Jesus Camp — is it dividing evangelicals?

Jesus Camp — is it dividing evangelicals? September 21, 2006

I only heard about this today, but apparently Eamonn Bowles, the president of Magnolia Pictures, issued a statement on Monday regarding the buzz among evangelicals concerning the documentary Jesus Camp, which his firm is distributing:

“We’re frankly surprised and a little disheartened by the efforts of prominent members of the evangelical community to clamp down on JESUS CAMP. Whether or not the children and camp depicted in the film represents the ‘mainstream’ of the Evangelical movement is beside the point: they exist, the film documents them, and the subjects feel they’ve been treated fairly. Why a community that’s so quick to attack discrimination from secular Americans would then turn and do the same to other Evangelicals is unexpected, to say the least.”

I am not quite sure how to respond to this statement. I mean, on one level, you could say that I am one of the guilty parties, since I was, in some sense, distancing my own self from the characters depicted in this film when I interviewed the film’s directors.

Then again, I don’t think anyone would particularly care whether these characters represent “mainstream” evangelicals if it weren’t for the fact that the film makes a point of linking them to the growing political influence of evangelicals in the United States. If, say, evangelicals are becoming increasingly involved in environmental causes, and the film only depicts evangelicals teaching their children to doubt the evidence for global warming, then we might ask just how accurately the film has depicted the evangelical subculture and its effect on the broader culture.

I think it’s also worth noting that the filmmakers themselves have said that they want the film to stimulate a diversification of views — to foster disagreements — within the evangelical community. And just for the record, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that; in fact, one of my own criticisms of the film is that this diversity already exists and is not acknowledged within the film.

Anyway, to quote what one of them said when I interviewed them:

I’m kind of glad to see that some evangelicals are coming out and going against the grain and saying, “You know what? We’re not all in agreement.” And I totally encourage that. But that is sort of a newer trend, it seems to be a newer trend of those pastors who have the courage to come out publicly and speak out against this giant behemoth.

So what we seem to have here is a situation where someone made a film that did not reflect a whole lot of diversity, and some people have criticized it for failing to reflect that diversity, and the filmmakers have said they want to encourage that diversity, but as soon as the diversity begins to express itself the distributor says he is disappointed to see that diversity. Which is kind of odd.

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