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.