The film Jesus Camp shows the cheap imitation that modern American Evangelical churches attempt to do of Sacred Tradition and the Sacraments. In one especially memorable part of the film, the female pastor uses a bottle of store bought water to wash the children in a weird version of a baptism and simultaneous confession.
Children are told to call out their sins in front of the crowd as the pastor washes a bit of their hands with non-blessed bottled water. There is no reverence, no majesty of the liturgy as found in Traditional Christianity, and no foundation in the faith of even Protestants from several decades ago, it has all become a cheap performance piece. One of the young girls in the film tells the camera that “God likes churches where people are jumping up and down,” Reverence for the house of the Lord isn’t found in these circles, only a rock show with Jesus playing lead guitar.
Throughout Jesus Camp I felt like I was watching children playing adult in the over sized clothes of their parents. While these Evangelicals attempt to fulfill the Biblical calling of baptism and confession, there are hobbled by the deep running roots of modernity and Americanism that trip them up.
Author Jeff Sharlet had written about the time that Jesus Camp was being filmed an article about Pastor Ted Haggard that declared that “no pastor in America holds more sway over the political direction of evangelicalism.” Pastor Haggard is featured in Jesus Camp, discussing the importance of patriotism, supporting the Bush administration, and the outreach to the youth to “fight for America.” In the span of a few years, Pastor Haggard grew in the Evangelical movement as a leading voice over the push to make Evangelicals involved in Republican politics.
Pastor Haggard was a huge influence in the reelection campaign of George W. Bush and it was said that he was often consulted by President Bush and his staff on moral issues and how to further mobilize Evangelicals for the GOP. A year after the interview was filmed, Ted Haggard was outed as have been smoking methamphetamine with a homosexual prostitute that he had been sexually intimate with. More allegations came out over the course of several months and the shining star of the Evangelical movement came crashing down to Earth.
On top of his rampant homosexual behaviors and use of hard drugs, Pastor Haggard was also happy to attack the Sacrament of communion and the Catholic Church when he found out that the cameraman filming his sermon was a Catholic from England. I can guarantee it is only his ignorance about the existence of Orthodoxy is the reason he did not mention it. Pastor Haggard in a classic televangelist snark dismisses the priesthood and the traditional form of worship in the liturgy. Traditional Christian worship would get in the way of his ego-maniacal desire to have the Church revolve around him, so it makes sense he dislikes it so much.
The moral failures of Pastor Haggard and the shock wave it sent into the Evangelical community gets at the heart of the issue, in Orthodoxy we are a Church grounded in a firm understanding of Sacred Tradition, one that does not waver or change with the times while Evangelical Protestantism is based upon a charismatic preacher interpreting Scripture for the masses, so when that preacher either dies or is caught in a scandal, it has a huge impact upon believers. Orthodoxy supports a hierarchy where there is an organic synthesis between hierarchy, Scripture, Tradition, and the laity.
While Evangelicals claim to be individuals interpreting Scripture, it inevitably ends up being a cult like environment where the pastor has absolute control over his congregation. The recent change of a Baptist Church in regards to their views on homosexuality after the pastors son came out as gay demonstrates the danger of having a Church that revolves purely around the pastor. In the Evangelical movement, if the pastor decided to change 2,000 years of Church Tradition he can do so, for there is no authority above him to tell him differently. Evangelical Protestantism is very susceptible to perversion of doctrine when a preacher is charismatic enough.
While a Protestant from 1950 in America would be singing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” the Evangelicals of Jesus Camp are singing songs about “J.C being in the house!” The devolution of holiness and Tradition in such a short period of time is at the cornerstone of why any Christian movement that attempts to compromise with the world and “innovate” with the times is bound to fail. When cut off from the life giving root of Sacred Tradition, the plant will wither and die, or become easy prey for parasites. The hijacking of the Evangelical movement was bound to happen, but its death is a sad thing to watch.
The film Jesus Camp draws to a close with a debate between Pastor Becky and a radio host. The radio host defends separation of Church and State, democracy, and egalitarianism, all values contrary to Christianity. Pastor Becky disagrees with him but continues to fight within the prescribes and allowed box of Americana. Her words of “I love America. I love the American lifestyle” as she drives by a large American flag flying in the breeze in front of half a dozen fast food restaurants essentially sums up the entire film in one iconic shot. Pastor Becky and the Evangelicals are striving to live the American dream and making Christianity work in an American context, a synthesis between Americana and the King James Bible, and that is why increasingly this movement is becoming irrelevant. Christianity and soulless Americana are polar opposites, at the end of the day, one cannot serve two masters.
Trying to meet the world halfway and enjoy the excesses of America will only end in failure, you cannot negotiate with Satan and his minions and hope to stay on the side of God. The Hail Mary play of the GOP to win over legions of Evangelicals is faltering, as less and less Evangelicals turn out to vote for them. The Religious Right is going in two directions, one towards a more radical and Christ centered worldview that is retreating from the American culture and establishing organic communities while the other part of the movement is drinking deeper of the Red, White, and Blue Kool-Aid.
The flood of refugees from Americana that have settled in Montana and other remote and very anti-government States has shown that many of the faithful and looking not towards elections, but saving their families from decadence, immorality, and government controlled preachers. The rise of the homeschooling movement, the revitalization of the militia movement of the 1990’s, and the push for more Traditional forms of worship that sees a rise in conversions to Orthodoxy, Traditional Catholicism, and hard-line Protestantism shows that the “meet the world half way” Evangelical movement is losing its most dedicated members.
On the other hand, the next generation of the GOP is increasingly in support of the homosexual movement, libertarianism, and demographically suicidal immigration policies. Without a firm foundation of Faith and folk identity, America has won the minds and hearts of many of the children of the Evangelical movement. America cannot be reformed, it was never built with that option available. To be a Christian in this environment is to either culturally or politically secede from America or be assimilated by it, there is no third option.
Jesus Camp comes off as a documentary filmed of Enron right before the stock price collapsed. The Evangelicals are losing members, forced to bring over thousands of Third World children while ignoring the orphans in our own communities. The leaders of the Evangelical movement are either dead, discredited, or controlled by outside influence.
A political alliance between the Evangelicals and the Republican Party led to more secularization, more money and blood spent for Israel, more foreign wars, more government surveillance, and more Free Trade agreements that sent millions of jobs overseas. The Evangelical movement was used, abused, and now in many ways has been cast aside in favor of Republican minority outreach and pushing for amnesty for illegal immigrants. The era of the Evangelical political powerhouse is done, and Jesus Camp shows us how things looked for them, right before the bubble burst.