June 18, 2008
by: jovial_cynic

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.


Luke said:
Whoa! It's a good thing this isn't the norm for Christianity...I think.

I just got broadband internet so I watched it from Netflix as well and saw the problem whence all the little kids started flapping their lips in supposed tongues. Then they flopping on the ground like a beached fish. Then that George Bush cutout??? Yeah these are some seriously inculcated people with an significant misunderstanding of what their faith in Christ is really about... Sad

June 18, 2008

jovial_cynic said:
Well, it was the norm at the Assemblies of God church I attended, and the youth conferences that the youth group was sent to. It was a little too close to my own experience to not write about.

No Bush cut-outs at my old church, though. Clinton was in office during that time. :)

June 18, 2008

Kristen said:
"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." I couldn't agree more with this statement; Jason and I say this all the time.

June 18, 2008

Becky said:
When I went to Northwest University (then known as Northwest Bible College), Dr. Herkelrath (head of the Psych division there) spoke on this same subject, sharing your same concerns (yes, he agrees with you). Upon his suggestion, I went and saw a Christian hypnotist at the Puyallup Fairgrounds to broaden my perspective... the hypnotist mimicked Benny Hinn and it was very incredulous how people were getting "slain" under a different power, or rather the same - hypnotism, group think, pysch, etc.
I still believe in the supernatural (I have had some odd personal encounters that were not influenced by anyone else, I was alone when they happened, and either I was halucinating or had a spiritual encounter, in either case they were not in a church setting and were not related to anything I'd been taught or encouraged to seek out), but I don't believe it's manifested in the same ways we were raised to believe... the power of suggestion is so huge... and it is very scary to think of how impressionable we were... are moral government theorists totally wrong? They are if they are pushing it onto others.
I have gay Christian friends, and I'm honestly annoyed with all the focus (esp. the negative) on gay marriage in America. I care more about regulating the regulatory governmental agencies, and improving the legal system... I care less about whether Janey has two moms who want to raise her in a safe and stable home, and more about whether Johnny is awarded to his crackwhore mom over his sober father. I do think that morals will always play some type of role in our nation's decision-making, but that they should be voted on by the people. I look at the KKK, People's Republic of China and the Jihad extremists and shudder to think how close to being like them the religious right could be.
We - radical Christians in our own minds - focus on the wrong things, get hyped up and passionate, and forget how Jesus lived his life. We are too much like the Jews who got mad at him for not being the political leader they wanted him to be--who they thought the Messiah would be. We forget that he reached out to the prostitute, the adulteress, the drunks and the tax collectors (trust me, as a former tax collector, we need all the forgiveness we can get!).
There's my peace.

June 18, 2008

Ben said:
I have not yet made it a point to see this movie but it sounds like it would be, at the very least, enlightening. I would tend to agree with your comments about the whole "youth camp" idea. I've been to quite a few of these things, having been involved with youth group all through high school and then a youth leader for four years. I've seen my share of hype and what seems to be emotional manipulation. The sad truth is that this does happen all to often when it comes to these types of events.

I've learned over the years that one needs to take anything that happens at an event like this with a grain of salt. I can recall one time in particular where I was attending a youth convention with the Assemblies of God and I heard the speaker say things that I knew didn't line up biblically and saw him use a dramatic element to his speaking that was obviously aimed at emotional manipulation. Sad.

Do I think that God doesn't have the ability to work in the lives of his followers in these situations? No. But I do believe that there is a fine line between enthusiasm and zeal for God and fanatical hype.

Under the right leadership, I think that retreats, camps, and missions trips can be great experiences that can help you grow in your knowledge of God. On the other hand, it's sad to see how many young minds have been manipulated to think and act a certain way through this type of event. I'll have to check out this documentary soon.

June 18, 2008

jovial_cynic said:
Kristen, Becky, and Ben - thanks for your comments. To my other readers, these three folks also went to the same church I attended, so their perspectives are particularly valuable to me.

Ben - to your specific note about God working through people in spite of those situations... sure. I'll never say that God can't work in a particular environment. But if a "Christian" environment is polluted with wickedness and deceit, I think we do a disservice by simply turning a blind eye. Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers who preyed on people seeking to worship. That's the example we have in front of us.

June 19, 2008

Red Queen said:
I like to think that Jesus was the first separation of church and state philosopher, what with the render unto Caesar what is Caesar's stuff, but I'm a godless heathen. what do i know?
June 20, 2008

jovial_cynic said:
Red - interesting. I'd never looked at that passage that way before.

On top of that, Jesus made it very clear that his kingdom wasn't of this earth. Jesus gave no instruction to build up an earthly empire. And if you watch any of the documentaries on Judas, you find that his problem wasn't so much that he was a betrayer, but rather that he was trying to get Jesus to establish himself as king on earth, and was willing to push Jesus into a trap to get him to reveal himself and start that kingdom.

The Christian Right... a modern day Judas?

June 20, 2008

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