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'God's Army' doesn't dig deep enough

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By Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critic
@citizenhorton
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Becky Fischer is an evangelical who runs a most unusual summer camp in Devils Lake, N.D. This camp teaches kids how to be warriors in "God's Army," where they learn to pledge allegiance "to the Christian flag," speak in tongues and aggressively proselytize on behalf of evangelical Christianity.
This is chronicled in "Jesus Camp," an intriguing new documentary that doesn't go far enough in exploring its subject. Some of the episodes in this movie seem amusing at first; it's easy to chuckle at Fischer when she warns the children against the evils of Harry Potter, the boy warlock.
It becomes more chilling when Fischer talks about the flaws of democracy (implying that these flaws will be straightened out by a theocratic state), or speaks admiringly about Palestinian indoctrination camps where children take the first steps toward becoming future suicide bombers. She doesn't seem to realize the implications of setting up a parallel system for American Christians.
In fact, the adults in this film are cheerful about admitting they are indoctrinating children. According to the movie, 75 percent of home-schooled children in the U.S. are evangelical Christians, and we get a glimpse of the kind of schooling one student receives, with biblical stories taught as science.
Meanwhile, Fischer runs her services, where kids speak in tongues and fall to the floor in convulsions. One little boy, a 13-year-old named Levi, wants to be a preacher himself one day, and he becomes the focus of the film.

The children interviewed seem uncommonly smart and articulate. They are as focused and as weirdly intense as the spelling bee champs in "Spellbound."
The directors of "Jesus Camp," Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, previously did the affecting documentary "Boys of Baraka," about inner-city kids taken to an African school. Here, they are scrupulous about eschewing editorial comment about what we are seeing. One would like to know more about Becky Fischer: Is this prophet of family values and child-rearing married? Does she have children? Who is she?
The only voice countering the evangelicals belongs to Mike Papantonio, a radio host who is Christian but wary of mixing church and state. He occasionally chimes in with a comment wondering how Jesus would react to the combat style of Fischer and her people.
Late in the film there's a scene where someone brings out a lifesize cardboard cutout of George W. Bush, and the children are asked to pray in front of it, putting their hands on it. One hopes that even Bush himself would be creeped out by the sight.

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