Constantine’s Sword in Jesus Camp
The Redhead and I have been on a documentary binge, courtesy of the Netflix streaming service. Over the last two day’s we’ve watched both Constantine’s Sword and Jesus Camp. Both films are a couple years old, and they both feature profiles of Ted Haggard, the founder of Colorado Springs’ New Life Church and adviser to former President Dubya. Haggard has now been deposed from his ministry for being a closeted homosexual, and his political pals have fallen out of power, so both films’ attempts to make the goofy jerk into some kind of boogieman now look a bit shrill and humorous.
Constantine’s Sword is the lesser of the two films, but the most interesting for the purposes of this blog. The film is an gauzy, poorly-focused adaptation of author James Carroll’s book by the same name. The book and the movie both focus on the Catholic Church’s antagonizing of and antipathy for the Jews, a well-worn subject by now. But despite its tenuous connection to the Air Force Academy evangelical scandal and the largely unsatisfactory depiction of Carroll’s personal quest of faith, the movie did alert me to one thing I was previously unaware of – the persecution of the Jews in the Rhineland in the First Crusade. This got me thinking. What is it with the Rhine River Valley and religious persecutions? Is it just because the area was a medieval European superhighway? Or is there something in the culture of the region that perpetuated the horrors of the First Crusade, the persecution of the Anabaptists and the rise of Nazism?
Jesus Camp (watch it here) is a more skillful and emotionally manipulative film, depicting the evangelical brainwashing of young children. The subject matter is painfully close to my childhood, so watching this film was emotionally taxing. There are deep parallels between the evangelical program of isolation and indoctrination depicted in the movie and that of plain Anabaptist communities such as the Stauffer Mennonites and the Amish. Both religions preach the evils of all things outside and other than the insular subculture, and both emphasize the sacrifice of one’s individuality to the cause of the group. Typical cult stuff. However, the disturbing difference is that Anabaptists have withdrawn from society and are determined to leave peacefully, whereas the evangelicals depicted in the movie are determined to conquer government and train their children for war.