different time? We always have trouble seeing the past for what it really is. It’s always rosy or dim depending on our perspectives, but it’s still important. We should attempt to see the past as it was, in order to understand our present. It’s the same reason why we study history. Seeing where we have been helps us to know where we want to be in the future. This aspect of the past has informed our present. That is why it is important.
We should also attempt to see the past in order to see the mistakes made. History repeats itself when we don’t learn from the mistakes. I know I made mistakes from these ideas that I inherited from this culture. I’m learning from them. I’m still learning to keep the good traditions while question traditions that perhaps need to be questioned in my evangelical culture.
P.S. Let me know if you have watched this documentary and what you thought of it. Also let me know if you grew up in the American Evangelical culture and if you agreed/disagreed with me.
Jesus Camp (2006) Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady [Film] A&E IndieFilms