June 18, 2008
image: Jesus Camp.jpg (c) Jesus Camp
I finally got around to watching Jesus Camp a few nights ago. I've had it sitting in my Netflix queue for a few weeks now, and since the movie was available to watch online via their streaming video service, I figured I'd give it a go.
The movie focuses on several children who attend a Christian camp. They're young, ranging from 9 to 12. The camp is very similar in style and content to Christian camps and conferences I attended in high school; obviously, the content I experienced was more age appropriate for me, but the general messaging was the same: "we have to take this nation back for Christ." As a kid, I wasn't aware of the implied political meaning behind that phrase. I didn't connect the idea of "advancing the kingdom of God" and taking over the government (and the world) until much later; watching this documentary really helped put the whole thing into perspective.
I'm really not sure how I didn't make the connection before. On more than one occasion, my old pastor would openly suggest that Christians should always vote for Christian officials, and if there were none, to vote for conservative/Republican officials, as though being conservative was somehow connected to having a proper relationship with God.
I understand that there are Christians who feel that conservative ideals are closer in alignment with Christian ethics. For the most part, I don't disagree with that opinion. Many of my personal values are rooted in those same conservative ideals. However, I feel that there should be a healthy disconnect between my values and the role of the government in my life. In the same way that it is inappropriate for me to demand that my neighbors adhere to my faith, I find it inappropriate for me to demand that citizens of the nation fall under legislation that agrees with my personal values.
The Christian Right disagrees with me. For them, the idea of advancing the kingdom of God, or creating heaven on earth, is about creating a theocracy. And not just here in the US, but across the globe, through the work of missionaries. And the great irony is that the western Protestant movement was born out of a resistance to this very same notion. The Protestant mentality of those who fled the European theocracy helped to birth the freedom of religion that we have enjoyed for the last 200 years. In a bizarre twist, this same Protestant movement is now blazing the trail to recreate the institution from which it once fled.
And in a move that can only be called diabolical, the Christian Right has targeted children for their plans for theocracy. It has promoted the use of Christian camps and conferences in order to indoctrinate children - not with the good news of grace found in the Christian text, but with a political message consisting of earthly revolution, overthrow, war, dressed up in spirituality and piety.
There's a distinct formula that is applied to children by these Christian youth programs. The formula looks like this:
Hype: This is done through the worship music and through comedic presentations, which at once makes the attendees feel that their excitement and enjoyment is related to their proximity to the presence of God. It's fun, it gets the blood pumping, and it it's unifying. It's a rally. The Pied Piper's music draws them in.
Emote: The program takes a turn, and the intent of both the music and the message is to draw on the emotions of the attendees. This is the emotional roller-coaster, and the psychology behind it is very simple. You get people juiced up during the hype phase, and then once their energy level peaks, you bring them back down and make them cry. And the crying is often about the state of the world, the state of the lost, the state of the attendees lives... anything to make the attendees break down internally. This makes the attendees feel like they are drawing closer to God and to one another. Once again, the fact that the entire group is behaving the same way leads attendees to believe that the cause of their emotional response is their proximity to the presence of God.
Act: Once the attendees have gone up and down on that roller coaster, they're mush. They can be told anything, because on a conscious level, they believe that their experiences so far have been the result of God's presence; on an unconscious level, they've been psychologically prepared for input. They're exhausted, they're weakened, and they are the captive audience of the people behind the podium. And it's at this stage that the agenda is promoted.
If there was ever an appropriate use of the term "drinking the kool-aid," this would be it. Thousands of kids packed into a stadium, all ready to consume whatever the speakers have to dish out. It's frightening, really.
This is not my version of Christianity. It kills me to see young children plunged into such spiritual darkness and manipulation. But I am encouraged by Christ's own words on the matter: "...but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. " (Matthew 18:6 NASB)
So I walk away from the documentary enraged at the state of western Christianity, and disheartened that the name of Christ is being used for political gain. But I lay claim to the knowledge that God is larger than His wayward followers, and that He will work things for His glory.
And His glory isn't found in an earthly kingdom built by men.