I had some reservations about running the “Jesus Camp” segment we taped earlier this week. The reasons had nothing to do with the film’s quality or the guests booked. In fact, one of those guests was a former law partner and a voice of dissent in the movie.
My problem with “Jesus Camp” had to do with “Scarborough Country” giving time to yet another movie that showed an extreme side of Christianity.
Take a look at some of the scenes in “Jesus Camp” and let me know what you think. Chances are good that if you didn’t grow up around fundamentalist or evangelical communities, scenes of kids wailing and shaking on the floor will scare the hell out of you. But for those of us who grew up in the South surrounded by conservative churches on every other corner, the film’s trailer is nothing new.
I grew up as a Southern Baptist who spent mornings, noons and nights on Sunday in church. I remember being surprised the first time my parents let me skip night church to see a Super Bowl. I spent summers at church camps at Ridgecrest, North Carolina. But unlike “Jesus Camp,” there were few spiritual convulsions or crying fits at Ridgecrest. In fact, most of the older boys there were more interested in striking up personal relationships with girls rather than the Son of God. But I also saw young children committing their lives to Jesus Christ in settings that many in the outside world would consider offensive. Some would even accuse Bible instructors of brainwashing students by delivering hell, fire and brimstone sermons. And who knows? Maybe some did.
But from my vantage point, the kids I saw give their lives to Christ in those summer camps were no worse for wear from their brief brushes with the Bible. In fact, many who came from broken homes saw their lives turned after accepting God into their lives. I can’t name one friend who ever regretted taking up a belief system that had as its central tenant the order that we treat others as we would want to be treated.
But for whatever reason, Christianity is loathed by millions across the United States and Europe. Cultural elites are particularly critical of the faith that launched abolitionist movements in England and America and championed poverty relief in Africa centuries before Brad Pitt hooked up with Ms. Jolie. It’s just too bad that movies like “Jesus Camp” confirm elites’ worst fears about evangelicals based on their own prejudices—and because many of the scenes are chilling even to mainline Christians. Still, I wouldn’t worry too much about these kids getting too much God.
To put it in a more worldly perspective, I remember many of my high school friends giving Bob Marley a run for his money when it came to smoking massive quantities of pot. I took it in stride even though I had grown up hearing that the Evil Weed would lead to a life hooked on heroin or worse, a dead end job at MSNBC. Still, I figured my very stoned friends would get through it okay. And most did. The same could be said of those who announced to no one in particular in the lunchroom that it was God’s perfect will that tater tots were served on Fridays instead of meatloaf. Like most kids, these holy rollers grew up, chilled out and kept their faith--even if they finally figured out that our school just ran out of ground beef sometimes.
It’s a shame cultural elites can’t be as moderate in their approach to religion. It these academics, editors and Hollywood producers practiced the brand of tolerance they preached, they would take heed of Jesus’ advice to religious leaders of his day and judge not lest they be judged.