the great identity crisis: some gut reactions after watching “Jesus Camp”

March 4, 2007

We have done the church a great injustice by labeling ourselves. We have set ourselves up for being misunderstood and we have compromised the gospel in so many ways. When people around us see us argue and disagree about so much, we lose credibility as Christians and smear the name we bear. If we had a reputation for acting justly, showing mercy and being humble in our relationship with God, it would be much more difficult for society in general to see the church as having little to no integrity.

The movie “Jesus Camp” really paints a bleak picture of the American right – or as they frequently call them (us) in the movie – evangelicals. It’s seen as an emotionally manipulative, socially conservative, brain-washing, spiritually kooky, breeding ground for two-faced bigots.

As I understand the mission of the universal church, we are all called to be sharers of the Gospel. Part of our decision to be Christ followers is to be willing to share that which we have received with those around us. So in a sense, all Christians have an element of being evangelists – – and evangelical as a result. And being that the mission of the church is to be united in the one body we all subscribe to catholicism (to be sure, universal church minded – – not Catholic doctrine minded necessarily).

Basically put, labels such as Orthodox, Catholic, Baptist, Salvation Army, Pentecostal, Wesleyan, Puritan…whatever are unhelpful. At best, they emphasize something which we, as sub-groups of Christendom, pay particular attention to. But where does this leave us in terms of our global voice? One strong voice, proclaiming the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ, regardless of race, gender, socio-political status – – this is what we need.

When we spend so much time being distinct – AND protecting our distinctiveness, as if somehow this distinctiveness keeps us safe from looking like something OR someone else that we begin to miss the point altogether. It actually causes us to criticize each other and pretend that our own brand of Christianity is better than the next one. I am ashamed to say that this is the impression I regularly got from people around me when I was growing up in my childhood church. But when I got to Tyndale I realized that I was in good company…most people spent their time obsessed with denominational or theological apologetics.

So – what is the point? To love God and love our neighbour. We should be pouring our hearts and our efforts into this entirely. I don’t care nearly as much about a local church distinctive as I do fulfilling the goals which Christ has set out for us in the Gospels. I don’t care all that much about being a Free Methodist – I do however care about my hurting friends, the elderly woman who struggles to get her groceries into her trunk, hungry children in Somalia, people who daily battle through addiction and the homeless.

To get back to the movie – I feel bad for my charismatic friends. They have been, for the most part, misrepresented in this movie. I also feel bad for the children in this movie who obviously care an awful lot about God, but will grow up knowing more about prophetic dance and charisms than about what it is to love the people who are around them. I feel bad for Ted Haggard who, in this video, addresses one of the extremists favorite topics – homosexuality – just months before being exposed as one who struggles himself with this very issue.

I wonder if people would be interested in seeing a documentary about Christians who pray, fast and worship together; who love each other (despite their flaws) and take care of people who are marginalized; who walk around neighbourhoods and pick up trash; who live in harmony as a multi-ethnic community; who seek to be open and honest about their short-comings and failures; who look for honest answers to tough questions; and who don’t need to pretend that they’re something they’re not to acquire fame and public prominence.

That has to exist somewhere…


12 Responses to “the great identity crisis: some gut reactions after watching “Jesus Camp””

  1. Gilly Orme said

    Hey Jay,

    Just a quick answer to the question you, I’m assuming, rhetorically posed at the end of your post: no!

    People only want to hear the bad stuff, the nitty gritty, the juicy stuff. Look at the news, or what’s broadcasted as news…it’s mostly bad news, right? That’s humans for ya since Eve ate the friggin’ fruit…we just can’t help ourselves!

  2. Patman said

    An excellent perspective on a complicated semi-manipulating video. I know when I watched it it was a struggle to balance fact and fiction. The twisted and the tuned. I enjoyed your response.

  3. Jono said


    For anyone who’s interested, Jesus Camp will be showing at the Tyndale Chapel at 9:40pm.

    Why not go check it out?


  4. jasonlocke said

    Gilly – good to hear from you. I wish you weren’t right – but I think that you might be. People really do want to dig in with the gooey stuff. Pat the poopsies on their heads for me. Say hi to Chris for me.

    Thanks Pat. Though the more I read my own comment the more I’m waiting for people to come to the movies defense. I’m not sure I agree with all that I wrote anymore. After some more thought, I’m not sure that charismatics are largely misrepresented here – – and might for the most part take issue with my making this statement on their behalf.

    I would recommend HIGHLY that people go and see this video at 9:40…wait a minute – – was that last night? O well – – too late. But now I guess you’ll have more to comment about!

  5. Ian said

    I haven’t seen the doc yet, but I wanted to say I appreciated the part of your post which talks about dangers of denominational distinctiveness. I hope to rent Jesus Camp soon to add more to the conversation. Have a good retreat, Jay.

  6. Cath said

    I watched the video last night… I was shocked.. I had the same problem as someone else not being able to tell what what was fact and what was fiction. I feel like I would also be interrested in seeing what else happened that wasn’t included in the video, what were the things that they left out that they didn’t feel were important to include in the video.

    I couldn’t help but think that this started on good motives, but then progressively became this crazy, out of control thing that I don’t even realyl know how to describe.

    You didn’t miss the viewing of Jesus Camp. It is playing in the chapel this Wednesday coming at 9:40pm! I am interrested and also a little scared about how it is going to be looked at…

    … one of my friends was telling me that it was shown at a church they were visiting and everyone was so excited about it, and thought that it was the greatest idea, and that they need to make their kids camps like this… so I am just waiting to see what the mixed response is going to be to this when it is shown here.

    …also… hey brother! have fun! and all that stuff!

  7. Chris said

    “that has to exist somewhere”…. soon enough my friend, soon enough…

  8. Jono said

    I forgot to say that it was playing on March 7th… A vital piece of info….

  9. jasonlocke said

    Thanks for all the conversation. I, too, am interested in seeing how the video is received at Tyndale. Jono and Cath – you’ll have to let me know.

  10. Cath said

    so the video was supposed to be played here at Tyndale last night, but for some unclear reason the chapel wouldn’t book for the showing of the video. I don’t exactly know all of the details, but they are going to try to get the chapel for next week, and if that doesn’t work out they are going to just show it in the Kat. I don’t know for sure, but I think that maybe this is just all about some contraversy over the video… Hopefully though they will get things worked out…

  11. jt* said

    along the lines of what ian said, i very much appreciated the part on denominational divides/unity of the body. peace.

  12. […] they clearly were not being shown what it means to love, the very heart of the Gospel message. [Jay mentioned this as well in his post about the […]

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