Monday, June 12, 2006

Can An Evangelical Be a Democrat?

Kirsten A. Powers of The American Prospect reviews a new documentary Jesus Camp that shows where hard-core Pentecostal kids gather around the campfire and pledge their faith. But is it the true face of all evangelicals?

The film, by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the duo who also directed the critically-acclaimed The Boys of Baraka, opened to an appreciative and flabbergasted audience at the 2006 TriBeca Film Festival, where it received the Special Jury Award. The directors skillfully captured the daily interactions of a world that would be foreign to most viewers: children speaking in tongues and talking of being “born again” at age 5.

The star of the film is Pastor Becky Fischer, who explains the startling mission of her “Kids on Fire” camp: “I want young people to be as committed to laying down their lives for the Gospel as they are in Pakistan.” At the camp, the children are asked: “How many of you want to be those who will give up your life for Jesus?” Little hands shoot up from every direction. They are told: “We have to break the power of the enemy over the government.” At one point, Becky yells: “This means war! Are you a part of it or not?” More little hands.

The directors take us into the homes of the children, where we see them “pledge allegiance to the Christian flag” and play a video game called “Creation Adventure” that debunks evolution. A mother helps her children with homework and informs them that, “Global warming is not going to happen. Science doesn’t prove anything.”

The film takes us back to the camp, where the children are gathered for their daily teaching. Suddenly, a camp counselor places a life-size cardboard cutout before the group. No, it’s not Jesus. It’s George Bush. Clapping erupts and Becky encourages them to “say hello to the President.” Becky claims that “President Bush has added credibility to being a Christian.”


While it’s never disclosed in the movie, Jesus Camp is in fact a Pentecostal camp, which puts it far to the right theologically and politically, even within the evangelical movement. The directors explained that they didn’t want to confuse audiences by disclosing this and instead referred to the camp only as “evangelical.” Unfortunately, they unwittingly added to the enormous confusion that people like Jim Wallis, author of God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, has been trying to clear up for years.

Wallis, who is the founder and editor of Sojourners, a progressive Christian magazine, spends much of his time traveling the country talking to students and meeting with evangelical leaders. Wallis believes the future of the country is in the hands of moderate evangelical voters. He estimates, based on polls and personal experience, that about half of evangelicals are the immovable Religious Right but the other half are open to, if not hungry for, progressive leadership.

“The facts on the ground are changing,” says Wallis. He reports a marked increase in attendance of his speeches on Christian campuses and the issues he gets asked about the most are not gay marriage or abortion. Wallis says abortion will naturally remain important issue to the moderate evangelical voter, but it is not a litmus test. They want leaders who will acknowledge their moral concerns about this issue and who are committed to decreasing the number of abortions, a position that puts them well within the mainstream of Democratic voters.

And it’s no different if Wallis is meeting with the leader of an evangelical mega-church. One such leader recently told Wallis, “I’m a conservative on Jesus, the Bible and the Resurrection, but I’m becoming a social liberal.” When Wallis asked why, he heard what has become a familiar refrain: evangelicals are increasingly despairing over the neglect of the poor, the environment, and the U.S. inaction on fighting the genocide in Darfur.


These concerns sounds pretty progressive. So, why are so few white evangelicals voting Democratic? Wallis believes Democrats have ceded the territory of religion to the Republican side, allowing them to use it to divide the electorate. Or, as Wallis has said, “I think this idea that all the Christians, all the religious people are jammed in the red states and the blue states are full of agnostics is a bit overblown in the media. It’s more complicated than that.”

Much, much more complicated.

No wonder evangelicals are against sodomy. They’re finally realizing that they got screwed by the Republicans.