Jesus Camp (PG-13) (84 min.) - Things have changed since the September debut of Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's documentary about a radical Christian evangelical summer camp for children.
For starters, camp founder Becky Fischer announced the camp's closure after negative reactions to what the film shows, from both sides in the religious culture war. Watching Fischer and creepy-cheery assistants urge preteens to shamed tears in the name of God and make them pray to a cardboard cutout of President Bush was too much for even some religious leaders.
Later, the film's most famous guest star, National Association of Evangelicals president Ted Haggard - a frequent conversationalist with Bush and his advisers - resigned his post after a sex-and-drugs scandal that involved a male prostitute.
Jesus Camp tries harder than expected to resist making Fischer's brand of evangelical faith seem hypocritical. Haggard inadvertently did the job for them.
Ewing and Grady don't rely upon selective editing a la Michael Moore to make Fischer look bad; simply pointing cameras are enough. She looks like anyone's grandmother and obviously cares for children. It's stunning then when she urges the children to have as much intense and selfless devotion to God as Muslim children have for Allah (a false god in her perspective), to the point of martyrdom.
Isn't that what leads to suicide bombings for fundamentalist Muslim principles? Or perhaps bombing an abortion clinic? Banning abortion is a key element of Fischer's preaching to prepubescent children. Smashing cups labeled "government" with a "glory hammer" is one of her hands-on exercises. The parts of Fischer's ministry add up to a disturbing whole.
Jesus Camp is fascinating at the campgrounds and less so when the filmmakers use Air America radio commentator Mike Papantonio to rant about disintegrating boundaries between church and state.
Eventually, the Jesus Camp becomes just like youth sports: worthwhile, even fun, until grownups get involved for their own selfish purposes. B+