The maelstrom surrounding Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” has just gotten uglier.
MSNBC gossip columnist Jeannette Walls reported Tuesday that Mel Gibson said his wife might be damned to hell because she isn’t Catholic.
A reporter for Australia’s Herald Sun allegedly asked Gibson if Protestant beliefs merited salvation.
“There is no salvation for those outside the Church,” Gibson told the reporter, according to Walls. “I believe it.”
Gibson then continued: “Put it this way. My wife is a saint. She’s a much better person than I am. Honestly. She’s, like, Episcopalian, Church of England. She prays, she believes in God, she knows Jesus, she believes in that stuff. And it’s just not fair if she doesn’t make it, she’s better than I am. But that is a pronouncement from the chair. I go with it.”
Gibson is known as a “traditionalist Catholic,” meaning that he rejects findings of the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II, among other things, issued a statement absolving Jews of a deicide charge. That linkage, in addition to reports that Gibson’s father, Hutton, denies the Holocaust, has helped spur charges of anti-Semitism.
Gibson, however, has repeatedly denied accusations that he—or his film—is anti-Semitic.
While controversy has previously swirled around the portrayal of Jews in the film, Gibson’s latest comments about who may and may not be saved expand the debate.
Many evangelical leaders have touted “The Passion of the Christ” as a powerful witnessing tool. One of the marketing strategies—adopted by many churches—promotes the film as “perhaps the best outreach opportunity in 2,000 years.”
The American Tract Society has also produced several resources tying in with the film, calling it a “movie milestone” that will introduce Jesus to non-believers.
Mark Brown, marketing director for Garland, Texas-based ATS, read the MSNBC column and told EthicsDaily.com: “I don’t know if it’s true or not. It sounds kind of like Mel, but I don’t believe everything I read.”
Brown was part of an early group that Gibson asked to screen the film and provide feedback.
“I spent time with him back in August, and that’s not what he was saying back then,” Brown said. “Why would he even be with a group of us to watch the movie and say the things he said if he thought otherwise?”
The National Association of Evangelicals has defended both Gibson and the film, and the NAE Web site currently promotes the film through announcements about movie ticket availability.
Ted Haggard, NAE’s president, issued the following statement in response to the MSNBC column:
“The National Association of Evangelicals is committed to the authority of the Word of God and believes that salvation is a work of God upon the human heart, mind and soul. We believe that salvation is exclusively by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and his redemptive work on the cross, regardless of denomination, background or culture.”
Morris Chapman, head of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee who saw the film in December in a preview in Hendersonville, Tenn., defended Gibson’s film against charges that it is anti-Semitic last week on CNN.
“After seeing the preview, I was stirred to the very depths of my soul,” Chapman said, quoted by Baptist Press. “It is the most graphic, dramatic portrayal of what our Lord Jesus Christ went through than anything I have ever seen.”
Chapman predicted that people viewing the film “will begin to question, ‘Who is Jesus?’ And many of them will find the answer.”
Last Saturday, Gibson appeared in front of several thousand religious community leaders at the evangelical Azusa Pacific University in California to allay fears over the film’s graphic violence, and to ask guests for help in promoting the movie, Associated Press reported.
Given the facts, Brown of the ATS remained cautious.
“What he was asking the group to do—to view the film and then give him feedback—and then relate his own story and then allow us to interact with him personally—it just doesn’t match up with this story,” he said.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.