Film Shows Youths Training to Fight for Jesus
New Documentary Features Controversial Bible Camp, Evangelical Movement
By DAN HARRIS
Sept. 17, 2006
An in-your-face documentary out this weekend is raising eyebrows, raising hackles and raising questions about evangelizing to young people.
Speaking in tongues, weeping for salvation, praying for an end to abortion and worshipping a picture of President Bush -- these are some of the activities at Pastor Becky Fischer's Bible camp in North Dakota, "Kids on Fire," subject of the provocative new documentary, "Jesus Camp."
"I want to see them as radically laying down their lives for the gospel as they are in Palestine, Pakistan and all those different places," Fisher said. "Because, excuse me, we have the truth."
"A lot of people die for God," one camper said, "and they're not afraid."
"We're kinda being trained to be warriors," said another, "only in a funner way."
The film has caused a split among evangelicals. Some say it's designed to demonize. Others have embraced it, including Fischer, who's helping promote the film.
"I never felt at any point that I was exploited," Fischer said.
"I think there is a push right now in a lot of evangelical churches to definitely keep the teenagers and keep the children in the faith," said Heidi Ewing, co-director of "Jesus Camp." "And this is one version of that attempt."
A Growing Movement
This camp is, by many accounts, a small -- and perhaps extreme -- slice of what some say is a growing, intensifying evangelical youth movement.
Over the past decade and a half, enrollment at Christian colleges is up 70 percent. Sales of Christian music are up 300 percent. Tens of thousands of youth pastors have been trained.
Young people are targeted through Christian music festivals, skateboard competitions and rodeos.
"This is an enormous youth movement," said Lauren Sandler, a secular, liberal feminist from New York City who spent months among the believers researching her new book, "Righteous."
Sandler says the evangelical youth movement will have a negative impact on the country's future, because even the most moderate young evangelicals are inflexible on issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
"It's an absolute, straight-up us-against-them," Sandler said. "It's, you're either with us or you're against us. ??? Not only are you a sinner, but you are working for the enemy -- the enemy being Satan."
Chap Clark, an associate professor at the Fuller Theological Seminary who's trained youth pastors for decades, said people who see "Jesus Camp" should not come away with the idea that evangelizing to youth consists mainly of political indoctrination.
Clark said youth pastors focus much more on providing meaning to kids who can't find it in a materialistic culture or in their family lives -- "which is going to translate into much healthier adults who are more able to be into respectful dialogue and come alongside people who disagree with them.
"I think this is a very hopeful time because of the youth ministry movement," he added.
There's disagreement about whether this movement is good for the country and whether the movie is an accurate portrayal of the movement.
But there's growing agreement that these children will have a real impact. One child in "Jesus Camp" goes so far as to say, "We're a key generation to bringing Jesus back."