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Jesus Camp
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75 of 80 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 17, 2007
Midway through this remarkably disturbing documentary film, Jesus Camp founder and director Becky Fischer is shown in what is presumably her own home, studying with the intensity of a college football coach preparing for his team's next game a taped version of one of the children's prayer meetings she leads. Mouth open in thrilled amazement, head shaking gently in approving self-awe, she blurts out the most unintentionally revealing line in this movie: "They [children] are so usable in Christianity." In practically the same breath, she allows that "extreme liberals" must be "shaking in their boots" to see such intense belief in children, that the evangelical Christian indoctrination of children is morally more justified than the same actions among Muslims, Jews, and Palestinians because, "Excuse me, we have the truth," and that the same "we" must "stand up and take back the land [America]."

Although JESUS CAMP spends about half its time at Becky Fischer's Kids on Fire summer camp in (ironically) Devil's Lake, ND, it could perhaps be more aptly titled JESUS WORLD or KIDS FOR JESUS. Co-directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady center their documentary on three young children, all apparently ten years old or younger: Levi, Tory, and Rachael. These three children are followed from church prayer meetings to their homes (where they recite Christianized pledges of allegiance and are schooled by their mothers in creationism and the fallacies of global warming), and later to a Ted Haggard evangelical convention in Colorado Springs and a pro-life demonstration (complete with red duct tape inscribed LIFE fastened over their mouths) in Washington, D.C. Ewing and Grady remain strictly outside observers these events, offering neither voice-over or commentary. Rather, they offer a softened Christian response through extended excerpts from Mike Papantonio's syndicated radio talk show, Ring of Fire, as response to Becky Fischer's Kids on Fire.

In his classic 1963 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, Dr. Robert J. Lifton identified eight conditions of thought reform as he observed them in Communist China:
1. Milieu control - control of human communication through environmental control and limiting all forms of communication with the outside world.
2. Mystical manipulation - the group has a higher purpose, experiences are attributed to spiritual causes, control through planned spontaneity.
3. The demand for purity - absolute purity can be achieved, failures must be confessed and/or punished.
4. The cult of confession - public confessions, minimized privacy, verbalizing all interior fears and anxieties.
5. Aura of sacred science - the cult's rules and regulations are absolute, their dogma is absolutely scientific and morally true.
6. Loading the language - black-and-white thinking, good words and evil words, relentlessly judging.
7. Doctrine over person - the individual is insignificant, the group is all; personal experience and judgment are irrelevant, subordinated to the doctrine.
8. Dispensed existence - an elitist worldview and a sharp division between those who are chosen or saved and those who are lost.

Intentionally or otherwise, directors Ewing and Brady demonstrate all eight of these conditions in JESUS CAMP's treatment of Tory, Levi, Rachael, and their camper peers. They leave little room for doubt that we are witnessing brainwashing pure and simple, cult formation into an intolerant religious radicalism that brooks no questioning and sees all others as enemies. Becky Fischer talks about enemies, and Ted Haggard declares "It's massive warfare every day."

JESUS CAMP will leave you alternately shaking your head and cringing over the brainwashing these impressionable young children are receiving. Ewing and Grady's film is an extraordinarily powerful depiction of innocent young minds being manipulated by adults in the name of a blind religious fervor. The process recalls by comparison other such movements, past and present: radical Islamic fundamentalism, the Taliban, China's Red Guard, North Korea, the Hitler Youth. Dante would have reserved a special circle in his Inferno for adults who rob children of their innocence and opportunity to learn, consider alternatives, and choose for themselves. Thankfully, the directors have inserted a few moments that lighten the overall atmosphere: Rachael's attempt at bowling alley proselytizing, kids praying over a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush, and Ted Haggard's hysterically ironic admonitions in full-face close-up that "I think I know what you did last night; if you send me $[...], I won't tell your wife" and "You need to repent."

Ewing and Grady save their best for last. DON'T TURN OFF YOUR DVD THE MOMENT THE CREDITS START TO ROLL or you'll miss out on the film's best moments when Rachael and Levi reach out to three elderly black men sitting in a shaded park. Rachael's simple response to one old man's confident assurance that he will go to heaven when he dies is priceless and neatly illustrates everything that is wrong about radical evangelicalism. Plopped contentedly in her living room armchair, Becky Fischer sums it all up in an earlier part of the movie. Remarking on the trance-like religious intensity of her charges, she ponders admiringly, "What are these kids going to be like when they grow up?" What indeed?
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256 of 285 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2006
As a former home schooled spirit filled church raised child I was appalled at this movie. The main reason why is because I saw a good bit of my childhood in it. I was a product of brainwashing and spiritual abuse through "camps" like this. Frankly this movie was scarier than any horror movie I have ever seen. I think every Christian should see this movie so they can get a perspective on what it looks like from the outside in. For heavens sake, Ted Haggard was in this movie talking about the secret things people do in their lives right before he was exposed as a closeted homosexual. I hope this documentary opens the eyes of all christian parents about the importance of balance in a childs life and allowing them to make some of the decisions about their christianity on their own and not throwing them to the spiritual wolves like this. I am 30 years old and STILL recovering. I love the Lord with all of my heart and he is so much cooler than the God portrayed in this movie.
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60 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2007
I weigh in on "Jesus Camp" for one reason alone;25 years ago I lived this, I believed it, I taught it and now am soooooo far removed from it that I can clearly see all of this hatred and brain-washing for what it is.I myself was taught to believe what Becky Fisher et al propose as Christianity.I was a needy teenager and the "fright factor" of not being everything that God wanted was enormous on an impressionable brain.I was a Missionary and I did what I was taught.I did not question,and I did not think for myself.When I did, I was severely chastised.Relax you who are seething right now!....i know that "Jesus Camp" is not representative of all Christianity,but it is out there, and it is maybe not so "fringe" as you may think!
I was totally disturbed by this wonderful documentary simply because, though it is very "fringe" in the extremes of Christianity in the U.S, much of what is presented in "Jesus Camp",especially the attitudes of exclusive right to "The Truth" and an allegiance to the President is very common in even lesser denominations of Fundamentalism ( that remark may spare some Inquisitional attitudes!).Who Becky Fisher is IS real.Who Ted Haggart is ( oh boy was he exposed!) IS real.These children and their "radical stand for Christ" is as real as any Muslim Fundamentalist Extremist.
I was "deprogrammed" (as it were) over time.What bugs me still is that I am a really intelligent human being....BUT if you are needy and aimless, this brand of "Jesus" can be very appealing as any "search for truth or enlightenment".
Don't be shocked by this documentary....fear it...and fight it.I know whereof I speak.
(What.... no hateful retorts yet?.......)
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177 of 213 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2006
Jesus camp is a rare document. It is one of the few honest portrayals of the right wing evangelist's movement. The documentary follows Pastor Becky Fisher and her congregation, mostly children since she's a children's pastor. In the film both Becky, some of the children and their parents are interviewed. The result is a very disturbing film.

For those of us outside of the movement Fisher's approach to children seems harsh and irresponsible, it has all the markings of brainwashing. One of the most disturbing scenes is where Fisher preaches about double morale, letting the children believe they've let Satan in their heart by prayer in church but acting indifferently to her teachings in school. We see children panicking and bursting out into tears; later when the children start talking in tongues some seem to loose it.

Yet nowhere in the movie there seems to be bad intent from her side, Becky really believes in what she preaches, really believes she's helping those children. The children themselves talk enthusiastically about the sermons and seem determined to convert others or become preachers themselves. At times the people portrayed here seem to live in another universe than yourselves, but at the same time they're completely congruent with their believes. When they denounce science or global warming these people honestly feel others who do are misguided and need saving.

No where in the movie Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the directors, attempt to explain how their subjects came into believing; their tales of being reborn remain superficial. In doing so the film never gets an judgemental character, but its also ultimately one of the weaknesses in the film. It leaves the viewer with more questions than he bargained for. You can't help but walking out of the theatre with a feeling of unease; pondering the enormous drift that is apparently there between you and these new borne Christians.

The only balance brought to the movie is by a Christian radio show host. He represents a more moderate vein in Christianity and uses his show to ventilate his concerns on this relatively new movement, especially his concerns on how it seems to erode the separation of church and state, especially with the current administration in the White House. The radio show host is important to the movie, it brings balance to our view of Christians and places the movie in our social political times so we have a basis on which to evaluate what we just saw.

Just how well Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady succeeded in remaining impartial became clear during the question round at the recent viewing at the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam. A movie that shocked and disturbed most of the audience their was, according to the directors, perceived by its subject as a means to get the message out. They still remained in contact with Becky Fisher, who is apparently satisfied with the way her church is portrayed. Viewings in the US got different responses than in our Amsterdam audience, outside of the coastlines the audience was divided between those who were shocked and those who shouted out hallelujah during the film; once again making the divide in the States painfully clear.
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43 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2007
I finally got around to watching Jesus Camp after a friend at work had suggested it. It actually took about 2 months from the day his first mentioned it to the day I watched it. I took so long in getting to it because I just didn't want to watch anything to do with the Christian Church ever again. I used to be a Christian (or, at least I thought I was) until I began to realize I didn't belong there. It was a sham, my being there, and it was done only to appease my wife and my parents.
I also went to church because of my children. I was raised to believe that good parents took thier children to church and the Christian Doctrine was taught in the home. I'm 53 years old, and that is the way it was taught in my youth. Well, when my wife and I divorced I also divorced the church. My children are grown, she's remarried, and I'm a happy man.
I no longer wanted to hear about the church, and was reluctant to watch this film. I found myself impressed by the three children presented in the film. They seem intelligent, very outgoing, and likeable. The adults leading them, however, seem pushy, overbearing, and downright creepy.
What made a disturbing impression on me was the scene in which one of these "leaders" made the children cry, and flail about on the floor in seizure-like fits. Imagine bringing a bunch of young children to this camp, and then making them feel guilty about themselves to the point where they cry and "repent" of imagined sins?! Shame on these so-called "leaders" and their tactics! The entire thing was repulsive and extremely ugly. Seeing Jesus Camp only made me stronger in my belief that divorcing the church was the right way to go. I don't want anything to do with any religion that makes people feel worthless and guilty. Children should be allowed to be children, and not mindless "god zombies". The church is based on fear and guilt, not to mention money. Shame on these people.
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93 of 111 people found the following review helpful
We live in the Golden Age of the movie documentary. While mainstream fictional movies have for a decade been in an ongoing creative and qualitative slump (in fact, if you want great fictional visual narrative, television far surpasses film both in excellence and in intelligence), we have witnessed an explosion in high quality movie documentaries. Part of the reason is certainly technological. Until relatively recently documentary filmmakers were forced to work either with extremely expensive film cameras or low quality video cameras. With the advent of compact high-quality digital cameras, however, any documentarian can product extremely good looking footage that looks great even when blown up to the size of a movie theater screen. The field no longer belongs exclusively to geniuses like Errol Morris but to anyone with a good idea and a camera.

I give this five stars and it deserves this, but I want to stress that this film really is a very limited glimpse into contemporary evangelicalism. The people in this film are not merely evangelicals, but Pentecostals. They actually are quite different from most evangelicals and especially, for instance, Southern Baptists. How? First, Pentecostalism is very much based in emotionalism and feeling and far less in Biblical teachings. This is apparent from watching JESUS CAMP. If one is a student of the Bible one will be stunned at how little the Bible is mentioned by the people in the film and what a small role it plays in their religious experience. In fact, at one point a young girl mocks what she imagines to be the worship experience in a mainstream church, where they sing three hymns and listen to a sermon. But in many of those churches what one hears in the sermon is a careful exegesis of passages of Scripture. Few or no Southern Baptist churches feature the emotionalism found by the kids in JESUS CAMP. This is important to keep in mind since Southern Baptists absolutely dominate the Religious Right in America.

The second thing I want to mention is that the film does not show the way that evangelicalism has begun to fragment in the United States. There are at least three major issues evangelicals are currently splitting over nationally, with promise of many more. First and so far foremost, the environment. Many evangelicals simply cannot accept the absurdity that global warming is not taking place and is not caused by human activity. Even some major figures within the upper echelon of the Religious Right power structure are fragmenting on this issue. Pat Robertson himself has announced that he now believes both that global warming is real and humans cause it. As the mountain of evidence pointing to the reality of global warming is building into a mountain range, more and more evangelicals are accepting the obvious. And with many passages in the Bible speaking of the need to be faithful stewards of the earth and not its exploiters, the pro-environment segment of the evangelical movement is apt to gain more and more traction. Second, although the Religious Right has a near obsession with abortion, the brute fact is that the Bible does not address the issue directly a single time (despite the fact that there were abortive procedures practiced at the time, as John M. Riddle has documented in his excellent book EVE'S HERBS: A HISTORY OF CONTRACEPTION AND ABORTION IN THE WEST). On the other hand, the Bible in general and the New Testament especially speaks incessantly about caring for the poor. Because much of the Religious Right embraces an obsession with the acquisition of material goods, which clashes strongly with everything we see in the New Testament, this has engenders a reaction from many evangelical leaders who feel that Christians are called to both eschew wanton consumerism and to help care for those who lack the basic physical necessities. Thirdly, evangelicals are splitting, like most of the rest of American already has, over Iraq and George Bush. If in this film Bush is presented as an object of almost religious adoration, many evangelicals have come to see Iraq as a hideous mistake and many others are troubled by the way Republican political policies have favored the wealthy at the expense of both the middle classes and the poor.

Nonetheless, this is a vivid portrait of Pentecostal evangelicalism in the United States. As stated in the film evangelicals make up 25% of the electorate. I do not know what percentage Pentecostals make up of evangelicals, but I would be surprised if it was as much as a third. It is probably much less. Most evangelicals most assuredly do not speak in tongues. Still, they do share many beliefs with many other evangelicals, such as the ahistorical belief that America was founded as a Christian nation and that somehow Jesus has been removed from American life (whereas in fact at the time of the ratification of the constitution the Founders intentionally began the preamble with no mention of God but instead stated that the nation was founded by "We, the People"--also, hundreds of Christians and ministers denounced the "Godless" constitution at the time of ratification and afterward for nearly two centuries, until evangelicals beginning in the 1980s began formulating the myth of the founding of the United States as a Christian nation, an idea that would have shocked all the Founders, but in particular the primary architect of the Constitution, the avid supporter of Church-state separation, James Madison). Most evangelicals are also avidly anti-abortion, though most are unaware that for almost a decade after Roe v. Wade virtually no evangelicals leaders made any public statements about. In fact, evangelical icon W. A. Criswell actually praised the decision shortly after it was announced, stating that it was simply common sense for a woman to have control of her body (for those who do not know Criswell, one of the members of the evangelical pantheon, he was Billy Graham's pastor). As Randall Balmer has shown in his marvelous book THY KINGDOM COME, the Religious Right only began to campaign against abortion after the revocation of the tax-exempt status of some religious organizations, a fact that many leaders of the Religious Right are acutely aware (but which fact they certainly do not want to advertise). And like many evangelicals Pentecostals are suspicious of evolution and science. So while the film sloughs over some of the truly significant differences between the various kinds of evangelicals, there are a number of themes that run through all. My only complaint with the film is that you have to already have accumulated a great deal of knowledge about evangelicalism to make these distinctions.

The scenes that filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady shot are frequently chilling. It is obvious that these poor children are being brainwashed and indoctrinated in a manner that is no different than what happens with Islamic extremists. It is frightening that many of them acknowledge this and do not seem troubled by it. It breaks your heart viewing the film because these seem like really, really nice kids. I kept having to fight the sense that what is being done to the poor kids is a form of child abuse. One scene in particular bugged me. A really sweet girl walked up to a beautiful blonde girl in a bowling alley with a gospel tract and gave it to her with the words, "Jesus told me to give this to you." Of course Jesus did no such thing (in fact, history is replete with thousands of horrors that various people inflicted on others because they claimed God had told them to). I was raised in the culture. I understand the pressures that are placed on children to "witness" for Christ and to "share their testimony." As a child I was conscious of how desperately uncomfortable I was with going up to a total stranger and "telling them about Christ," but didn't possess the insight to realize the amount of self-righteousness required to approach someone of whom you know nothing and presume that they lack what you have to give them. So when watching this poor girl, I couldn't help but think of the horrible things that are parents are doing to her.

Unlike some reviewers I did not find Ted Haggard creepy. Knowing now what we do about him it is all too easy to impart a creepiness that we feel simply had to be there. I remember something the Catholic devotional writer Henri Nouwen said to me once (for two years Henri hired me to edit, type, and proofread his manuscripts, and also to clean up his English prose--English was his second language and his first drafts often contained infelicities of expression). The church, he said, is the most sinful place in the world because that is because it is filled with people who acknowledge that they are sinners. I agree that Ted Haggard's are ironical given his constant attacks on homosexuality, but my own feeling is that most people are afflicted by a host of internal inconsistencies. In seeing Ted Haggard I was instead struck by how funny and likable he was. He was witty, friendly, and personable. And yes, in light of his subsequent downfall (the revelations of his involvement with a gay prostitute and drug use and its apparent confirmation when he resigned from his church broke shortly before the 2006 midterm election and the last in a long string of Republican scandals was viewed as a factor in the Democratic victories) a complete hypocrite. But I suppose he is no worse than most of us.

The lone voice of reason in the film is the trial lawyer and radio journalist Mike Papantonio, who is shown during a broadcast of the "Ring of Fire" radio show on Air America, which he cohosts with Robert J. Kennedy Jr. What I like about Papantonio is that he clearly is as devout as any of the people in the film, but the faith he finds in the New Testament is so completely at odds with those found in the summer camp featured so prominently in the film. I was so glad he was included in the documentary, if for no other reason than to show that there are Christians who haven't lost their wits.

This film really is essential viewing, but as I pointed out above, it is not representative of evangelicalism as a whole. If one truly wants a balanced view of evangelicalism in America I would recommend two books to supplement this film. One is Randall Balmer's MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY: A JOURNEY IN THE SUBCULTURE IN AMERICA, which is published by Oxford University Press and was the basis for a PBS documentary. This will provide a far more comprehensive portrait of contemporary evangelicalism. I also strongly recommend Rev. Gregory Boyd's THE MYTH OF A CHRISTIAN NATION. You will find no Christian writer more devout than Boyd and no one who is more careful in the analysis of Scripture. But as a Bible-believing Christian Boyd comes to very different conclusions than the people found in JESUS CAMP. But I do not believe that anyone who has actually read the Bible will find their positions closer to the actual content of the Bible and New Testament than Boyd's. Non-Christians will be impressed that it is possible to combine deep religious devotion with extreme intelligence, resulting in positions that are both Christian and intelligent.
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2007
Dramatic misinterpretation of the Bible? Check.

Children being brainwashed? Check.

Spirituality being corrupted by ideology? Check.

It's all right here folks. Evangelical Christianity in all its craptacular glory. My favorite part is at the end, when Becky Fischer, who runs this cult, justifies her "camp" by essentially saying: "Hey, there are Muslims that brainwash their kids. Why can't I? I mean, I'm just as insane as they are, right?"

Anyone can ruin their own life. But to corrupt the lives of many children? That's quite a feat. So much of a feat that someone decided to make a movie about it. And a pretty good one at that.
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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2007
I think every human in this country should see the documentary Jesus Camp. It is a disturbing portrait of radical Evangelicals that see it as their duty to create an army for Christ. I have a problem with how vocally angry and war-like these people judgmental they are in their views. They seem to be trying to turn theirs and/or your children into little robots that cannot think for themselves...brainwashed warriors for the Republican Party. They home-school their children to believe whatever they want and blame separation of church and state for the downfall of public education. They believe that science is wrong and if you do not have Jesus in your life then you make up a misguided wretched sect of humanity that needs to be weeded out. What happened to following the ways of Christ? These people are so concerned that there are people alive that are not just like them, that they are literally blind to reality. At the beginning of this documentary, Pastor Becky Fischer tells an audience of children it is their duty to change the world because there are too many fat and lazy Christians out there that are not helping. This woman appears to weigh over 250 pounds. She is in other words extremely obese. I do not understand how people can listen to a single thing that comes out of her fat mouth. She also states that she wants her children to be as radical as Muslim Jihadists. This is insane! They cannot see what is directly in front of most of our faces. It seems to me this is because they only interact with like-minded people. They are only taught/indoctrinated by people that have only one viewpoint. This is what is scary. One viewpoint equals ethnocentrism. No diversity. Closed-mindedness. In sociology, I was taught that ethnocentrism was something everyone has to fight, in order to gain a more complete view of reality. That ethnocentrism leads to prejudice, bigotry, and racism. However, I do not believe that "these people" make up 25% of the population. The film states that 25% of Americans claim to be Evangelical Christians. However, I am sure that there are plenty of Evangelicals that are not this radical. At least I hope so or this country may be past the point of no return. We may not be able to have it back. This is a country that was NOT founded on Judeo-Christian values as one mom in the film erroneously states. The Constitution never once mentions a deity, because the Founding Fathers wanted to keep their new country "religion-neutral." Our Founding Fathers were an eclectic collection of Atheists, Deists, Christians, Freemasons, and Agnostics. George Washington, the Father of our country, and John Adams (Second President of the USA) clearly stated in the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli: "The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion." Apparently this used to be a country that was more tolerant of different ideologies. So please see this film, talk to your friends and family, help take this country back...if not for you, then for the rest of us...including George Washington and the rest of our Founding Fathers.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Here's an interesting and well-done documentary film. It involves the evangelical Christian movement and focuses on a summer religion-based camp for children and the adults associated with it. The movie is called "Jesus Camp."

The film is very well done in that directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady maintain a somewhat distant neutrality toword their subject. They report, and report well, but don't judge. Judgement is left to the viewer and might vary quite considerably. What are your own religeous beliefs? Are you an evangelical Christian? Maybe you'll think the film is terrific. Are you an agnostic or of another religion? Maybe you'll be appalled or find it deeply disturbing. Personally, I ended up feeling somewhat sorry for the children as they underwent their indoctrination and imitated their teachers and tried so hard to please the adults. I underwent a bit of this myself and it took a long time to finally break away. I found most of the adults in the film to be appalling. To me, the entire evangelical movement is interesting, but disturbing. That's how I'd rate the movie: interesting and disturbing. It's worthy of it's Academy Award nomination.

It's a fascinating and sometimes alarming study. My keen attention was held throughout the entire viewing. It was both interesting and appalling at the same time. The film even includes Ted Haggard, the disgraced president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Haggard later resigned following accusations of drug use and sexual misconduct.

Most of the film involves a teacher, Becky Fischer, as she enlists kids in "God's Army" at a camp in rural North Dakota. I found it painful to watch her and other adults indoctrinating the eager young minds. Even more troubling were a lot of the home-schooled children who believed that the Bible was science. A "liberal-Christian" radio talk-show host provided a concerned commentary on the evangelical movement. I found the whole scene to be creepy, but very interesting and well presented. It's an engaging movie, well worth viewing more than once.

Gary Peterson
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2007
This is an excellent documentary. You know it is good when people on both sides of the issue write positive reviews. It is both well made and I feel it to be unbiased. It is of course disturbing to see children turned into "soldiers for Jesus". It smacks of the Taliban and other militant religous groups which take innocent children and brainwash them with their brand of fanaticism.Kind of makes you wonder which kid in this film will be the next to bomb an abortion clinic. My only regret is that the film was released before Rev. Ted Haggard was caught having a long running sexual relationship with a male prostiute and taking methamphetamines. Would have made a nice ending to the film.
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