Pray ground

‘Jesus Camp’ explores Christian fundamentalist retreats for children

Both civics lesson and horror flick, “Jesus Camp” zooms in on the nation’s growing evangelical community, focusing on its indoctrination of children. As filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady show us kids as young as 6 weeping in rapture, attending anti-abortion revival meetings and dancing to Christian rock in warrior garb, this documentary is, by turns, alarming and fascinating.

Like Ewing and Grady’s “The Boys of Baraka,” a film about inner-city Baltimore youths, “Jesus Camp” examines extreme upbringings. Its spotlight falls on Missouri kids who inhabit a right-wing Christian universe and on the grown-ups shaping their way.

Twelve-year-old Levi likes to preach. Nine-year-old Rachael approaches strangers, hoping to turn them on to God. On the adult side, we meet Becky Fischer, the dynamo who operates Kids on Fire, a camp that molds children into instruments for fulfilling the evangelical Christian dream.

Fischer, who, between her personable nature and the appalling things that come out of her mouth, makes a terrific documentary subject, says Christians, like terrorists, should train children to fight a holy war. Her camp provides young folks with instruction in subjects ranging from creationism to Harry Potter (warlocks are the “enemy”). To give secularists critical of the fundamentalist view equal freedom “would destroy us,” she tells radio host Mike Papantonio, a Christian who opposes the evangelical line.

If there’s a frustration about this movie, it is that Grady and Ewing sometimes enhance material that needs no underscoring. They bathe kids’ blissfully praying faces in light; they accompany images of fervor with percussion.

But generally, the filmmakers, by allowing Fischer and company to expound freely, and by simply immersing theircameras in this formidable subculture, present a fair-minded, and thus all the scarier, picture of an extremism that exploits the innocence of children and seeks to eliminate the separation of church and state.

“You are the beginning of a movement that can overturn abortion in America,” minister and Bush friend Ted Haggard tells the kids. “Righteous judges!” some chant, during a passage involving Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court confirmation. A cardboard cutout of the president receives the children’s blessing, in a scene bordering on the surreal.

The film proves equally disturbing when illustrating how bubblelike education affects the tolerance centers of formative brains. Interaction with non-Christians “makes my spirit feel yucky,” says one boy. Also disturbing is a science lesson, home-schooling style. (Global warming? Baloney!)

In sum: compelling stuff.

Movie review

Jesus Camp ???

Documentary

Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

Not rated

Running time 1 hour, 25 minutes

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