Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” hits theaters in less than a month. It will open Feb. 25—Ash Wednesday—on 2,000 screens, finally giving audiences a look at one of the most controversial films in recent memory.
Gibson’s interpretation of the 12 hours before Jesus’ crucifixion has garnered staunch supporters, and detractors, through early script reviews and invitation-only, pre-release screenings.
A group of Catholic and Jewish scholars reviewed an early version of the script and suggested that a film fashioned along those lines would be irresponsible. The group said it was especially concerned that the film would finger the Jews as Christ-killers and rekindle anti-Semitic sentiment.
Controversy threw Gibson on the defensive, and he asserted that neither he nor his film were anti-Semitic. Evangelical Christians leapt to his defense and began pushing the film as a tool for sharing the gospel.
Thus, before the film has even been released, a rift at once rhetorical, cultural and even spiritual is widening between audiences.
Below is a collection of links to resources about the film, the controversy and the conversation about portrayals of Christ’s Passion. The list is hardly exhaustive, but the resources provide different points of view, call on different theologies, possess different motivations and certainly reveal the breadth of thought about this filmed enterprise.
All arguments aside, the best response to any Passion portrayal will be a thoughtful one. In that vein, the Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations, based at Boston College, has compiled an incredibly useful and understandable “study guide for viewers and reviewers” of Passion plays and films. (The guide is also available as a four-page PDF that may be copied and distributed for educational purposes.)
“The Passion story has a long history,” the guide begins. “For Christians, it is a source of life and salvation. For Jews, it has led to condemnation and violent attacks. It is Jesus’ Passion, but it also brings out passion (strong feeling) in those who hear and view it. That passion should be directed to living in the way Jesus taught and should never again be directed against Jews as a group or individually.”
Resources Promoting the Film
“The Passion of the Christ” Official Movie Web Site
The official site has trailers, cast and crew information, recent news articles about the movie (and controversy) and screensavers, desktops and more.
“The Passion of the Christ” Materials
Churches and groups can order “officially licensed fan packs” for promoting the film in their communities.
The Passion Outreach Project
This DVD/CD-ROM combination from Teen Mania Ministries aims to equip youth leaders and youth groups with resources for using the film to explore their own faith and share it with others.
Resources From Groups and Institutions Urging Caution
The ADL, one of the most outspoken critics of the film, has a special section on the film. It includes statements and articles by the ADL’s executive director, Abraham H. Foxman.
American Jewish Committee
The AJC recently issued a press release criticizing the film for upholding “offensive stereotypes about Jews.”
Boston College Center for Christian-Jewish Learning
The center, home to the Christian Scholars Group that authored the aforementioned study guide, has also compiled a useful list of links about the film and controversy.
Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies
This Baltimore-based institute has also gathered some articles about the film, and it will sponsor a viewing and discussion of the film upon its release.
Statements From Religious Bodies and Leaders
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Statement
The ELCA’s Department for Ecumenical Affairs issued a statement Jan. 6. It said, in part, “We can expect that Mr. Gibson’s project will shape or reshape understandings of this central Christian story for millions of viewers. It is imperative that such influence be exercised with due regard for the powerful heritage of the Passion as gospel truth for Christians and as human tragedy for many Jews.” The ECLA also includes a helpful background article by professor and author Carol Schersten LaHurd.
Statements From Southern Baptist Convention Leaders
Morris Chapman, Richard Land and James Draper all gave statements to Baptist Press after screening the film in December. They urged everyone to see the film.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Statement
The USCCB’s Ecumenical and Interreligious Committee issued a clarifying statement last June after Zenit news agency said the committee critiqued an early version of the film script. The committee denied involvement and added, “It is the policy of the Bishops’ Conference to critique films only after they have been presented for review.”
Reform Judaism Statement
Its Commission on Interreligious Affairs has compiled a list of articles about the film, as well as some background information on Passion plays. It also quotes Gibson saying he doesn’t hate anyone, “certainly not Jews. … They are my friends and associates, both in my work and social life.”
Statement From the Vatican
Whether the pope screened the film—and whether he provided any comment—has been its own controversy within the last few days. Some columns reported that the pope said of the film, “It is as it was,” but that statement is now being contested by several parties, including the Vatican press office. That office now offers a statement saying that the pope did indeed screen the film, but that “it is the Holy Father’s custom not to express public judgments on artistic works, judgments which are always open to diverse evaluations of an aesthetic nature.”
Statement From Billy Graham
“The film is faithful to the Bible’s teaching that we are all responsible for Jesus’ death, because we have all sinned,” Graham said after a private screening in November. “It is our sins that caused His death, not any particular group. No one who views this film’s compelling imagery will ever be the same.”
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.