The movie was called Jesus Camp. The documentary was released in 2006 and followed several young kids as they attend a children’s prayer conference at Christ Triumphant Church in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, and Kids on Fire School of Ministry summer camp, in Devils Lake, North Dakota. Both of these events were run by children’s minister Becky Fischer. The trailer for the movie is below.

I was raised as a Fundagelical Cultural Warrior, but what I saw in this movie was far beyond even the training I received. One of the scariest parts starts at the 0:40 mark. Becky Fischer gives her rationale for why she used the heavy-handed indoctrination techniques she employs at the camps. Her justification is that in Palestine, “our enemies” are indoctrinating their children to become soldiers and fight. Therefore we should do the same. At the 1:13 mark, a preacher asks the kids, “How many of you want to be one of those who give up their lives for Jesus?” One can only hope he means metaphorically and not in the suicide bomber sense.

Throughout the documentary, the children begin to pick up the Fundagelical vocabulary of warfare. The children aim to become soldiers in God’s army. The disturbing part about that is when you read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount; it says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)It certainly doesn’t read “Blessed are the soldiers in God’s army who destroy their enemies.” This is part of the schizophrenia of Fundagelical belief; we give lip service to Jesus’ teaching on peace and loving our enemies, but in actual practice, Fundagelicals are more like the religious zealots of Jesus’ time preferring to overthrow by violence.

It was more than thirty years ago that many of my Fundagelical friends and I served as youth leaders and youth pastors. I can still remember one night when we were discussing youth camps. We started comparing youth camps to brainwashing. Believe me; this conversation would not have taken place if any senior pastors had been there. We talked about isolation from family,  sleep deprivation and poor nutrition, (Anyone who has been to youth camp knows that both the kids and the leaders get very little sleep and are fed high carb low nutrition diets that are cheap and save money.) a repetitive message said over and over, (Chapel three times a day and every craft and activity has a “message”) and playing on a person’s emotions. (Have you heard the altar call?)

Robert Jay Lifton, an American psychiatrist and author of the 1961 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China, studied former prisoners of Korean War and Chinese war camps. He determined that they’d undergone a multistep process to break them. The steps he outlined are:

  • Assault on identity
  • Guilt
  • Self-betrayal
  • Breaking point
  • Leniency
  • Compulsion to confess
  • Channeling of guilt
  • Releasing of guilt
  • Progress and harmony
  • Final confession and rebirth

I can honestly say this is what I witnessed at many youth camps. We assault their identities as non-Christians. If they are Christians, then they aren’t good enough they aren’t fully sold out, or on fire, they are lukewarm. We make them feel guilty about what they have done, not done, even the things they think about. Sexual thoughts are a goldmine of guilt if you are in the Jr. High/High School camps. The self-betrayal is when they start confiding in their leaders about their “struggles.” There is leniency when we tell them that Jesus just wants to love and forgive them. Every night there is an altar call; this emotional frenzy drives many kids to go forward and confess. There is channeling and releasing of guilt in front of the cross. The kids reach harmony by becoming an insider with the group of leaders and other Christians. The final night of camp is the big blowout; everyone who has become a Christian during camp is encouraged to walk down to the front. The coming forward is their final confession that they are now part of “us.” They experience their rebirth when we tell them they are born again.

Scary stuff! Watch this video of kids at one of Becky Fischer’s prayer conferences. Are these children being touched by God, or have they been emotionally manipulated until they have broken down?

Throughout the documentary, the children are shown to live in a Fundagelical bubble. They are homeschooled or educated in Christian schools. They go to children’s ministry every Sunday and midweek children’s activities. Their summer camp experience is a church controlled one. From the moment they are born, they are not exposed to any outside ideas.  Their entire identity is founded on being a culture warrior.

As a former Fundie, I know how painful it was to go through deconstructing faith. I had been taught that questioning my beliefs (That I was taught) is a sign that you are wrong and sinful. My church raised me not to trust my own instincts or judgment. Proverbs 14:12 was taken out of context to prevent me from trusting our own thought processes. “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”

This is the reason you can argue with but not reason with a Fundagelical. The belief system is part of their identity and has been trained into them since they were children. Fortunately, the internet has provided places for former Fundies to dialogue and help each other through deconstruction. However, some of those former Fundies will never walk through the door of a church again. They are now pilgrims walking a spiritual path seeking God. If you pass me on the road fellow pilgrim, we can stop and chat I’m not in a hurry.

Thanks for reading. Please take a moment and share this post.  Don’t forget to like the post and subscribe if you haven’t already. You can watch my vlog at Rev’s Reels on YouTube. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Join me and a bunch of other former Fundagelicals at Open Door Ministries in Westminster at the Westminster Mall.