Today is Good Friday! Well, I recently saw the bizarre documentary Jesus Camp, which is about the right-wing evangelist movement attempting to make the youngest of children into "God Warriors" at the famous summer camp Kids on Fire in North Dakota. The movie was deeply disturbing, seeing distraught children weeping at the fear of God, sin, cursing, and Harry Potter.
One of the most uncomfortable scenes was a life-size cardboard cut out of President George W. Bush on a stage with little children stretching out their arms and screaming. The adults credit Bush for bringing God back to the White House and taught the kids they are the "chosen generation" to change the world against abortion and homosexuality.
Some of the rhetoric these kids spoke was so sad and hateful, but everyone, especially the adults, felt like they were doing this in the name of goodness—regardless of the corrupt political agenda. There is a great scene with Ted Haggard denouncing homosexuality who would soon be outed as a gay man. This movie was shaking on so many levels and brought back memories...
I went to a Jesus Camp once when I used to live in Washington State. Yes, a black boy like me trekked to a Jesus Camp. It was the summer of 1989 and my neighbors convinced my mom that I should go to this Christian camp for two weeks. My mother was far from a religious woman but our neighbors assured us it was just a camp run by Christians, not fanatical Bible beaters—Bible beaters never think they are fanatical.
My best friend at the time was also going so I thought it might be fun--his parents actually convinced my mom to let me go. A group of about twenty kids went deep in the woods of Washington State to learn about the vengeance of God, sinful music (especially the Madonna and Prince music I would talk about to anyone who would listen), and anything under the blood-filled sun of Revelations. Well, those white folks scared the good-golly-Jim Crow-Jesus hell out of me!
I remember our last night we were in a dark, carpeted basement…all of us sitting on metal folding chairs, there was a musty smell in the room making it feel like a dungeon. Being that it was the last night we were forced to confess our childlike sins…everyone was crying about Jesus and how when they get home they will never sin again because they didn’t want to burn... kids began reverberating, hollering and trembling with the supposed love of Christ. I couldn’t do much but watch because I was scared. When I got back home I cried for days to my mom that I didn’t want to burn in hell. I even considered throwing out all of my Prince and Madonna records -- I threatened to only listen to Amy Grant!
Well, my mother called our “Christian” neighbors and proceeded to cuss them out so severely that I wasn’t allowed to speak to my best friend again—my mother and I were tawdry sinners and our neighbors were just spreading the love of Christ. Many of the things I saw in the movie Jesus Camp bore a strikingly resemblance to that time I was once spent at a Christian camp.
Jesus Camp is 90% white and upper class, so the families had the resources to send their kids to these highly expensive camps—I was able to attend camp for free, I think it was the token Negro card. There is so much money put into these kids to make them “God Warriors”. The children are home schooled so one of the parents don’t work, buying endless Christian oriented books, movies and music. However, in the black community the resources to brainwash kids are not as accessible.
I did attend a Jesus Camp of sorts in the black community. In my mid-teens my cousin became deeply involved in an underground church. She suddenly found the power of prayer and wanted me to join in on the fun. I was no more than fourteen and easily followed my favorite cousin. While I had been to the black church before, I had never been to something as underground as this “event” in someone’s apartment—a far cry from the ritzy Christian camp I attended three years before.
Once again we were in a dark room and someone was screaming about the love of Christ. It was about ten people and the three guys who were there were queens for days! A black woman shrieked the word, gripping her Bible, shaking it at the ceiling and questioning if we wanted to burst into flames! “Satan is everywhere! Everywhere! He’s gonna get ya’ if ya' don’t repent fo' yo' sins! REPENT CHILDREN OR BURN IN THE FURNACE OF HELL!” One by one everyone got "da' spirit"! Jumped, screamed, spoke in tongues and dropped to the dirty floor—which happened to have a few roaches on the floor gettin’ da’ spirit too!
As I was looking around trying to act as if I was in deep prayer, I said to myself, God, I hope I don't have to do this. Suddenly, my cousin caught the spirit and withered around on the floor, softly moving her head back and forth and I knew why—she just got her hair done and no amount of spirit would ruin her fresh finger waves!
There was me and one other girl left, I knew I didn't want to be the last one. It would be like being at school and getting picked last on the team, I didn't want people to think Christ picked me last!
So, I said, whatever—spoke in tongues, throw my hands in the air and fell to the floor (scuffing my new, white Reebok!) and began shaking on the floor like a Patti LaBelle drag queen. My cousin hollered and grabbed onto me because I had finally got the spirit—she cried and held me to her bosom as if we were Jesus and Mary. Everyone was so proud that she brought me, I was special. We were implicitly ordered to give ten dollars to Jesus.
I never came back.
In November 2006 the Kids on Fire summer camp shut down due to outrage and protests after seeing the film Jesus Camp.
Labels: Religion, STORYTELLING