I just watched the documentary ‘Jesus Camp’ in full. It brouhgt up some memories of my past, but it also brought a fresh horror of what I saw.
First, the abortion thing. These kids are mostly still in elementary school. They probably have very little idea of the mechanics of sex, never mind the complexities of contraception, abortion, and reproductive choice. To indoctrinate them in this way is wrong, but to put them out on the street protesting is completely sick. They are children, and reproductive choice is not a children’s issue.
Watching the scenes of the meetings at the camp itself was surreal. I remember the waves of emotion I felt as the high drama played out, feelings that I attributed to the Holy Spirit moving. I remember weeping and praying at the altar. I remember invoking the name of Jesus and calling on his power. I remember raising my hands and crying out to the Lord. I remember the sermons telling us that this generation was going to rise up and take our nation back for Jesus. I remember listening to others speak in tongues, and the heartache I felt because God hasn’t seen fit to give me that gift.
But watching it through older eyes showed it in a different light. Watching a middle-aged woman tell children that they were phonies, hypocrites, and that they needed to repent for being like every other kids their age was horrifying. What right does she have to shame them like that for being normal?
Invoking the name of Jesus was just a talisman, a fetish. A magic formula for salvation, for healing, for cleansing. It reminded me of the ancient Greeks, invoking the name of the god they wished to appeal to before they made their request. The name of Jesus is the fallback, the chant when they have no other words. It’s like kids peppering their sentences with ‘like’ all the time – almost a verbal tic.
The power of the group meeting, the life-changing power, is hysteria. Mass manipulation of emotions. And it’s especially easy to do with kids who have been preached at for more than an hour, and are wound up but weary. It isn’t hard to do, but it’s frightening. It molds young minds into expecting to experience that emotion and be carried away with it, instead of thinking and questioning. Experiencing the ‘Holy Spirit’ instead of learning to think critically creates children who are set in their world view. I don’t think that’s a particularly good thing.
Speaking in tongues. It used to seem to me to be the epitome of holiness. Only those who God really loved and trusted with his most precious gifts could do it. I wasn’t good enough to get the gift. But now, I see people so immersed in the emotional moment that they let gibberish stream from their mouths. Once they’ve done it a few times they don’t need the high emotion any more, and it just flows out. But it’s not a gift from God. It’s meaningless.
Sometimes I wonder, when I think back or when I see something like this, whether the leaders really believe their gimmicks, or whether they’re putting it on. And honestly, I don’t know which scenario is worse. If they are faking it, consciously using the same tricks that psychics use to play on their congregation’s minds and emotions, then it’s a sick ploy, but it’s damn effective. But if they really believe it all, it’s horrifying.
Spiritual warfare is often spoken about, and those kids are primed for it. The doctrine of warfare brings with it the idea of no surrender. No compromise. And that’s a scary thought. Humans coexist by negotiating mutually acceptable peace, but these kids are taught that their way is absolutely correct, and there’s no bending. They must stand firm. How can people like that live in the real world?
Jesus Camp is what my adolescence looked like. I am glad that I broke free, because it’s an intolerant way of life, and it’s so out of touch with reality. The real world is hard, but it’s better than that delusion.