Gandhi and ‘Jesus Camp’
Jarrod McKenna’s Wednesday’s with Gandhi:
“If Jesus came to earth again, he would disown many things that are being done in the name of Christianity. It is not he who says ‘Lord, Lord’ that is a Christian, but “He that doeth the will of the Lord’ that is a true Christian. And cannot he, who has not heard the name of Jesus Christ, do the will of the Lord?“
-Gandhi (Harijan: May 11, 1935)
Last Friday night our church community watched an amazing (and disturbing) doco called “Jesus Camp” (we laughed, we cried… we ask “what the?” ). This is an important movie to discuss with our churches and friends who don’t share our faith. It documents “Pastor Becky’s” crusade (I used the word deliberately) to indoctrinate young people into a ‘spirituality’ of being ‘a generation of warriors for God’. It is nothing short of a ‘how to’ of Constantinian Christianity’s kids ministry on crack. It’s crazy. And it’s invading the imagination of many Christians. Like the movie “Saved” it holds a mirror to aspects of Christianity that looks nothing like Jesus and asks “What’s that?”. I found myself thinking I wish I was watching this with Stanley Hauerwas and could hear his reflections.
This film is important to see for a number of reasons:
1. This is what Christianity means for a growing number of people (not just in America)
2. It only takes walking into your nearest Christian bookstore to realise that this has money behind it and is getting into the mainstream even here
3. Many educated and intelligent people think this is what charismatic/ Pentecostal/ evangelicalism is (or the gospel is!) are as turned on by it as they are by the idea of their grandad sporting the swimmers that Borat wears.
Seeing a 10 year old kid say, “At five I got saved. Because I just wanted more of life.”
I couldn’t help but respond with… What the?!
He was 5! Was it that climbing trees left him empty? He realised Sesame Street and sand castles weren’t filling that whole in his life? And saved from what? An addiction to play lunch and nap time? The empty pursuit of kiss chasey and hop scotch? How can I five year old know what saying yes picking up his cross and following Jesus means? Now I’m not at all saying that kids don’t have a deep spirituality awareness, Jesus says that the kingdom belongs to these little ones. I have known many deeply spiritual little people with a beautiful and wonder-filled relationship with God who could lead us all in worship if we just watched the way they related to the world. Some are blessed with a wonderful awareness of God at a very young age and say “yes, with gratitude” as St. Therese the little flower put it. Hopefully our whole lives can be growing into a deeper yes and increasing gratitude. But this sence in the video was clearly that from a very young age this kid had been taught that the gospel was fire insurance for the afterlife. After I stopped laughing, it kind of made me feel sick.
The spirituality of these ‘camps’ is perfect to accompany sitcoms, sales and endless stimulation by mindless commercials which numb our ability to think critically, feel compassionately and dream imaginatively. In effect, it retards our ability to hear the cries of suffering that echo throughout creation and our ability to be swept up with all of creation in the glory filled worship of the God who saves not through violence but through the love revealed in Jesus. The God who wins not through domination but through the way of the slain lamb. But a god that looks like the Jesus of the Gospels who liberate us and send the Spirit to empower us to witness to Love’s liberation of all things was starkly missing. Instead a cardboard cut out (I’m not referring to the scene in the movie where kinds seem to almost worship a poster of George W. Bush during a service), of an angry American deity who saves ‘by any means necessary’, hates it when children think critically (ie. wouldn’t dig how Jewish rabbi’s like Jesus taught in ways to make people question) was present… and scary!
Pastor Becky quote: “Let me say something about Harry Potter, Warlocks are enemies of God!… Had it been in the old Testament Harry Potter would be put to death!”
The irony that in the sixteenth century the mass genocide of women as ‘witches’ by Christians (Pastor Becky’s not onto something new) was often because they were charismatic Spirit-filled women who were part of the radical wing of the reformation, the Anabaptists, who went out preaching a God who commands us to love our enemies in ways that look like Jesus (ie. Don’t burn them!) So they burn them. But Pastor Becky’s emotionally coerced pseudo-mysticism for neo-fascists suffers a disturbing historical amnesia when it comes to Christian spirituality. Not only just to the rich tradition of the desert ammas and abbas, or the Rhineland mystics, or the riches of eastern orthodox monasticism (or any number of other amazing movements) but also just 20th century Pentecostalism. I think the one eyed black preacher at the centre of the Azusa Street revivals at the start of the 20th century, would turn in his grave to see Pentecostalism has evolved from an early movement which was a pioneer in interracial worship, seeking to recover the Christianity of the early church so reject Christians fighting in war and was liberating for women in a patriarchal society had become the lap dog for violent Empire building. Watch this I thought of the incredible work of the “Pentecostal Charismatic Peace Fellowship” and there work of joyfully calling people to the charismatic history of “Jesus-shaped Spirit-empowered peacemaking”.
The spirituality documented in the film is perfect to accompany societies who are so unhealthy they have become an industrial-military-growth-complex, which institutionalise addiction to death and escapist illusions which fuel a rushing towards our destruction at the cost of the poor, the vulnerable and God’s good earth that supports us all. Unlike the early Christians which witnessed to God’s dream for creation (the kingdom of God), the aeon of justice, peace and joy breaking in admits the cries of our groaning world, this documentary shows that there is a huge Christian ‘evangelical’ movement which witness only to the seemingly endless aeon of domination, injustice and exploitation only now in Jesus drag. And I was so sad to read via my mate Tim, that prophetic traditions like the Mennonites are not immune to the miscellaneous-evangelical-Americana-mush which comes served in red, white and blue Styrofoam .
In my experience, what feeds the sales of not just Spong’s books but the popularity of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens ‘evangelical atheism’ is a Christianity that looks nothing like Chirst. This is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to sharing our faith with others. It means people become Christians for the wrong reasons or don’t become Christians for the wrong reasons. It can be easy to rip into such distortion of the gospel but it’s much harder to ask the Holy Spirit for them empowerment and wisdom to be able to examine our own Churches and our own hearts for a Christianity that prophesy’s in the name of Jesus, drives out demons and performs miracles but don’t live the way of love taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:21-23).
Jesus asks us, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your sister’s or brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own?” Gandhi reflecting on this remarked, “We must be the change we wish to see.”
I find bashing fundamentalist easy. And doesn’t it feel great. I’m right! They’re wrong, stupid and silly!!! And that feels even better. But it is much harder to listen to the still small voice of God asking us to love our ‘inner fundi’. And to pray for pastor Becky and all of us captive to easy answers and hate-filled religion. Unlike Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens I don’t think the answer to bad Christianity is no Christianity. Like Peter Maurin I beleive “The best critique of the bad is the prastice of the better.” I think it’s living and inviting others to live a humble yet prophetic Christianity that looks like the nonviolent Jesus of the Gospels in ways that are good news to all of creation. So I’ve got to go, got some log removing to do.