Kids under fire
While every other blogger might have been vigorously pounding at their keyboard by now commenting on the Jesus Camp film, here's my observation for what it's worth.
As depicted in the documentary that came out two weeks ago in the United States, a Christian youth camp called Kids on Fire was underway in North Dakota having children speaking in tongues, weeping uncontrollably for their sins (which seemed to have been owned up to by scare tactics), and claiming the nation for Jesus by being soldiers for Christ who are willing to die for the cause of God. As one boy put it, "A lot of people die for God, and they're not afraid."
The film in dispute opens up an old debate on religious radicalism, an ill-treated topic in the public sphere. Now the issue seems to be aggravated by throwing children into the mix.
I think people at the Jesus Camp are seriously misguided to inject militant ideas into Jesus' teachings and then indoctrinate youths with what's not taught in the Bible to begin with. Pastor Beckey Fischer of Jesus Camp said she wants to see children as "radically laying down their lives for the gospel as they are in Palestine, Pakistan and all those different places." Granted that's a noble sentiment, I would love to ask Pastor Fischer just how exactly does she intend children to do that. While Christian martyrs in Palestine essentially face persecution by literally laying down their lives to those who want to take it (contrast that to so-called martyrs who wouldn't mind taking other people's lives along), which I believe is what Pastor Fischer meant by radically laying down one's life, it is only silly for Christian kids in America to be ready to lay down their lives in that sense when the persecution they might get more than anything else in their own country is that blank embarassed stare of disconnection from their schoolmates when they start to utter religious babbles. Not unless Fischer intended to station the kids in Iraq at the end of the camp.
It is certainly easier to pound military slogans into the minds of little ones over the weekend in the name of truth and fun—which is a very strange combination by the way—than committing to the painstaking process of real Christian education, which involves critical thinking rather than propagation of religious catchphrases that could be confusing even to grownups. By the way there's nowhere in the Gospel accounts where Jesus was recorded as commissioning His disciples to die for Him either as a means or an end to their faith, which is what the Jesus Camp seems to be explicitly promoting to children. You can't really blame the media for equating Evangelicals with al-Qaeda terrorists when you have people like this misrepresenting Jesus.
It got me worried about the kinds of trash they feed the kids with at the camp, when a little girl of ten or so was shown going to a bowling alley and striking up conversations with strangers that begin with, "Hi, God spoke to me today and He told me..." One wonders if God has really spoken in that instance (see A Private Hot Line to God? by Greg Koukl). And you know you've really had it when children are shown worshipping in front of a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush.
One thing this reminds me of is the immense power of children to imitate. Left with no choice of better Christian examples to follow, kids will follow anyone that comes along and claims to offer them the truth. Rather than preparing children to advance the much-needed Gospel in the world, the Jesus Camp was nothing more than a circus frenzy with a serious role confusion that mistakes themselves as the militant Jesus at end times. Though I'm sure they really meant well, the effort is so farcical it's sad.