Skip to comments.'Passion' movie raises religious fervor, fears
Posted on 02/07/2004 7:37:41 AM PST by Valin
Mel Gibson's new film about the crucifixion of Christ is arousing the passions of Northeast Ohio faithful more than two weeks before its Ash Wednesday release.
Several Protestant churches are planning major evangelistic efforts, seeing in "The Passion of the Christ" a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reach the unchurched.
But some Jewish and Christian leaders are warning of the film's potential to promote one of history's cruelest anti-Semitic stereotypes: that Jewish people bear a collective guilt for Jesus' death.
The Diocese of Cleveland sent a February memo to all its parishes asking Catholics to be aware of the potential for anti-Semitism.
On Friday, a trio of prominent Jewish, Catholic and Protestant leaders sent a letter to 300 of their colleagues urging them to ad dress the issues raised by the film in their churches and synagogues.
"As fellow clergy and people of faith, we call upon you to be aware of the dangers the Gibson film poses. We urge you to address these risks forthrightly within your denomination and institution and to educate and sensitize those who may see the film so that they do not take away from it the wrong message," the letter said.
The plea was signed by the Rev. Joseph Hilinski, interfaith director of the Catholic diocese, the Rev. Louise Westfall, pastor of Fairmount Presbyterian Church, and Rabbi Richard Block, senior rabbi of The Temple-Tifereth Israel.
However, other churches see the highly publicized film as an opportunity to reach out to their secular neighbors and revive the faith of their own members.
Evangelical pastors and youth leaders are gathering this afternoon at Parma Baptist Church to participate in a national satellite question-and-answer session with Gibson sponsored by Church Communications Network.
One large local church, Cuyahoga Valley Community Church in Broadview Heights, will launch a two-week campaign Feb. 22 hanging movie-related material on the door knobs of about 20,000 of its neighbors. The packet invites people to follow up seeing the film with a visit to the church.
As its Feb. 25 release date draws near, the controversy surrounding the film and the attention commanded by Gibson are creating a national dialogue over artistic portrayals of the Passion that can be profound religious experiences for Christians but have provoked centuries of suffering for Jewish people.
Gibson, a conservative Catholic, has said he made the film as part of a spiritual calling and expressed hope that it could be used for evangelism.
Promotional materials sent to local churches call the Gibson film "one of the greatest evangelical opportunities of this generation."
However, particularly in the post-Holocaust era, many Christian and Jewish leaders have questioned the effects of performances of the Passion.
Historically, performances have led to violence and persecution by portraying Jewish antagonists of Jesus as almost subhuman and fueling the prejudice associating Judaism with deicide.
Some who have seen early scripts and later screenings of the film expressed concern that the movie revives inaccurate medieval stereotypes of a group of hate-filled Jewish people forcing a weak Roman ruler Pontius Pilate to put Jesus to death.
In their letter, Hilinski, Block and Westfall share their "grave concern" about the film. The three said Gibson has disregarded his film's "hateful antecedents," and they criticized the director for suggesting Jewish concerns about the film reflected antipathy toward Christianity itself.
"The shared commitment of Judaism and Christianity is love, not hate," the three wrote.
John Hexter, director of the Cleveland chapter of the American Jewish Committee, said Friday his organization is concerned the movie damages Jewish-Christian relations "in its unnecessary and destructive imagery of Jews."
The Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland on Thursday expressed hope that the film becomes an opportunity to reinforce Christian-Jewish relations by increasing dialogue and mutual understanding.
In the memo sent to parishes serving more than 800,000 area Catholics, the diocesan Interfaith Commission said it is admirable that the messages of the Gospel are found in movies.
But Catholics also should be aware the church "totally and definitively" rejects the false accusation that the Jewish people are responsible for the death of Jesus.
For their part, evangelical leaders say the film is a powerful, moving depiction of the Gospel affirmation that Jesus died in an act of sacrificial love for all people, and that part of the movie's value is to use it as a teaching tool to reject anti-Semitism.
"The biblical answer to that is God crucified Christ for our sins," said the Rev. Rick Duncan, pastor of Cuyahoga Valley Community Church. "It's not the Jews. It's not the Romans. It's all of us."
Evangelical leaders see in this film the potential to deepen faith and increase the capacity of individuals to love one another and empathize with the suffering of others.
"When we look at the cross, we know God is with us," said the Rev. Bob Armstrong of Bay Presbyterian Church in Bay Village. "And in our moments of greatest suffering we can feel closest to God."
One ought to be past the point of ever being surprised. And yet deep down I suppose I must harbor some hope that someday these clowns will accidentally do something Catholic. So far, however, they have succeeded in maintaining a perfect record: nothing Catholic, ever.
"As fellow clergy and people of faith, we call upon you to be aware of the dangers the Gibson film poses."
I wonder if a more truthful version might not sound like this: "As fellow perverts and faithless apostates, we call upon you to stay away from anything that might prompt you to realize that you have lost the true Catholic faith and have accepted an ersatz substitute. We also warn you to beware of anything that might reveal that you have betrayed Christ the King in order to curry favor with the Lord of the World and his one-world-religion New World Order."
Rev. Joseph Hilinski, interfaith director of the Catholic diocese
He, at least, ought to enjoy the movie since he can study the performance of the first to occupy the position of "interfaith director": Judas Iscariot.
Human beings will fight about anything, but the gasoline of a powerful film does not have to be added to the flames. Gibson is really just a celebrity, like the left-wing ones we are always pooh-poohing. He does not have the learning and the spiritual depth to have given us new insight into Christ. I fear he has caused trouble instead of advancing the kingdom of God.
What type of gnostic garbage are you spewing?
My goodness, the pre-emptive attack on Mel's film continues. Couldn't they at least WAIT until some sort of anti-semetic activity develops after the film comes out, rather than ASSUMING that the film is anti-semetic and that everyone who goes and sees it will automatically hate Jews for "killing" Jesus?
I guess this is a one-way street. It's OK to label a person or a film anti-semetic or a "probable" anti-semetic, but there is obviously no such thing as an anti-Christian. Yet these attacks on Mel and the film are DEFINATELY anti-Christian, in form as well as substance.
If there is going to be a rebirth of anti-semetic attitudes amongst Christians, it won't be because of people watching "The Passion," but because of the incredibly biased and unsubstanitated claims of certain very loud Jewish people AGAINST this film. Rather than preventing anti-semetism, they are, in fact, manufacturing it. "What you fear will come upon you..."
What's even worst, is the horrible theology that is being used to defend this film. No where in the Bible does it state that "we nailed Jesus to the Cross." While it may sound very pious, it is actually very boastful. However, you will find many, many references to the person who really does take FULL RESPONSIBLITY for the death of Jesus: God himself.
"But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (Ro 3:21-26). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faithand this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (Eph 2:1-9). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."
The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (Mt 26:36-42). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
It was God's idea to sacrifice His son for our sins. He did not have to do it. He did it out of His love for us, while we were still sinners. We had nothing to do with it, other than being the objects of God's love. The only thing that sins did and still do is condemn us to everlasting destruction. Only faith in Jesus can wipe away the stain of our sins.
The Romans (Gentiles) put Jesus to death at the accusation of the High Priest and his minions (Jews). But it was God's plan they were fulfilling, no matter what their evil motives were. It is a mistake to say that the Jews were not involved in Jesus' death, as the gospels make it absolutely clear they were, and they must take there fair share of the responsiblity, just as we, the gentiles, must, as reprsented by Rome's role in the crucifixion. No one gets a free pass.
So why aren't the Italians worried about an anti-Roman backlash? If anyone has something to fear from this movie, it would be them...
The artist has taken on a great ambition here, which it seems he is not capable of achieving--and contrary to the last verses of the New Testament, I might add, which constrain us not to add to what is written.
He does not have the learning and the spiritual depth to have given us new insight into Christ.
I doubt very much if he is trying to bring new insights into Christ. He doesn't have to in order for the movie to have an impact(whice is what all serious film makers strive for). All he has to do is tell the story, and leave the "deep insights" up to those of us sitting in the theater.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.