JESUS CAMP responds to Ted Haggard
As the directors of the film Jesus Camp we feel the need to respond to Pastor Ted Haggard’s comments on our documentary. As a co-directing team, we embark on each new project with two qualities: a healthy amount of curiosity—we’ll be living and breathing the subject for over a year—and with the utmost respect for our subjects. We make films to not just simply entertain, but as a way to learn about the myriad different lifestyles that together form the human experience. We see making non-fiction films as a way for our viewers and ourselves to connect with others.
When we heard that that Pastor Haggard has described us as having an “agenda” we were alarmed. Of course, there are plenty of filmmakers that do make films with a political or personal agenda, but our conscience is clear that we aren’t among them. We filmed with an open-mind and with a beginner’s eye (neither of us are Evangelicals) that allowed the story to emerge in a natural way.
As for accusing us of portraying our protagonists (people whom we’ve grown close to over the past year) “sinister,” this is a disturbing charge. Perhaps Pastor Haggard is projecting his own point of view on the film’s characters, as we absolutely do not see them as such, and went out of our way too make sure that they were shown in a human, three-dimensional light. The children come across as kind, passionate and intelligent. Pastor Becky Fischer is a very likeable and real person, both on and off the screen.
Pastor Haggard is the only person in Jesus Camp who has a problem with how he was portrayed, and with the film as a whole. All the others in the movie feel it is accurate and fair and are excited about people seeing it. The subjects in the film very much identify themselves as part of the Evangelical family and are hurt and stung by Pastor Haggard's wholesale and somewhat venomous rejection of them and the film. While they do identify themselves as Charismatics and Pentecostals, they feel (and we agree) that they have much more in common with the greater Evangelical movement—their morals, values, and political beliefs—than they have differences. For Pastor Haggard to marginalize and dismiss them by labeling them a “sub-group” seems unfair, mean spirited and unproductive.
As a religious leader, why wouldn’t Pastor Haggard take this film as an opportunity to discuss differences and similarities amongst Evangelicals and the various styles of worship and communication? Why not embrace the film as a tool for discussion about raising children with deep faith and keeping them in the church as young adults? Why miss an opportunity to address any misunderstandings secular Americans may have about the aims of the more politically involved arm of the Evangelical movement, of which Pastor Haggard is very active?
We taped at New Life Church for an entire day. Pastor Haggard played with the camera and made jokes through both sermons. We made sure to indicate in the film (from the audience’s laughter), that he was joking around with his parishioners. After the sermons he met and spoke to a child in our film who has dreams of preaching and gave him advice, which we show in a very straightforward way. His interview was also filmed modestly, sitting on the alter after his sermon. We did not put words in his mouth nor did we instruct him to utter the statement that has garnered him so much attention: “If the Evangelicals vote, they determine the election.” In fact, we were very careful not to include other material from his sermons that were more inflammatory in nature and could perhaps be interpreted as divisive.
Perhaps Pastor Ted regrets how he comes off in the film and is expressing it by criticizing us, Becky, and the children in the film. What he calls “negative” and not “normative” we see as simply true and accurate. As for us, we will continue to share “Jesus Camp,” with people from all backgrounds and beliefs and learn from the profound discussions that result from this film.