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October 16, 2006 at 11:48 pm #1423
Catholic filmmaker finds suspicion about her faith among evangelicals
By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service
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WASHINGTON (CNS) — Heidi Ewing, the Catholic co-director of the new theatrical documentary “Jesus Camp,” said she found some hostility about her religious faith during the making of the film from an unexpected source: a high-profile evangelical minister.
“Jesus Camp” follows the lives of three children — Levi, Rachael and Tory — before and during a North Dakota summer camp led by youth minister Becky Fischer and aimed at deepening the youngsters’ faith.
“My one disturbing encounter was at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs (Colo.) with Pastor Ted Haggard,” head of the National Association of Evangelicals, who is “the senior minister of the church,” Ewing said.
“I was in the service, and we had three cameras rolling, and there were 3,000 people in the church, and my cameraman was on the stage shooting him, and Pastor Ted started teasing the cameraman: ‘Where are you from? England? Do you go to church?'” she recounted.
When the cameraman told Rev. Haggard that he goes to church when he’s in England, the minister said, “So you’re in the Church of England.” The cameraman replied, “No, I’m Catholic,” according to Ewing. “Pastor Ted turned to the congregation — and I have this on tape — in a very mocking tone, he said, ‘Oh, we l-o-o-o-ve the Catholics, don’t we?’ and people started laughing.
“Why would he whack another religion?” she asked. “There was a disparaging way about how everyone reacted. As the leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, he is a representative of 30 million people and a religiously respected person in the movement. For him to joke like that, I was pretty alarmed.”
In a statement on the group’s Web site, Rev. Haggard said, “This movie manipulates facts like a Michael Moore film and works the camera like ‘The Blair Witch Project.’ It’s one more ‘documentary’ that seems to miss the point intentionally.”
Moore has produced a number of documentaries including the controversial 2004 film “Fahrenheit 9/11.” “The Blair Witch Project” was a 1999 low-budget horror movie presented as documentary.
Ewing said she was also disturbed by the comic-book tracts published by Jack Chick Publications in Chino, Calif., which have been a staple among some strains of Protestant proselytizers for decades.
“I did start reading the little Bible tracts the kids would pass out. and we ordered a bunch because the kids always passed them out,” Ewing told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview.
“There were like 30 of them that described the pope as the anti-Christ,” she said. “I was struck by that. I called Becky Fischer and I asked her about that. She said, ‘I have no idea why’ (they would be so anti-Catholic). I called Levi’s father and Rachael’s father, and they said they had no idea, and they would stop ordering Chick tracts. There were extremely upset and apologetic about that.”
Ewing’s co-director, Rachel Grady, said that as a Jew she was subjected to less religious prejudice than Ewing. She told CNS that she saw Israeli flags in all the homes the film crew visited, as many evangelicals support Israel’s cause, but that she was proselytized “quite subtly and very delicately.”
Grady added, “It was surprising to me that even though she (Ewing) was raised a Christian, it seemed to them it was more of an affront to their version of Christianity than to, say, (be) a Jew.”
Ewing grew up in Farmington, Mich., a Detroit suburb, going to Our Lady of Sorrows Parish there. Skilled in five languages, she was senior class president at Mercy High School in next-door Farmington Hills before going to Georgetown University in Washington, where she got a degree from the university’s School of Foreign Service. She never followed up on a foreign service career, though. “I realized I had too big of a mouth to be a diplomat,” she said.
Making “Jesus Camp” helped her understand the evangelical strain of Christianity.
“I grew up going to old St. Mary’s Church in downtown Detroit with my father. We’d go to the Latin Mass. Even in the more contemporary churches, there’s the water and the wine and the host and the icons and the ritual behind the symbolism, and there’s incense and stained glass — and these things don’t exist in the evangelical church. The thing (building) is totally devoid of iconography. It looks more like a convention hall,” Ewing said.
“I understand the appeal to contemporary people in the evangelical church because it’s not intimidating,” she added. “There’s a coffee shop inside. There’s disco ball and smoke machines on the stage. It could only be this way in America.”
In his review, David DiCerto, a critic for the U.S. bishops’ Office for Film & Broadcasting, said, “The film leans toward” a harmful indoctrination of young minds instead of “instilling passionately held values.” Even while “those who appear on screen are not necessarily representative of the evangelical community as a whole,” DiCerto added, “the picture painted is nevertheless sobering.”
“Jesus Camp” was classified by the film office as A-II — adults and adolescents — for “some emotionally intense images and mature discussions.”
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