Faith at Altitude

Religion and spirituality in the shadow of Pikes Peak

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Faith and Film

"Jesus Camp," for all the attention it received, flopped.

The documentary, which focused on a radical, evangelical children's camp in North Dakota, generated scads of interest at first -- at least among religious wonks like me. Gross so far, according to Variety magazine: $594,000. Probably not too bad for a documentary, but below what its makers hoped for, I'm sure.

It shows that my A-minus review in The Gazette's Go! just didn't have a lot of pull. I thought the film was well done and, to a point, fair -- though it certainly showed an extreme form of evangelicalism that many evangelicals wish would go away. The Rev. Ted Haggard, on the other hand, hated the thing, and his organization the National Association of Evangelicals even issued a press release condemning "Jesus Camp."

The filmmakers seem to blame Haggard for the film's failure, believing the Colorado Springs preacher stirred up a negative Christian avalanche that doomed it from the get-go.

There's some truth in that. Certainly the militant version of Christianity runs counter to the "big tent" evangelicalism that Haggard advocates. But I think there's more to it: When I watched the film, I thought the filmmakers did their best to humanize their evangelical subjects. But they also came at the subject with a perspective of "whoa! Look at this odd subculture we've uncovered!"

The result was a sincere but patronizing portrait of faith, culled from America's most extreme form of Christianity. Do camps like "Jesus Camp" exist? Yes. Was it portrayed fairly in the film? I believe so. Does it represent the Christian mainstream? In my experience, no.


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