Documentary Explores Child Evangelists

Meet Kendall Boutwell, of Brookhaven Charity Baptist Church, Mississippi:

You look at the whole Bible, Genesis to Revelation, God has used children. God’s used animals, I mean, he used a donkey, a donkey spoke and saved a man’s life.

It’s been an interesting week for religion documentaries on British TV – as well as the programme I blogged yesterday, there was also a fascinating show on Channel 4 on the subject of child evangelists. This was Baby Bible Bashers, part of the Cutting Edge strand and made by BAFTA-winner Amelia Hann. The documentary explores the lives of three children raised to be preachers from the crib.

First we meet seven-year-old Samuel Boutwell in Brookhaven; from his church’s website, it seems that the young evangelist came to the notice of the American media a few months ago. The crew follows Samuel and his parents Kendall and Vicki as they picket an abortion clinic and go on tour towards New York, dispensing sermons and Jack Chick tracts as they go. Young Boutwell has been in fear of hell since he first disobeyed his mother as a toddler, and he is keen to save as many souls as possible:

If you don’t repent you’re all going to hell. Like I said, worms’ll be eating, worms’ll be down there. Theys going be long worms.

The Boutwell family and their support team take in a Philadelphia casino and Washington DC before finally arriving in New York, where Samuel is at first perplexed by the mockers and scoffers unworried by damnation and bewildered by a Hare Krishna procession and rival preachers, but his cute factor wins him a polite hearing from curious onlookers as he delivers an anti-evolution speech while perched on a wall. Alas, his father’s sandwich board condemning homosexuals to hell goes down rather less well, and the child is reduced to tears and calling for his mother as his father is harangued by an angry hippy.

Secondly there’s nine-year-old “Little Man of God” Terry Durham of Fort Lauderdale, who has his own website here. Durham was ordained as a minister by his stern grandmother Sharon Monroe at the age of six, and under her instruction he visits African-American neo-Pentecostal churches to preach, heal the sick (apparently, he can cure any ailment), and sign autographs. Monroe keeps a tight reign on her grandson, taking him to task when she thinks his performances could have been better. He probably needs a firm hand; as he explains to the film crew

The reason why I know that God’s speaking to me [is] that I can hear his voice. Sometimes he sounds like me, but I say “no”, it’s God.

Terry’s manager is his father Todd Durham, who has good line in T-Shirts and DVDs promoting the prodigy. Todd Durham is frank about his rather worldly ambitions for his son – as well as a church of 30,000, he expects that

…within the next three years this empire [will be] internationally recognised and renowned.

The programme describes Terry – who wears clerical robes – as “the world’s youngest minister”. That may be so, but it doesn’t match the achievement of soul legend Solomon Burke, who was a bishop from the day he was born.

The third example is Ana Carolina Dias (official website here), a twelve-year-old Brazilian who has been preaching since the age of three. Dias is a celebrity in Brazil, and she goes preaching with her father in the most notorious prison in Rio de Janeiro. She also has visions and engages in spiritual warfare, and is particularly close to her father Ezequiel, who was a wife-beating drunk and prison inmate himself before God intervened. Now he says that he’s the happiest father in the world; Ana responds that she has “a father in heaven and my father on earth”.

This isn’t the first British documentary on the subject; back in 1995 Christopher Morris made a study for the BBC of a travelling child evangelist named Shaun Walters. Five years later he followed this up with The Halleujah Kids, to see how Walters had matured. He found a young man who was mentally troubled, painfully withdrawn and paranoid but still hoping one day to pastor a mega-church. One wonders what a “ten years later” sequel to Baby Bible Bashers would look like.

One Response

  1. How revolting! It’s like their relatives are pimping them for God.

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