See “Jesus Camp”, but not for the typical reasons

'Jesus Camp' documentary cover
Watched the controversial "Jesus Camp" documentary yesterday. I found it engrossing, and I must say that I find myself somehow disagreeing with everybody (critic as well as supporter) in the media on this.

On the one hand, I find these children infinitely more sympathetic and profound than did the many commentators in the MSM who’ve sounded the alarm of fundamentalist take-over after watching this movie. Nor do I think hysterics about militia training camps are warranted because some kids do a dance in camouflage and fatigues, or because people in this film are fond of war metaphors to describe their spiritual commitment.

On the other hand, I think the documentary’s conservative critics are wrong to accuse it of bias or willful misrepresentation of evagelicalism, as it is a very humanizing (and, I think, uncontrived) portrayal and this community though in some respects atypical undeniably shares most of its core values with broad swaths of the Christian Right. It’s not the filmmakers’ fault that they happened to capture some innocent but incredibly thought-provoking (and, for some secular folks, sinister) scenes guaranteed to generate outcries and debate. (As a Muslim, I say, "Welcome to our world.")

I will grant to critics that the insertion of the liberal Christian radio host was mistaken and sends the wrong message. His commentary is for the most part superfluous, and of little help in showing where the fascinating characters encountered in the film are coming from. My guess is that the filmmakers were, ironically, trying to balance out the film by including another Christian perspective, but it’s ultimately counterproductive since he comes off (perhaps incorrectly–I don’t know him), as just another liberal critic who doesn’t get evangelicalism.

It’s ironic given the theological and cultural differences involved, but I suspect that Muslim Americans can understand these people far better than most other non-evangelicals. Muslims know how it feels for every innocent attempt to harmonize one’s daily life with one’s religious values to be met with mockery, prejudice and paranoia.

Many people in restaurants roll their eyes when they see a party at a neighboring table lower their heads to silent say grace. Most Muslims, I suspect, react very differently–they smile and quietly intone "Masha’Allah".

This is a fascinating and moving documentary whose lessons are far more profound than the political commentary it has inspired. It’s a real shame that it’s been viewed and debated primarily in political terms. Whatever one thinks about these people, this is far more about counter-culture, diversity and religious revival than politics.

It’s worth watching a second time with the directors’ highly articulate and thoughtful commentary on.  And don’t skip the bonus features, either, as they include a number of other fascinating enlightening vignettes.

Netflix zindabad! (Takbir!)