Jesus Camp on A&E

Jesus CampA&E recently aired an independent film titled Jesus Camp. It features pastor Becky Fischer’s “Kids on Fire” camp in North Dakota “where children as young as six are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in ‘God’s army’.” The film follows a few of the children that attend the camp and their Christian families. In one scene a mother that is apparently home schooling her children (a sign on the kitchen wall reads, “Home sweet Classroom”), teaches her son that global warming is a political issue and that it isn’t a real problem. In another scene a little girl is praying that Jesus will help her bowl well at a youth bowling event. In yet another scene, another girl explains that God doesn’t go to all churches, that “some churches are dead churches, and in those churches the people do not act excited, and they sing 3 songs, and listen to a sermon, but God likes to go to churches where they jump up and down, shouting his name, are not quite and depending on how they invite him, He will be there or not.” At one point, Fischer explains to the children that warlocks are enemies of God and that if Harry Potter lived in old testament times “he would be put to death“. Two children in the film were watching a Christian ‘science’ show that asks, “Did you start with a Bang? Is evolution science or belief”. Fischer prayed over the sound system before a service, “Devil, we know what you love to do in meetings like this… no microphone problems in Jesus name“.

One crying girl that was given the microphone during a worship service states, “I just brake the chains over our nation, and proclaim the Lion of Judah over our nation”. Fischer goes on to say “this means war, are you a part or not?” Later, they brought up a cardboard cutout of President Bush and prayed over it saying “he has surrounded himself with spirit-filled people, so pray in the spirit over him”.

I was bothered by the film. I was uncomfortable watching it. At first I thought I was upset that this is how the world sees us, but then I realized that its not how the world sees us – its how we are. What bothered me was that I know this stories are not the exception. I grew up in the Pentecostal movement and scenes like the ones in this documentary were normal. It was as difficult to watch the entire film as looking in the mirror for the first time after being in a disfiguring accident. Do we really believe that God wants to help us bowl a 300, or that the devil caused a microphone to fail during a church service?

The film highlighted a few things that bother me: Our (the church’s) rejection of science, and our desire to outlaw acts of sin. Allow me to explain. Minister Rob Bell told me once (through his book, Velvet Elvis) “All truth is God’s truth”. Yet the Church as a history of rejecting observed scientific truths to protect its views. The earth had to be the center of the universe because we are made in God’s image and so we must be at the center of all things. The earth must be 6,000 years old, because that is all the time we can account for in the bible. There is no evolution because the bible says God made us out of dirt. Global Warming isn’t true, because… well just because we don’t trust those science guys at all.

1 Thess 5:21 says “Test all things; hold fast to what is good.” and Rob Bell said,”All truth is God’s truth”. If we learn through observed science that the earth 4.5 Billion years old, we should apply that truth to what we read in scripture and find a greater understanding of scripture. If science now tells us that the earth is heating up through global warming, why would we reject it? What if they are wrong? Do we believe the fumes pouring out of the back of our SUVs are good for the environment? Does the Bible not tell us to be good stewards of the earth? If science teaches us that there was a big Bang – should we reject it, or point to that beginning as proof that a creator began the universe with a spectacular explosion? If science were to observe that there is a genetic or chemical makeup that causes homosexual tendencies, will we also reject that? Or would we find greater understanding in that truth – would we reject that because ‘Gawd don’t make homos‘? Or would we realize that people are born blind, deaf, deformed, mentally and physically challenged and just because someone is ‘born that way’ doesn’t ring forth as an endorsement by providence any more than a down syndrome child is the will of God.

And what of the legislation of religion? We want abortion outlawed. I know I do. But as a church, should we seek to legislate morality through government or work to alleviate immorality through ministry? I don’t care if abortion is legal if no one wants to have one. Would our efforts be better served to reach those young women seeking abortion with the true gospel of Jesus Christ? Abortion is a selfish and desperate act from women who either don’t want to be inconvenienced by a child, or feel hopeless with no other option. Doesn’t Christianity address the selfish heart and reach out to the hopeless? I would love to see Roe v Wade overturned, but that victory must be won in the hearts of people, not in the courtroom or even in the voting booth. The reason “Separation of Church and State” is so revered by liberals is the idea that the morality of the few will govern the many. The church should reach the hearts of people, and once that has been accomplished, the people will change its laws. If our government were to pass a law that required abortions – I would say rise up, bare arms, revolt, but such is not the case.

What I’m getting at is this – as long as we teach our children that the devil is why the 9 volt battery in the wireless mic is dead, God helped you bowled a strike, Science is demonic, and government must reflect our Christian values, we are irrelevant, ineffective, and un-Christlike. I hated this film – because I hate the light it shines on us.

My final thoughts are this: I understand that not all Christians are reflected in this film, and I make no criticism of the faith of the people in the film. Their faiths seem fully genuine and some of the things said in the film were very good. I believe abortion should be illegal, and I believe global warming isn’t as much our fault as pundits would like us to believe. But I also believe the church should focus on the Gospel message more than politics, on reaching people more than changing votes. If we pray for so-called evangelical Christian leaders like Pres. Bush, let us pray even more for non-evangelical leaders, like Hilary Clinton.

This isn’t a talent show

Recently at a church service, someone from the platform hit a sour note during praise and worship.  My wife elbowed me and made a sour face, and without thinking I said “Its not a talent show!”  I didn’t intend to be rude to my wife, I was thinking the same thing that she was regarding the malformed melody.  Blurting out as I did, it seems my comment was directed as much at me as it was to Stephanie.  I have often been caught up in the audience / performer mentality.  I believe we are in an entertainment seeking culture with television, movies, the Internet, and the many other non-interactive media forms we have heaped upon us in the last several decades.  I’ve often found myself deciding on whither a preacher was ‘good’ or not based on how entertaining he was.  I have had conversations where I commented that “if they can’t sing, they shouldn’t be on the platform”.  The problem is, church as I see it was not designed to be an entertainment outlet – and I repent for treating as such.

A friend of mine recently started a house church, due in part to the condition of the traditional church model as an entertainment venue.  He has ‘meetings’ instead of ‘services’, and in a recent post on his blog he pointed out the difference.  As I understood him, services are based on an entertainment model with a platform of performers and an audience of spectators but meetings are expected to be participatory (http://www.blog.godfidence.org/2007/10/15/house-church-clarification/).  I’m not sure how well the ‘meeting’ model would work in the traditional church service with a few hundred people in the same room, but that’s his point (as I understand it).

Is the traditional church model effective?  How does the traditional church affect the world around it?  I believe the local church building does have importance in our world today.  It can be an anchor in a community in a way that I do not believe a home based church can.  Still, the need to connect on a personal level is very real and a home based church makes a greater demand for that connection on its members.  By reducing the size of the congregation, the entertainer/entertainee dynamic is almost completely removed. 

The problem I see is our ability to affect change on a large scale is reduced when we reduce our mass (pun intended).  Ten people in a house church are easily ignored by a politician deciding how to vote on an abortion bill, and while the outreach would be significant to those that did receive it from a small house church, the impact that can be made in the community by a larger congregation is obvious.  In either case – we need more churches, traditional, non-traditional, large and small, in homes or in buildings – we need more churches.  To quote an entertaining preacher that I once knew, Hell is real and eternality is long – so I again repent for treating the church as another entertainment source.  It’s not a talent show.