Film 'Jesus Camp' focuses on US evangelical youth

New York, USA - Becky Fischer, who runs an evangelical summer camp where children as young as six are encouraged to "take back America for Christ," says indoctrinating children is not only right but essential.

Fischer is the central character in "Jesus Camp," a documentary about Pentecostal evangelical Christians, some of whom send their children to summer camps where they pray, "speak in tongues" and are encouraged to campaign against abortion.

"Extreme liberals, they have to look at this and start shaking in their boots," Fischer says in the film, which was showing at the Tribeca Film Festival this week.

With no voice-over or commentary, the movie follows Fischer at events for children in North Dakota and Missouri.

In one scene a cardboard President George W. Bush is brought on stage at an assembly so attendees can pray that he make America "one nation under God." In another a preacher shows plastic models of tiny fetuses and leads a prayer saying: "God end abortion, and send revival to America."

Heidi Ewing, who directed the film with Rachel Grady, said the aim was to be balanced and show a slice of U.S. culture unfamiliar to many in America and abroad. Ewing said they wanted to include a critical voice to question Fischer but had deliberately chosen a Christian -- radio host Mike Papantonio -- to be that voice of dissent.

Among the children featured in the film is Levi, now aged 13, who explains how he was "saved" by Christ at the age of 5.

Another child, Rachael, now 10, dreams of being a missionary. She is seen practicing by approaching strangers in a bowling alley or on a street to tell them that God is thinking about them.

"The reason you go for kids is because whatever they learn by the time they're 7 or 8 or 9 years old is pretty well there for the rest of their lives," Fischer says on a radio show in which she is challenged by Papantonio, a practicing Methodist who is also a director of liberal Air America radio.

"As I understood, your question to me was 'Do you feel it's right for the fundamentalists to indoctrinate their children with their own beliefs?' I guess fundamentally, yes I do, because every other religion is indoctrinating their kids. I would like to see more churches indoctrinating," she says.

Papantonio responds: "You can tell a child anything ... you can make a child into a soldier that carries an AK47."

Fischer says: "You could call it brainwashing, but I am radical and passionate in teaching children about their responsibility as Christians, as God-fearing people, as Americans."

Ewing said there were some 80 million to 100 million evangelical Christians in the United States. "Most of those in our movie are Pentecostal and I believe there are about 30 million," she said. "They are by no means marginalized."

Pentecostalists are known for "speaking in tongues," in which they believe the Holy Spirit speaks through them. There are several scenes of children caught up in rapture, moved to tears or with their bodies convulsing.

"We would go from our lives in lower Manhattan and get on a plane and in a few hours we were in an absolutely parallel America," Ewing said, describing the making of the film.

Grady, who said that as a Jewish woman raised on the East Coast she knew very little about Evangelicals before making the film, said "Jesus Camp" had proved eye-opening for largely liberal New York audiences at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Another pastor featured in "Jesus Camp," Ted Haggard, head of the National Association of Evangelicals, says in the movie children are fueling a boom in his churches that would continue to have a profound effect on U.S. politics.

"There's a new church like this every two days," he said. "It's got enough growth to essentially sway every election. If the Evangelicals vote, they determine the election."