I should state at the beginning that I'm probably not the target audience for this film. In fact, excepting that I was raised in fundamentalist Baptist churches and not charismatic churches, I could have been IN this film at various times in my life.
Jesus Camp is generally about one week in a camp run by Becky Fischer and three of the children who attend. Its greater focus is on the indoctrination of children into the religious right, and how churches and/or religious leaders use the Bible as a basis to get children involved in politics; that is, church and state are intermingled and are not two separate entities.
While I found the film surprisingly nonjudgmental--one of the few documentaries that does treat its subjects objectively--I have a feeling that its content would be outrageous and shocking to those who have never attended an evangelical church. Even in the commentary, the co-directors treat their subjects with respect and are careful say that they believe the faith and ardor shown in the film are real (though it's not hard to discern that they are both puzzled with it and disagree with it).
One of the women in my book club recommended this film; she found it distressing and disquieting. Another of the members asked me last week if I'd seen it yet; she'd watched it twice over the weekend. Her review: "Oh. My. GAWD."
I was not so affected. It was a little like watching a home movie.
Battle metaphors? Check.
Interpretive dances? Check.
Nightly sermons? Check.
Object lessons with crafts? Check.
Plastic models of aborted fetuses? Check.
Prayers for the President? Check.
I went to camp one time, and I was eighteen when I went. It wasn't like Jesus Camp at all; in fact, it was a whole lot stricter and not as much fun. At my camp, we had morning, afternoon, and evening sermons. Girls had to wear dresses or skirts to the services, and culottes to the activities. (All activities were gender-segregated, so there were only other girls to see our ugly clothes anyway.) Boys had to wear jeans or long pants (in case a fourteen-year-old's gangly chicken legs inflamed our passions?) There was no Christian rock music (even Christian rock was the devil's music; we sang hymns, just like Jesus did). No woman would ever ever EVER have preached at my camp, and we definitely sat through more than one sermon on Women Keep Silent In The Church.
I've read some reviews, and there are some people who were absolutely livid, insisting that the kids were being brainwashed and the adults were evil in using children as a means to meet their own political agendas. The adults in the film don't see their religious teachings as having political repercussions at all--with the exception of Ted Haggard (aside: The first time I ever heard of Ted Haggard was when there was that whole scandal; I sort of recognized the name when I heard it in the film, but I didn't know he was That Guy until I listened to the commentary. Even if I hadn't known about it, I still would think--as I do now--that he was very slimy and disingenuous, exactly the kind of snake-oil salesman that most people have in mind when they think of evangelical Christians.), who met one of the young subjects and was just gross to him.
I'm not quite sure what purpose the documentarians had in mind. Did they want to ridicule the religious right? Were they trying to inform people who don't know what the Christian conservatives are up to? It's unclear, so I don't know if they actually met their goal.
Jesus Camp is an engaging film, and it's fair in its depiction of evangelicals. It will be educational for those who are confused by the growth of the religious right, and it takes a segment of the population who are often vilified in the press and humanizes them.