If you haven’t heard, Jesus Camp voluntarily shut itself down yesterday. I guess, in the climate of anti-Christianity swept in by Tuesday’s elections, they no longer felt safe. Whatever. Haven’t seen the movie — except for that righteous clip of Ted Haggard, tee hee — and now I don’t have to, although I probably wouldn’t have, anyway. I lived in Jesus Camp for 20 years; I am no stranger to this demographic. I wish them no ill. I can only hope they feel the same way about me.
But in meandering through a thread on the subject over at Metafilter, I came across this hilarious account of standing in opposition to a prevailing Jesus subculture at one person’s North Dakota high school. It reminded me of the various Jesus subcultures at my own, which were in evidence even during the Ford administration.
One was The Way International. Most observers identify it as a cult, and from some of their activities, I wouldn’t be surprised. At one point they were instructing their management layer in marksmanship and weapons-handling, and calling it “hunter safety courses.” The kids who were into The Way did something that was mystifying to a girl raised Catholic and living among mainline Protestants: They spoke in tongues. They were “taken by the spirit” at prayer, opened their mouths and supposedly ancient languages poured forth, praising God.
A few of my friends were into this, but not for long; by the time we grew close, they’d fallen out with The Way (out of The Way?) and heavily into ridiculing it. One liked to get so wasted he started slurring his words, at which point he opened his eyes wide and said, “Hey! Tongues!” Another pointed out that when one still-faithful member spoke in tongues, if you listened closely you always heard the phrase “Yoko Ono,” proof he was faking it. (Although, when you think about it, it may have been an early sign that John Lennon was a divine being, not so hard for some people to believe.)
Although our community was WASPy and generally not into this sort of thing — I’m still uncomfortable in any church where people lift their hands above the level of their shoulders while praying — they were respectful. Also, drugs were spreading through the schools like the Norwalk virus, and anything that kept kids away from that was seen as worth a try. In junior high we were all released one afternoon to attend an assembly, and when we arrived were treated to a half-hour concert by a rock band called the Free Fair. There was no obvious point to the show, although we were all invited back for a longer one that evening at the high school. I should have known something was up, as normally our principal didn’t opt for midday rock’n’roll breaks, but my friends were going to the show that night, so I did too. And sure enough, after the music came the Testimony: Drugs ruined my life blah blah but Jesus Christ saved it blah blah. The lead singer said he’d once been so strung out, he’d sold his winter coat for marijuana.
I was no expert on drugs, but even in eighth grade this sounded like crap. Marijuana, all the magazines said, was non-addictive and a fairly mild high, and this guy sold his coat for some? Maybe if he’d recently moved to Florida, maybe if it was already April, but otherwise even I — who had never been high in my 13 years — knew that marijuana would be no match for the misery of being outside without a coat in winter.
I left and went outside, where a few of my friends were in the baseball dugouts, smoking cigarettes with one of the Free Fair’s roadies. He had his arm around my friend Ann’s shoulders. She said he kissed her, stuck his tongue in her mouth and copped a feel. This was my very first experience with this sort of youth-culture Jesus-freakery evangelism, and you might say it left a mark. Lies on stage, jailbait groping outside — I had these folks’ number early. There were many parents who had good reason to worry about the various religious movements taking their children away — Hare Krishna, the Children of God, the Moonies — but mine never did. The Free Fair was my immunization.
Thank you, Jesus. The Lord truly does work in mysterious ways.
Marcia said on November 9, 2006 at 10:38 am
I can only hope they feel the same way about me.
Dream on, Nancy. You’re the enemy.
That Youth of Death thing was hilarious. It sounds exactly like something my 17-year-old would do–even though he’s a Christian, he has no use for arrogance and exclusivity.
Jim said on November 9, 2006 at 11:16 am
Hmmm, neither did Jesus.
Julie said on November 9, 2006 at 11:42 am
I grew up on a farm in North Dakota, and I find it amazing that a place such as the Jesus Camp would even exist there–that a person such as Ted Haggard would enter the state. And by “a person such as Ted Haggard,” I mean an evangelical who practices a testimonial style of worship. When I was growing up, the range of religious communities stretched all the way from Catholic to Lutheran.
Of course, I know the world of Christianity has changed enormously since then, but I was shocked when I saw the clips from Jesus Camp, well before the noise about Haggard. I knew that world had changed, but I didn’t know it had changed there.
Danny said on November 9, 2006 at 11:55 am
Have any of you seen the documentary, “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory?” It is quite good.
ashley said on November 9, 2006 at 12:02 pm
Confession time. Maybe this is why I keep moving to the left as I get older, since I grew up as far right as it gets.
I went, from 2nd through 9th grade, to Pensacola Christian School, now known as PC academy and PC College. We always said that PCS stood for “Prison Camp of the South”, and we weren’t far off.
This place was and is, no doubt, a cult. I realized this when I thought I wanted to leave, but couldn’t mentally divorce myself from the place…in 9th grade. Finally, the allure of playing football led me to leave, where I found out I wasn’t evil (because I had things like wacky packages on my textbooks), but rather, somewhat normal and bright.
They have an extensive set of rules. I remember that we had to sign a statement stating that we wouldn’t listen to rock and roll, wouldn’t have sex, wouldn’t drink or smoke or use profanity, blah blah blah. Once, I got suspended for having my hair touching my collar. You could get suspended for holding hands with your girlfriend in public.
Of course, at this time, I was going to White Witch concerts and stealing Ouzo out of the liquor cabinet. Then I tried to add water to the ouzo so it wouldn’t look drained. D’oh!
There’s real Christianity, and then there’s stuff like Pensacola Christian, the way, Jesus Camp, and so on. The fact that they’re marketing it as Christianity makes it more dangerous than cults like $cientology.
Peter said on November 9, 2006 at 12:42 pm
I couldn’t agree more with your comment about raising your arms during a service. At my old church, every so often they would ask the congregation to extend their right hand upward and outward for a blessing, and to me it looked like a Leni Riefenstahl outake.
Marcia said on November 9, 2006 at 1:10 pm
Okay, Peter, how about you come wipe up the coffee you just made me spew?
mary said on November 9, 2006 at 1:35 pm
The clip of Ted Haggard is priceless.
Danny said on November 9, 2006 at 1:56 pm
I too am with you regarding public displays and outbursts.
I’m not sure if all of you know this, but this bears mention: Protestant churches that are in the charismatic tradition really are not monolithic either. The doctrinal distinctive that classifies a church as charismatic is the belief that the gifts of the Spirit (ref 1 Cor 12-13) are still currently administered today and were not just confined to the Apostolic era. Within this tradition, there is large variation from those churches which believe but, leave it at a personal level, to those which make it a part of their worship service, to those which make it public excercise of the more fantastic, but less important gifts (e.g. tongues) a “requirement,” usually regarding such as evidence of salvation. The tradition actually has roots in the pilgrim churches and Shakers and Quakers.
The church I attend makes the distinction between charismatic versus charismania. They believe that the gifts are current but, regard their admisitration as the province of God solely, not to be conjured up by people who are play acting and NOT, in general, to be made a public display.
Bob said on November 9, 2006 at 2:44 pm
I find the pandering by old mainline denominations to Evangelical fervor disturbing.
I grew up in what I felt even then was one of the stodgiest of the stodgy, the Evangelical and Reformed Church, complete with Heidelberg Catechism and a concept of Grace that seemed derived from Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
Part of the experience became ingrained, though; when you enter the sanctuary, shut up, sit down, and assume a reverent manner (some of the older men were so reverent they looked as though they were sound asleep).
In the Presbyterian Congregation where I sometimes attend, there’s so much idle chit-chat right through the prelude and up to the beginning of the service that I sometimes speculate the preacher will soon need a gavel to call the place to order.
Soon after things get under way, there’s the Passing of the Peace. In theory, everyone is supposed to greet those around him/her with something like “The Peace of Christ Be With You.” In practice, there’s lots of disruptive milling around and I seldom hear the prescribed greeting. More often it’s “I just love your tie,” or “Isn’t it a lovely morning?” The disruption sets the tone for the remainder of the service.
A couple of years ago when Presbyterians were celebrating our denomination’s Celtic roots, a worship theme was “Listening for the Heartbeat of God.” I asked the senior pastor, “How are we supposed to hear the heartbeat of God if we never shut up?” I can’t recall the exact answer, but I wasn’t impressed.
I find the whole worship experience so disconcerting that I seldom attend, any more. I’ve thought about seeking a new church home, but haven’t pursued the idea because I’m somewhat introverted and change-averse and because, from what I’ve heard, virtually all the traditional churches now emulate the Evangelicals in an attempt to compete for membership.
nancy said on November 9, 2006 at 3:19 pm
Wow, Ashley. Just found this buried in the dress code:
You may not allow the end of your belt to hang down from the belt-loops resembling a phallus.
I’ve seen dangling belt ends all my life, and never, EVER thought that’s what it looked like. Filthy-minded people, those.
mary said on November 9, 2006 at 3:24 pm
You can add water to gin or vodka but not to ouzo, as I’m sure you found out. Gets all milky looking and resembles the watered down Ricard pastis that polite young ladies in the south of France drink. I remember a particulary weird drunken evening in Montelimar in 1978….
John said on November 9, 2006 at 3:37 pm
“Indirect Horseplay.” This appears to be watching “horseplay” from a distance without doing anything to stop it/being entertained by it.
Isn’t this the chief form of cheap entertainment at most colleges (and in life for that matter)?
ashley said on November 9, 2006 at 4:10 pm
Yeah, Nance, this is the place that called Bob Jones University “too liberal”.
And ouzo mixes nicely with water, but imagine the look of horror on a 13 year old’s face when he sees the clouding in the ouzo bottle!
mary said on November 9, 2006 at 4:16 pm
I guess you had to just finish the whole bottle?
Jennifer said on November 9, 2006 at 4:41 pm
I have plenty to say on the topic at hand, but have to go OT. Nancy, as someone who has written about the Purity Balls before… you should see this scary thing…
Sorry, I’m not a techie… you’ll have to cut and paste.
colleen said on November 9, 2006 at 5:00 pm
Soon after things get under way, there’s the Passing of the Peace. In theory, everyone is supposed to greet those around him/her with something like “The Peace of Christ Be With You.�? In practice, there’s lots of disruptive milling around and I seldom hear the prescribed greeting.
At the Lutheran church we were married in, they just blow right by the peace…heaven forbid congregants actually SPEAK to one another and SHAKE HANDS. Icky! If you’re looking for old fashioned liturgical worship, I can point you in that direction….
alex said on November 9, 2006 at 5:27 pm
I have vague remembrances of The Way. In the 1970s The Way had taken over a quaint old resort near Sylvan Lake in Rome City, Indiana, as its headquarters. I used to pass by it on the way to Howe Military School, the puritanical Episcopalian institution that helped shape me into the devout atheist that I am today with its own wacked-out code of conduct. This included the prohibition of “impure thoughts.” (I guess we were supposed to think of England in the event the faculty or staff performed impure deeds. Cadets these days aren’t submitting to thought control so easily as evidenced by the well-publicized child seduction arrests of one recent former Howe commandant.)
The Way facility was originally known as Kneipp Springs, a sprawling 19th-century campus of interesting buildings that was run by a Catholic order as a “hydrotherapy” spa for the treatment of various illnesses. One can imagine it must have been akin to Dr. Kellogg’s place in nearby Battle Creek that was the model for “The Road to Wellville.” When The Way took the place over, it was regarded with much suspicion by the locals, particularly for its denial of the divinity of Jesus. In the 1990s, The Way departed for new digs in Colorado and I’m not sure who owns the place now.
Danny said on November 9, 2006 at 5:47 pm
Somebody didn’t close the italics tag. unless they change their eveil way, they may be going to H – E – Double-Hockey-Sticks along with Brian.
nancy said on November 9, 2006 at 5:54 pm
Thanks Danny. I just fixed it at the source. I won’t name the culprit, because I’m feeling Christian at the moment.
colleen said on November 9, 2006 at 7:43 pm
It was me, it was me! I put the slashy thing in the wrong place!
May I be forgiven?
Danny said on November 9, 2006 at 8:12 pm
Wellll. Ooooo-kay. I guess.
mary said on November 9, 2006 at 9:38 pm
It was “I.”
Dorothy said on November 10, 2006 at 9:06 am
You guys crack me up.
basset said on November 10, 2006 at 10:56 pm
And from out of the forgotten past comes… White Witch! Takes me back to college radio at WIUS in Bloomington, playing “It’s So Nice To Be Stoned” on the air and thinking we were really getting away with something.
Ricardo said on November 12, 2006 at 11:32 pm
The LA Times Sunday Magazine today had a feature of 37 Southern Californians who beat the odds and made it big. One was Aimee Semple McPherson, the Angelus Temple creating minister. The photo from 1926 that the Times published is from an outdoor sermon. Noticable in the photo is that nearly all of the throng gathered in front are children.
Just go rent “Night of the Hunter”, something I saw as a kid at the movies. Scared me straight. Loosely based on ASM, I believe.