As promised in an earlier Bible Girl column, here's a black evangelical perspective on Jesus Camp--from occasional Bible Girl contributor Stephanie Morris:
I have to admit I'm always a little afraid to tell people I'm an evangelical Christian, not because I'm ashamed of my faith, but because of the images of evangelicals—white, right-wing fanatics who are so out of touch that, like in Jesus Camp, they pray to cardboard cutouts of George W. Bush and teach their kids that global warming doesn't exist.
But after seeing the film, I realize a great irony. Not only has evangelical become synonymous with ignorant idiot; the term, oddly enough, has also come to represent "The Man." You know, "The Man"—the heavy-handed, all-powerful, self-seeking one who makes and enforces the rules that everyone has to live by and from which he ultimately benefits.
In one scene, Jesus Camp's directors are showing a kid who looks to be having a seizure on the floor, yet facts suggesting the imminent rise of a tyrannical evangelical empire ominously loop throughout the film:
The National Association of Evangelicals represents 30 million people.
40 percent of all votes for Bush came from evangelical Christians in the last election.
The audience of liberal intellectual types at the Magnolia Theater where I saw Jesus Camp would shudder and gasp each time a new one appeared, apparently afraid of tongue-talking 12-year-olds taking over the nation and making everybody recite Bible verses.
So, which is it? Are evangelicals ignorant idiots, or are we "The Man"—the ones in power, the ones running the show, the ones of which you should be afraid?
Well, I happen to be an African-American woman, and if political at all, I'm somewhat left of center. I'm also an evangelical Christian, but I'm certainly not The Man--just try to get away with calling me an ignorant idiot (finger is pointed, neck is rolling).
Following Jesus Christ has nothing to do with partisan politics. Evangelical doesn't equal white, right and Republican. I am evangelical because I accept Scripture as the final authority, and because I tell people about what Jesus has done for me in hopes of them wanting the same. That's evangelical.
My problem with Jesus Camp's directors, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, is that they try to accomplish two things with Jesus Camp: 1. Make evangelicals out to be raving lunatics and, 2. Make evangelicals out to be the people in government who hold the power—The Man.
They've taken kids from a sect of evangelicalism that worships in a way that may seem strange or even fanatical and made them tiny political recruits of the right-wing conspiracy. But they've got it all twisted.
First, a little Christian 101. Talk of being a "soldier in God's army" is standard Christian rhetoric. It comes from 2 Timothy 2, where Paul tells young Timothy to be prepared to suffer for Christ as a good soldier would. That said, the folks who talk about "taking back America for Christ" are misinformed but likely well-intentioned folks who simply don't know that America was founded by a bunch of deists and not Jesus-loving revolutionaries. Furthermore, this type of language—"taking back America"—has more of a sociological than religious significance in this case. Extreme nationalism or patriotism is more common in rural, conservative or working-class communities like the ones profiled in Jesus Camp.
And the scene where the kids are praying before a cardboard cutout of George Bush? OK, it's a weird way to do it, but as Christians the Bible tells us to pray for the government—not to cardboard cutouts of the government, but for the government, no matter who's in charge. (Can't stand the idea of people praying for the Bush Administration? Click here to get really hacked off.)
I'm sure a lot of evangelical Christians will have a problem with me saying this, but I have a hard time believing that the politicians and leaders of this country who are taking an evangelical stance and appealing to evangelical constituencies are truly followers of Jesus Christ.
What I do see among them is a form of faith that is quite common in America. Social Christianity. It says, "Hey, we live in America, so that makes us Christians, right? Good, decent people go to church on Sunday, and by golly, I'm a good, decent person. I'm not Hindu, I'm not atheist, and that Jesus fella seems like a pretty good guy. Well, then, I must be a Christian." It is definitely not the strain of evangelicalism we see in Jesus Camp. And it's certainly not the transformed life through Jesus Christ we read about in the Scriptures. If it were, we'd see evidence of it in the choices and actions of all those in power who call themselves evangelical.
Authentic followers of Jesus Christ are not the ones running the show. Social Christians are running the show. But because they are politicians, they know all the Christian buzzwords and speak passable Christianese. But listen closely and you'll find that the message of Jesus Christ found in the Scriptures has been carefully sifted through, and what remains is just enough of the good stuff to get all the votes needed from conservative evangelicals and from Pentecostals like the ones in Jesus Camp. And can you imagine the enormous voting power of social Christians? --Stephanie Morris