The e-mails have subsided to normal levels and Becky Fischer hasn’t received an abusive phone call for a while.
But Fischer is still dealing with the aftereffects of the massive publicity wave that followed the release of the documentary, “Jesus Camp,” which focused on her “Kids on Fire” prayer camps, some of which have been held near Devils Lake.
Fischer, of Bismarck, had been on a dizzying round of talk shows, radio call-in shows, national news shows and interviews after the release of the documentary at several film festivals and in limited theatrical release. During that time, she was forced to disconnect her telephone because of the verbally abusive calls she was getting — people venting their anger at what they consider to be “brainwashing” of children into extremist right-wing religious and political viewpoints.
Initially, filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady asked Fischer if they could film at her camps because of their interest in the topic of children and faith. Fischer, who is ordained through the Church of Christ Triumphant in Missouri, agreed to allow filming.
During the filming, the two told Fischer that the political tone of the film arose when the children were being taught to pray over issues such as abortion and for President Bush.
Fischer said that anyone who knows her would never consider her someone who would hurt or damage children, but her ministry has had to make changes because of the publicity surrounding the film.
Her local children’s ministry has already lost the attendance of a few children, she said. Even parents who support her ministry are concerned about possible risk to their children, she said.
“People have no idea of the viciousness of some people’s reaction,” she said. She was repulsed to see a “disgusting” video left when someone hacked into the Web site of Magnolia Pictures, which produced the film, she said.
Soon after the publicity began, Fischer said she had already decided that it wouldn’t be possible to hold more camps at Devils Lake — the possibility of disruption, infiltration or protest was too great, she said.
“I have a responsibility to keep the children safe.”
That decision was solidified when the camp — which is owned by the Assemblies of God — was vandalized two weeks ago following the release of the movie in Devils Lake, as was the local Assemblies of God Church, she said.
To the camp, which simply rents its facilities to a variety of religious groups, it has been devastating, said camp administrator the Rev. Winston Titus. Though Lakewood rents to 30 or more groups of all denominations, Titus said the staff has fielded phone calls from both sides, threatening to boycott the facility if it does, or doesn’t, rent to Fischer’s group.
“Right now, we just want it to be over,” Titus said. “Any publicity just stirs things up.”
The camp had windows broken and received about $1,500 worth of damage. Police guessed the church’s damage was probably done the same night, Titus said.
Fischer has requested that Magnolia Pictures not release the movie in Bismarck because she’s concerned about the risk of similar incidents at her ministry facilities here, she said. Magnolia Pictures has so far honored her request, she said.
The movie will be out on DVD in a couple of months, anyway, Fischer said; it also is scheduled to open at the Fargo Theater in Fargo on Nov. 17.