Saturday night Mike and I watched a DVD called "Jesus Camp." It's a documentary about a Pentecostal bible camp that trains children to be in "God's army" and to "take back America for Christ." The directors created the film in such a way to feel innocuous (the camp director seems so down home and harmless at first...) yet frightening.
It follows three of the children who attend the camp. They are all seriously devout Christians, some of them home schooled because of the evil influence of public school. The scariest child was called Rachael, who had an adorable freckled face and spoke scornfully about what she called "dead churches," where people just sit in their seats and don't stand up and shout "Alleluia!"...and says that God doesn't go to dead churches.
In one scene at the camp, the children are brought to tears because of their tendency to sin...and made to feel that they are living wicked lives outside of church. In another scene, an anti-abortion crusader urges the children to fight abortion and gives each of them a 7-week-sized fetus (although it looked an awful lot more like a baby than most 7-week fetuses do) to carry around in their palms. In that same church, a life-size cutout of George Bush is brought in and the members pray for him to appoint "righteous judges." (The film was made around the time that Bush nominated conservative Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, much to the delight of the pentecostal churches.)
One of the children, Levi, goes with his family to New Life Church in Colorado Springs, where he meets Ted Haggard in the flesh (before he was outed by a male prostitute and resigned from his post).
The film was disturbing for several reasons: (1) it showed how deeply entertwined these types of Christian evangelicals feel their faith is with politics (and it caused me to wonder how they reacted to Barack Obama's election--and that thought truly scares me...), (2) it shows the depth of true intolerance of so many Christians in this country...either you believe what they believe, or you are going straight to hell...there are no gray areas, (3) as a mother, I felt horrible for these children who are being taught that the devil is trying to take over their lives and they must be constantly vigilant to keep that from happening, and (4) these attitudes directly contrast what the Bible says about God's love, grace, forgiveness, and compassion.
I find it fascinating that one hand, much of pop Christianity is centered around praise and devotion, and talks about how wonderful we are because God made us ("God didn't make junk"), yet on the other hand, we are depraved and tempted to sin.
I have some similar thoughts about Catholicism--there is a line in the Eucharist that has always bothered me for the same reason: "I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." Or the concept that you must have confession in order to have communion (I realize that most Catholics do not believe this any longer). Or that you must go to church on "days of obligation," and never get divorced...or use birth control...or fertility methods...or take communion at a non-Catholic church...or be gay or lesbian...or even be a woman who wants to be a priest, God forbid!
It's not that I don't believe in sin; I do. But my concept of sin is much different. To me, sin is hate, injustice, cruelty, violence, betrayal, and lack of compassion toward others. So much of this type of theology is grounded in fear. If we don't believe a certain way or follow the rules, we will go to hell or God will be angry.
Is that the type of God we want to teach our children about? We should be teaching children that they are good and beautiful creatures with the capacity for great things, with no ifs, ands, or buts. Not scaring the shit out of them about the devil, abortion, and the evil forces of the Democratic party.