Jesus Camp, a documentary film by directors Heidi Ewing and Rachael Grady opened nationwide on September 22. The film follows children through Becky Fisher’s “Kids on Fire Summer Camp” in North Dakota. According to the trailer, the camp is designed to make the children into an army of God in order to take back America for God. Included in this training the kids are taught: “There are two kinds of people in this world: people who love Jesus and people who don’t.” They are told, “This means war! This means war! Are you a part of it or not?” They pray for President Bush by laying hands on a life-size cardboard figure of him. A young boy affirms, “We are being trained to be God’s army.” Holy war dominates the theology of this camp. One of the most disturbing things Becky Fisher says in the trailer is this:
Where should we be putting in our efforts? Where should we be putting our focus? I’ll tell you where our enemies are putting it, they’re putting it on the kids. They’re going into the schools. You go into Palestine, and I can take you to some websites that will absolutely shake you to your foundations and show you photographs of where they’re taking their kids to camps like we take our kids to Bible camps, and they’re putting hand grenades in their hands, they’re teaching them how to put on bomb belts, they’re teaching them how to use rifles, they’re teaching how to use machine guns; it’s no wonder, with that kind of intense training that [garbled], that those young people are ready to kill themselves for the cause of Islam.
I want to see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam. I want to see them as radically laying down their lives for the gospel as, as they are, uh, over in, in Pakistan, in, in Israel, and, and Palestine, and all those different places. You know, because we have… excuse me, but we have the truth!
I’ve recently finished reading Brian McLaren’s The Secret Message of Jesus. In chapter four he writes:
Jesus says again and again, this kingdom advances with neither violence nor bloodshed, with neither hatred nor revenge. It is not just another one of the kingdoms of this world. No, this kingdom advances slowly, quietly, under the surface–like yeast in dough, like seed in soil. It advances with faith: when people believe it is true, it becomes true. And it advances with reconciling, forgiving love: when people love strangers and enemies, the kingdom gains ground (p. 32).
Jesus also said that he came to gather sheep from many flocks (John 10:16). Unlike the Jews of his time, Jesus did not see those who belonged to Yahweh and those who did not. He believed God’s grace and love was for everyone: the poor, prostitutes, tax collectors, Samaritans, and Gentiles. He also commanded his followers to love their enemies, pray for them, and to turn the other cheek. In the face of violence he commanded us to love and to show our enemies a different way to live. Paul also counseled the Roman believers to not return evil for evil and to live in peace.
As we have seen since September 11, 2001, violence is not the answer. Violence only begets more violence and hatred. Jesus commands his followers to respond by submitting to the violence and loving in the midst of it. We are a part of the kingdom of God, which means we are called to act and live differently than the kingdoms of this world. Instead of training our children to be soldiers, we should be training them to be peacemakers. We should be telling them that Jesus loves everyone–not just those who love him back, and that Jesus wants us to show love and forgiveness, and be reconciled to our enemies–not fight with them and constantly be at war (even spiritual war) with them. Jesus did not treat outsiders or his enemies this way, and neither should we.