We watched the documentary, "Jesus Camp" this weekend. I know it's like, 2 or 3 years old, and I'm lame for just getting to it now. But I couldn't bring myself to watch it for a long time so sure was I of a sky-high cringe factor. Boy, was I right.
The quick synopsis is that the docu follows an evangelical group running a summer camp for kids. It focuses on the kid's pastor and on about three of the kids primarily. It also interweaves footage of an Air America talk show host discussing his opinions of the dangers of the Christian Right. I felt, on balance, that the docu was rather fair. It didn't try to make either the Christians or the talk show host look stupid. It simply showed them speaking from their convictions. Whether you found it frightening or inspiring is entirely dependent upon where you sit with the topic of evangelicalism.
Needless to say, I was agape with horror. Well, to be fair, I saw these people raising their kids in their own faith and thought, "That is 100% their right as Americans. We've just finished lighting Chanukah candles with Bambina because we're raising her in our faith, and ain't no one telling me I don't have that right." But the differences between them and us are numerous:
My kid won't say something to the effect that she feels "icky" when she's around non-Jews.
My kid won't be looking at pictures of fetuses and marching on Washington--either for or against choice--when she is all of 8 years old.
My kid won't be going to a camp that worries about "demonic manifestations."
My kid won't have any concept of religion, really, at the age of 5. Unlike these kids who apparently became "born again" at that age. One mom said, "It's genuine, because you can't force a kid to believe in God, you can't force a kid to be saved." Hellooooo?!! You can TOTALLY force a kid to do and (pretend to) believe anything you want. If I told Bambina that she was not normal or somehow a bad person if she didn't believe in God, I bet I could get her to say she believes in God. I bet I could get her to judge others for not believing similarly.
And my kid will NOT be approaching strangers on the street or in bowling alleys to ask them if they are saved and going to heaven when they die.
I guess that's what bothered me so much about Jesus Camp, that what this group of evangelicals believed to be "getting kids saved early" just struck me as demented and cult-like in their very inappropriate treatment of adult issues. Like, WHY on earth would you explain abortion to a 7 year old?!! Oh my lord! How can you possibly explain that situation and all of the causes, reasons, forces behind it, to the level of understanding of a child under 10? WHY would you tell kids that people who aren't saved like them are going to hell? It's like there's this sick need to keep discussing all of the things you're supposedly against--and all the better if you can do it with children present. And WHY would you have your kid pray over a life-sized cardboard cutout of George Bush, calling him God's messenger on earth or something to that effect? Seriously, all these kids were doing a laying-on of hands on the George Bush cardboard cut out, like he was some kind of religious idol. Creepy with a capital Creep. It just made me sad for those kids that they were being robbed of their childhood and sent out into the world to save others, judge others, and otherwise tally a running list of who's in and who's out according to the doctrine of their particular group.
It's a weird definition of childhood. Like, when I was young my parents didn't let us see certain movies or talk about certain things that were considered 'grown up business.' In Jesus Camp, it's like, "hey kids! these things are evil and terrible and scary and wrong. Let's spend a whole day looking at photos of them and discussing them in detail!" Where is the respect for childhood? Where is the line between transmitting your values to your kid and politicizing every element of your child's life? Like, I'll wear my Obama t-shirts all day, all week and in every place I go (albeit few places these days!), but would I put a "My Mama's For Obama" shirt on Bambina? Never. She can get involved in politics when she so chooses; it's not my place to make her a little mini-vessel for my political views. Do I transmit my values to her? Absolutely. She has several sets of "two uncles," friends of mama who are ladies with girlfriends. She sees no issue with it at all. She (obviously) understands that families don't have to look alike, and that we're Jewish but some of our relatives are Christian. Good for them, and can we come to your party? So, yes, I am absolutely sharing my values with my child. But do I want her marching in a Pride parade? I don't. Not till she decides she wants to. She's not an extension of my political opinions. She's a kid. Do I hope that the values I'm teaching her will lead her to certain opinions? No doubt. But do I have the right to shoehorn her into those opinions before she's even able to understand the concept of opinion vs. fact? I don't. I really just don't.
And that's where I diverge with the parents in Jesus Camp. Absolutely, you should raise your child in the religion of your choosing. That is a fundamental American freedom. But why would you, in good conscience, concern them with politics and issues beyond their understanding and beyond the necessity of their involvement? To me it speaks, ironically, to a lack of faith in your beliefs. If I teach Bambina my values, I have to have faith that she will take those values and form political opinions in line with those values. If I do an end-run around her own mental and intellectual processes for arriving at those opinions, and simply deliver her MY opinions, I'm building her moral and ethical house on a pretty shaky foundation, aren't I? So why would I do that? Unless I wasn't really sure she'd end up agreeing with my values in the end...
(A totally cringey side note is that it features a pre-scandal Ted Haggard preaching, and in the context of what we now know, the viewer is able to see a discomfort in his preaching with the camera present. He gets very jokey and distracted and doesn't continue his discussion of the gay agenda and other evils in America. Quite telling in a Freudian kind of way.)