Jesus Camp Revisited

Because I had the good luck of being one of the first people to see and review Jesus Camp, I’ve been getting quite a bit of traffic from people curious about the film. I think my initial review pretty much represents my current take on the film (although I’d like to see it again). I also think that Grady and Ewing have crafted a fascinating film about how children are educated in this Pentecostal subculture, one that is only a small part of the larger and more diverse evangelical movement. And I’ll assume it’s relatively clear from my initial review that I disagree with the political beliefs of pretty much everyone depicted in the film, and as an educator, I’m equally troubled by the homeschooling techniques, including the debunking of “science,” depicted in the film.

But the intentionally provocative ABC report on the documentary has sparked a number of misreadings of a film few people have seen. Most notably, the ABC article describes the scene in which the campers pray for a cardboard cutout of Bush as worshipping him. While the camp is clearly politically-charged in ways that my church youth camps never were, I think it would be a mistake to read the scene in this way, in part because there’s a mild jokiness to the presentation of the cardboard figure, even if the prayers themselves are sincere. And it’s also worth noting that the members of the Pentecostal cultures I knew were not completely blinded by their political leaders, often expressing ambivalence about the conservative credentials of someone like Bush’s father (especially when he invoked the ominous concept of a “new world order”). Many of the comments about the film have been decontextualized, and I think that has led to a number of unnecessary misinterpretations.

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