By Josiah Hesse
Ten-year-old Andrew Sommerkamp, with his shy demeanor and floppy blond hair, mounts the stage of the Kids On Fire church camp, and nervously tells the crowd that he’s struggling with his belief in God. He’d spent days watching his fellow Christian campers weep uncontrollably, repenting and begging God’s forgiveness, and he has a confession to share.
“I just want to talk about belief in God … I’ve been having a hard time with it,” he says, staring at the ground, scared and confused as the other kids look around at each other with anxiety in their eyes. “To believe in God is hard because you don’t see him, you don’t know him much. Sometimes I don’t even believe what the Bible says. It makes me a faker, it makes me feel guilty and bad.”
It’s one of several emotionally exhausting scenes in the 2006 documentary, Jesus Camp. Over the course of its celebrated and contested life, Jesus Camp has become a Rorschach test for audiences: some evangelicals see it as a fair representation of their culture, while secular, left-leaning audiences typically see an expose against a malicious force of right-wing indoctrination, often walking away with one angry phrase on their lips: child abuse.
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