Thursday, August 13, 2009

Jesus Camp

Last night, I watched the critically-acclaimed documentary "Jesus Camp", which mostly follows three children on their journey from their homes in western Missouri to North Dakota where Pastor Becky will train them to be soldiers in "God's Army".
They are going to war. And they are forming themselves into battalions for Jesus Christ in the battle to claim America's political, social, and cultural venues and institutions for a hell-fire and brimstone belief that only through Jesus Christ can one be saved, and only a belief in Jesus Christ is correct. These children are young. These children are like sponges soaking this in. And these children are as radical as all get out.

At one point, the freckled-face Rachael, who accosts strangers and tells them that God told her to talk to them in her effort to "save" them, was explaining what type of church God likes. She referred to "some" Churches as being "dead churches".

"God is not in every church," she says as she draws and colors in a large crucifix on a piece of construction paper. "There is a certain thing... they're call... there is a certain church, they're called 'dead churches'. And the people sit there, they sit there like this: (turns side ways, sits straight, head bowed, eyes closed, trance-like) 'We worship you, God. We worship you, God.' They sing three songs, and they listen to a sermon."

Turning back to the camera, she continues:

"Churches that God likes to go to are churches where (she stands, smiling and gesturing) they are jumping up and down, shouting His name, and just praising Him. They're not acting, they're not quiet (resumes bowed head pose), 'We worship you...', (breaks from trance-like state, punches fist in the air) they're 'Hallelujah, God!' You know, and...depending on what... how they invite Him, He'll be there or not."

One might dismiss this as the words of a child under the influence of evangelical Christian parents. But the film makes it clear that for Rachael, and the other big star of the movie named Levi, this is a theology that they have internalized deeply, and say they are willing to die for it.

And as one who attended college for four-years in mid-Missouri, this is not a joke. Rachael is the next generation of undergrad living on the 8th floor of Schurz Hall!

Mind you, on one level I am not bothered by the very basic premise that these kids are going to a camp. Lots of churches run Vacation Bible Schools where kids learn songs about Christ... and even get some of the roots of Christianity through learning what Moses imparts in Deuteronomy about writing these words on the doorposts and such. But that's the very basic part. The fact that the adults are confirming for the Rachaels of western Missouri that there are "dead churches" and reinforcing a theological belief that somehow God only "shows up" in some places and not others... and needs an "army" to "take back" our political, social and cultural institutions... that's disturbing.

And then there is the thought in the back of my mind that in that room there at this camp there is very likely a child who will be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. And their mouths are getting duct taped with the word, "Life" in a place that, from my perspective, denies it by indoctrinating them into a belief that there is only one way to think, only one way to believe, only one way "to be". Woe onto that kid who comes out! And it does happen. And they do suffer.

Pastor Becky, the leader of this Kids on Fire camp, believed that the "liberals" who would see this movie would be "quaking in their boots" to see this generation of youngsters so fully prepared to win back the country for Jesus Christ. As one who is often called, "liberal" and attends one of those "dead churches", I would say I wasn't quaking in my boots watching this film. I was made mindful that the mentality that pushes people to join a mob to disrupt a health care forum has its roots in a camp in North Dakota. The mentality that denies evolution and mocks scientific research without seeing how God remains present in both has its roots in a camp in North Dakota. The mentality that argues why I, as a lesbian, should be driven out of the Episcopal Church has an ideological and theological tie to a camp in North Dakota.

Quake in my boots? No! It is an inspiration to counter this theology that actually negates the saving gracious act of Christ on the cross by putting that power to save into the hands of a freckled-face Missouri girl handing out Jack Chick tracts to strangers in bowling alleys!

To those of us still worshipping in so-called "dead churches": we can not reason with people who will not employ reason, and don't encourage it in their children. We can not share tradition with people who consider our tradition to be "dead". But we can learn, mark and inwardly digest Scripture and not just leave it to the Jesus Campers to talk about God's word. Let's do it.


Anonymous said...

Oh my God, how frightening! I think we should wear our red Episcopal T-shirts more often and maybe speak out the responses with more vigor. I know that last Sunday, our guest priest said how wonderful it was to see that we responsed with such a loud voice. I don't think Christ Church Exeter is a really "dead church". Will these kids gather their Army of kids and march on all of us?


SCG said...

Peggins, I hope you are not afraid as in the "quaking in your boots" that Pastor Becky would like to instill in those of us who don't follow her belief system.
I think we just need to be more present in our own lives, and not be shy to saying, "That's not the God I believe in. Who would want to believe in a God who only hears shouting and fist-waving?"

frdougal said...

I agree you cannot argue with a closed mind, but you can witness to the radical generosity of God and can win for Christ those whose are open to hearing a voice which doesn't shout, threaten or terrify. Was in a group with an Evangelical lady tonight who said we didn't pray tonight when I simply led a said office with an extra collect: often the biggest barrier to God is the straight jackets we put him/her in.

SCG said...

frdougal, you are absolutely correct! God got out of the box along time ago.