Ted Haggard Stars in Jesus Camp
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Nov 11, 2006 at 03:14:18 PM EST
I saw the film documentary Jesus Camp for the first time about 6 weeks ago when it premeired in Los Angeles.  On Thursday, I saw it for the second time, and the experience was remarkably different.  I appreciated  the film documentary about the extreme indoctrination of homeschooled children in religious and political militance, even more the second time, and I highly recommend it. But recent events have allowed us to see two important new things from the film as it moves its way through the culture.  One is a glimpse of the polarization and violence that occurs when one part of society overtly declares war on others.  The other is a window on the twistedness of a conservative evangelical leader who doth protest too much about the evils of homosexuality.
First, there is the news that Jesus Camp will not be held for at least a few years, because the film has sparked such a negative reaction. This has included vandalism at the camp and threats of violence. While threats and violence are deplorable, at the same time, the leaders of Jesus Camp use the language of warfare and make obvious threats against the rest of society, one founded on religious pluralism and respect for the legal and constitutional rights of others.  Camp leader Rev. Becky Fisher openly compares what she does with madrassas, the schools used to indoctrinate children in the most extreme forms of Islamic militancy.  How serious Fisher and her cohort are about this is unclear, however their own perhaps too-glib analogies should give them pause, just as it certainly does others.  Do they really want to engage in religious warfare and train children to be religious terrorists, as the film implies? And at the same time, as a society as a whole, do we wish to create a polarized society -- set for religious warfare, by engendering a culture of mutual demonization?  The vandalism and threats against Jesus Camp offer a fair warning to all of us.  That is, if the vandalism and bombings and arsons of abortion clinics and the assasination of doctors were not warning enough of what happens when religious warfare breaks out -- even when it is one sided.

This aspect may become obscured in light of the Ted Haggard scandal. But it should not be.

As for Haggard, the recent revelations about his homosexuality and three year affair with a male prostitute make his appearance in Jesus Camp at once eerie and hilarious. Towards the end of the film, the children make a pilgrimage to see Ted Haggard preach. I cannot do justice to the weird hilarity of  Haggard leering directly into the camera and saying "I know what you did last night." And of course, him preaching against homosexuality.  On a second viewing, I noticed that there were not just a few, but hundreds of children at this performance. And I wonder what twisted thinking leads a pastor to rail against homosexuality to prepubescent children? That top Christian right leaders, as Tacitus reports here at Talk to Action,  knew of Haggard's homosexuality, even before the scandal broke, further reveals that the judgement of the likes of Lou Sheldon is filled with dark clouds. And if Sheldon knew, isn't it likely that the leaders of New Life Church also knew, and allowed Haggard to preach in this way to children?  

The entire affair raises many disturbing questions the more we consider it.  

One final note: It is remarkable the tolerance the leaders of the Christian Right show for a gay man and his marital infidelity, when he is one of their leadership group. For these leaders, politics trumps all other considerations. They are happy to demonize homosexuality and claim that marriage equality is a threat to heterosexual families. As preposterous as that is on its face, (given, for example, the experience of Massachussetts in having the lowest or one of the lowest divorce rates in the country after three years of marriage equality), Christian Right leaders are willing to allow a deeply disturbed person to function as a church pastor; a preacher to children; a moral and political spokesman and advisor to the president.  

Ted Haggard's railing against homosexuality to children in the film, even as he knows he is a gay man -- a gay man who believes that homosexuality is a matter of genetics not choice (as the religous right would have us believe); a gay man whose public career is premised in substantial part by denouncing his very identity -- is a disturbing window on the soul of the Christian Right.  

As more people see it when it is released on DVD I think Jesus Camp will continue to have an impact in the same way F-911 has.

by rob on Sat Nov 11, 2006 at 04:47:17 PM EST

Thanks for your site.  We are Jesus Campers.  Levi, the boy in the movie, is our son.  I want to comment on the facts that 1) you are not sure whether Becky's language is supposed to be terroristic and, 2) you are sure that we were threatening the rest of society.  To set the record straight:  Becky's ministry has never been about violence.  She uses the same type of language concerning spiritual warfare that the Bible and Jesus and many peace loving churches have been using for centuries.  You know... "Onward Christian Soldiers" and "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."  You were sure that we were threatening society and I appreciate you sharing that you arrived at that conclusion, but honestly, you must be interpreting us through some grid that I am unfamiliar with.  We appreciate the dialogue.  

by Jesus Camper on Wed Nov 22, 2006 at 09:55:07 PM EST
As the co owner of the site, I will allow the comment to stand, because it is interesting.

However, this commenter checked off the box indicating the he or she supports the purposes of this site. Since that is obviously not the case, the commenter has joined the site under false pretenses and will be banned as is our policy.  

I am sure that those people who disagree with the postings on this site can find many places to publish their views. It is a big blogosphere.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Nov 24, 2006 at 02:36:35 PM EST

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