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Born again in the U.S.A.

By |2006-10-12T09:00:00-04:00October 12th, 2006|Entertainment|

Meet Becky Fischer, an evangelical children’s minister. Fischer is a large middle-aged woman who wears her yellow hair short and favors gold hoop earrings, wire-rimmed glasses, and, when addressing her young flock, a headset microphone circa Blonde Ambition Tour Madonna.
This blonde, however, couldn’t be further from the Material Girl, though she is quickly becoming as notorious thanks to “Jesus Camp,” a new documentary by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (“Boys of Baraka”). “Jesus Camp” follows Fischer as she leads an evangelical summer camp called Kids on Fire in Devils Lake, N.D.
“This is a sick old world,” she tells the grade school-age campers. “The devil goes after the young.”
Fischer rails against everything from abortion to Harry Potter. “Warlocks are enemies of God,” she says, adding that Harry Potter would have been put to death in the Old Testament. Though homosexuality isn’t mentioned directly in the film, it’s not hard to guess where the Kids on Fire camp leaders stand on the issue.
The throng of largely white children featured in the film, many of whom speak in tongues and break into sobs as they are “overcome by the spirit,” are actively being recruited to be soldiers in God’s army. The camp is rife with militaristic sloganeering and imagery. “This means War!” Fischer yells as she pumps her fist in the air and urges the kids to chant along.
Fischer is only doing what Islamists, who she deems “our enemies,” are already doing, only for Christ. Of children she says, “They are so usable in Christianity.”
This isn’t lost on the kids. Levi, a charismatic 12-year-old who is handsome despite his mullet, says as much. Nine-year-old Rachel, who says she would love to be a nail-technician because it would give her a captive one-on-one audience to bring people to the Lord, chimes in, “We’re being trained to be warriors, only in a funner way.”
The film’s lone dissenting voice is that of Mike Papantonio, the host of the radio show “Ring of Fire” on Air America. Papantonio, a moderate Christian, bemoans and challenges the political agenda of modern day evangelicals, including Fischer.
Fischer, however, doesn’t see what she’s doing as political, even though activities at her camp include praying over a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush, praying for the appointment of “righteous judges” (the film is book ended by the announcement of Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement and the confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito) and protesting abortion in Washington D.C.
The film has garnered its share of critics, including the Rev. Ted Haggard of the National Association of Evangelicals who is featured in the film. According to the LA Times, Haggard claimed the film made evangelicals look “scary.”
If anybody comes across poorly in the film, however, it’s Haggard who is shown joking directly at the camera while the film crew captures him center stage at his Colorado megachurch. Unfortunately, he comes across as more jerky than jocular, especially in the following scene where he’s shown condescending to the young preacher-in-training Levi who is clearly nervous and excited to be speaking to such a well-known figure.
The film, to its credit, doesn’t paint Fischer as a one-dimensional figure. It doesn’t tell you what to think about her or how to feel. People have, of course, formed their own opinions. Since the film’s release Fischer has been excoriated on left-wing blogs and hailed by Christian conservatives.
Much of the left’s criticism of Fischer, however, is misplaced. She is not, in fact, the enemy, but her very public debut has made her an easy target. What liberals are reacting to so viscerally is the undeniable power the religious right holds in America today, and how many children are rising in the ranks. Many folks, especially moderates, are just waking up to that fact. “Jesus Camp,” for these folks, might as well be called “While You Were Sleeping,” as it is a much-needed wake-up call.

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