We Learned at Jesus Camp
Before embarking on Jesus Camp, our experience with born-again Christians
was limited. As New Yorkers, every so often we had encountered Evangelicals
in the subway tunnels, passing out little comic booklets about Jesus
(we now know them to be “Bible tracks”), but that was about
it. For us, like many urban dwellers in America, the born-again experience
was something that did not affect us, something that existed in the
Bible Belt, wherever that was, exactly.
But we were wrong to think that way, and in many ways, ignorant of
our own country. There are one hundred million Evangelical Christians
in the United States that form a flourishing parallel America to our
own—a conservative counterculture comprised
of individuals of all walks of life.
Many Evangelicals go quietly about their business and stay far from “worldly” concerns.
Yet millions of others feel engaged in a fierce culture war with what
they perceive as immorality and godless liberalism that must be altered
via intense political involvement and federal legislation. They eagerly—with
the support and encouragement of their pastors—jump into positions
that can shape their own communities, from the school board to the
town library to local politics.
As millions of Americans have become cynical about their ability to
be heard by our leaders, politically-minded Evangelicals keep up on
national issues they are passionate about and loudly engage: organizing
protests, writing their congressmen, flooding the FCC with complaints,
The people in our film pass this can-do attitude on to their children,
infusing them with the concept that they have a responsibility to bring
God not just to their neighbors and friends but to their country as
a whole—it is a call to political activism mandated by God.
When we first started shooting in the suburbs of Kansas City, Missouri,
the kids we met seemed to experience the same things as most middle-class
kids: trips to Starbucks, science homework, baseball practice, dancing
in their room to their favorite music, summer camp. But quickly it
became clear that these children are living a version of childhood
where a specific Christian worldview is at the center of all things.
The music coming out of their stereos may be heavy metal, but the lyrics
celebrate the “blood of Jesus.” Moms
teach a home-schooling curriculum that repudiates evolution and highlights
the “young earth movement.” The kids on soccer teams proudly
wear red bracelets imprinted with “HWJC,” short for “How
would Jesus compete?”
And when it comes to summer camp, go-carting excursions and the water
balloon toss were intermingled with raucous anti-abortion revival meetings.
The camp in our film is a riveting example of a world many Americans
do not understand or dismiss as “fringe” or simply irrelevant
to their own lives. But perhaps they should take a closer look. The
people portrayed in this film—white, college-educated, middle-class
citizens—are part of an enormous and forceful voting block. Together,
with their children, they are utilizing the offerings of American democracy
to “take back America for Christ.”
What does this mean for Americans who call themselves proud secular
humanists? Or those who believe in God but feel that our democracy
a clear delineation between Church and State? What is the
significance of a generation of kids being infused with the view that
they can—and must—bring America back to God? And how will
it affect the country when these children come of age?
These questions informed our own journey to Jesus Camp, and we hope
audiences leave the theater discussing where we are as a nation—or
perhaps as two separate nations, at war with each other.