An upcoming documentary on the youngest warriors for Christ is causing a scare to some audiences for its raw depiction of white evangelical children being radically trained to lay down their lives for the gospel.
"We're talking this week about how the devil uses tactics to destroy our lives," says Becky Fischer, Pentecostal children's minister and director of Kids in Ministry International, in the film "Jesus Camp." "The first tactic that he uses is to tempt you with sin."
Fischer, who grew up in a traditional Pentecostal church environment, runs a summer camp called "Kids on Fire" for evangelical Christian children at Devil's Lake, N.D. There, hundreds of children experience the "power of God" with fiery worship, sobbing prayers, and charismatic experiences that leave children shaking on the floor.
"The night Uncle Leon prayed for me I was on the floor bawling, and my tummy was shaking," says 12-year-old Emily, a 2003 camper, on the Kids in Ministry website. "There were so many kids piled up on the floor and there was no room for me ... Also in the prophecy class we were praying in tongues and I saw a parade. Leon said it meant revival. Other people in the class saw revival too. So I know revival is coming."
A growing number of Evangelical Christians believe there is a revival underway in America that requires Christian youth to assume leadership roles in advocating the causes of their religious movement, states the film synopsis.
"It (the summer camp) opened up a way to explore not just evangelical kids but the larger story of the culture war underway in the United States," says filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady in an interview with the International Documentary Association (IDA).
Tens of thousands of teens and young adults recently acknowledged the culture war as they participated in a new Christian campaign called Battle Cry, a movement launched by the Teen Mania, one of the largest teen ministries. In the midst of a cultural war, Christian teens launched a countercultural movement, crying out against the drugs, alcohol and sex that are prevalent among teens today and uniting under the culture of Christ with top Christian artists.
While major evangelical leaders back the teen movement to "take back this generation for Christ," "Jesus Camp" paints a more radical picture of a younger and extremely fervent crowd of Christians trying to "take back America for Christ," as Fischer says.
"Jesus Camp" kids are in their early teens and are crying out in a different way.
One review by award-winning freelance writer Joanne Brokaw reports, "In what was the most disturbing and chilling scene of the documentary, a speaker talks candidly to the kids about abortion, explaining, 'One third of your friends could be here tonight but they never made it.' He challenges the kids to 'raise up a moral outcry and overturn abortion,' and by the end of the session these grade schoolers are in a shouting frenzy, pumping their fists in the air and parroting his call for 'Righteous judges! Righteous judges!'"
"I want to see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam, Fischer says early in the film, according to Brokaw. I want to see them radically laying down their lives for the gospel as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine and all of these different places.
"I really feel like we're a key generation for Jesus coming back," says one young camp participant in the film.
Some observers say the film demonizes the evangelical youth movement, according to ABC. The film won the Scariest Movie Award when it was screened by Michael Moore at the Traverse City Film Festival. And some evangelical Christians have distanced themselves from those portrayed in the film.
Ewing made it clear that among the 100 million evangelical Christians in the United States, there are many "subsets" and that "not all evangelicals share the same views, politically and theologically."
"So it was challenging to present one group and not generalize about the many millions who worship and live differently from the people in our film," according to IDA.
Parents of children involved and pastors including Fischer do not believe the documentary is negative and are promoting the film.
"I never felt at any point that I was exploited," Fischer says, according to ABC News.
Chap Clark, an associate professor at the Fuller Theological Seminary, told ABC that people who see "Jesus Camp" should not come away with the idea that evangelizing to youth consists mainly of political indoctrination.
The filmmakers were initially unaware that they were "making a film that was intertwined with politics until we started filming," they said.
Nevertheless, Clark believes "this is a very hopeful time because of the youth ministry movement."
The film opened last week in such cities as Colorado Springs, Colo., where Christians have a strong presence and so the film could be "seen on a blank slate" without media reviews, says Magnolia Pictures President Eamonn Bowles. It will be released in theaters in New York on Friday and in Los Angeles on Sept. 29.