Faith at Altitude

Religion and spirituality in the shadow of Pikes Peak

Thursday, September 21, 2006

What Camp are You In?

The documentary "Jesus Camp" will be hanging out in Colorado Springs for at least another week, likely to the chagrin of some prominent evangelicals in town. The Rev. Ted Haggard of New Life Church -- who made a brief cameo in the film -- has been very critical of the production, characterizing it as a cross between a Michael Moore documentary and "The Blair Witch Project."

He says the movie portrays a very small -- and zealous -- sliver of the evangelical movement, and in that he's right. Evangelical is mainstream, with around a third of the U.S. belonging to what would be characterized as evangelical churches. On the flip side, only a third of people who go to those churches would classify themselves as "evangelical," according to a recent study by Baylor University.

That's an interesting finding -- perhaps reflecting a sense that most evangelicals don't want to associate themselves with the term's baggage: its supposed wild-eyed zeal and its ever-growing association with conservative politics. "Jesus Camp" did nothing to jettison this baggage, and for folks inclined to see evangelical Christians as radical, perhaps dangerous, the film only strengthened those biases.

Still, I was surprised at the evangelical reaction to the film. I expected it to be more hostile than supportive, but not so overwhelmingly hostile. Sure, secularists would have their fears confirmed through this movie, but I think the "small sliver" of the movement represented here would feel they were represented fairly. In fact, the director of the camp where most of the movie was filmed has said as much.

If you had a chance to see the movie last week, or attend this weekend, I'd love to hear what you think about it.


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