Get ’em when they’re young…

I don’t want to be one of those bloggers who just puts up a YouTube video and lets it do all the work for him, okay? But here’s a YouTube video. It’s a report about a documentary, Jesus Camp, on North Dakota’s Kids On Fire camp – a junior Charismatic Christian camp that is both hilarious and terrifying. The kiddies speak in tongues, talk about dying for their religion, and one of them says “It’s kinda like being trained to be warriors, only in a much funner way.” Right…

Some lowlights:

  • Kiddies sobbing, as if a photographer’s stolen their lollipops for exploitative photos
  • Kiddies speaking in tongues (I used to do that in acting class, only we called it ‘gibberish’ and didn’t think it meant we’d been taken over by Holy Spirits)
  • The boy with the weird green makeup who says “Speak the word of the Lord!” onstage, straight out of some kind of Schlock Eisteddfod.
  • The sobbing kid shouting “no more, no more!” about abortion – although my impression was that no more emotional manipulation would also have been nice.
  • And my favourite, worshipping a cutout of President Bush. Nice separation of church and state, there

The bit that’s most scary, though, is the soundbite with Pastor Becky Fisher, from Kids In Ministry International. She is the camp’s founder, and is helping to promote the documentary – which, bizarrely, she doesn’t see as exploitative. (I suspect the filmmakers may have a slightly less positive impression of her work!) She says “I want to see them as radically laying down their lives for the Gospel, as they are in Pakistan, in Israel, in Palestine and all those different places.

Of course, they don’t preach the Gospel in Pakistan, Israel or Palestine really, but she’s American so we’ll give her a pass. But from all this talk of laying down lives and the Middle East, you could be forgiven for thinking that she’s building an army of Christian suicide bombers.


Still from Jesus Camp doco – see trailer here

Most of us bleeding-hearted liberals in the West are concerned about the extremes of Islamic fundamentalism (and Zionism, let’s be even-handed) in those countries. But Pastor Becky’s decided that what’s really required is to set up exactly the same kind of indoctrination outfit, only for Christians. And we even see her yelling out “This means war!” It really is Looney Tunes stuff.

Particularly disturbing is the scene with the kid who talks about how “A lot of people die for God and stuff, and they’re not even afraid.” I’m not sure that’s admirable.

She denies these allegations, of course – and fair enough, the people who put this story together are probably your typical media liberals wanting the Christian right to conform to their view of them. (A charge I wouldn’t exactly be innocent of.) So she’s not running Christian terrorist training camps, or building a George Bush Hitler Youth, as fascinating a notion as that would be. But she is attempting to build that same level of fundamentalist devotion through extreme emotional manipulation, which is why I find her explanation of the crying and speaking in tongues worrying in itself:

Some of them experience a physical healing in their bodies. This is often where children are “filled with the Holy Spirit” for the first time and receive their “prayer languages” otherwise known as speaking in tongues. Sometimes children don’t know why they are crying but they love what they are feeling. Typically this kind of intensity will go on for an hour or more. Nobody wants to leave because the atmosphere is filled with the sweet presence of God.

I’m sure that the Taliban view their religious indoctrination camps as “filled with the sweet presence of God” as well.

Now, I don’t want to get into a religion-on-religion smackdown – the Pope’s been doing enough of that himself lately. I just think that at least from a secular perspective, this level of emotional manipulation of children is disturbing, no matter which religion does it. Isolating and brainwashing kids isn’t the right way to build converts, no matter how worthwhile a religion otherwise is. And promoting the concept of laying down your life for a religion at a susceptible age – whether metaphorically as Fisher claims she does (although judging by the clip, I’m not sure the kids fully understand that) or literally as suicide bombers – seems deeply irresponsible.

The appropriate response to extremist religious training camps in the Middle East is to monitor them carefully and oppose that practice in our own countries, not replicate them in the West for Christianity. And viewing the current conflict as a holy war merely legitimises the rhetoric of groups like al Qaeda.

If it’s appropriate to criticise Jill Greenberg for deliberately making kids cry for art, and I think it is, it seems more reprehensible to do so over a number of years, to win converts to your religion.

Dominic Knight

Image (C) Jill Greenberg – used for criticism and review purposes.

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