Mel Gibson has long been accustomed to the adulation of the crowds. For years a Hollywood box-office favorite, he has captured numerous coveted leading man roles. With each successive film, both his bank account and his fan base have grown.

His latest film foray, while generating nationwide enthusiasm and interest, has also raised the voices of some critics.

“The Passion of the Christ,” which opens in theaters Feb. 25, depicts the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life. This time, Gibson goes behind the camera to direct, rather than star.

Critics and fans, most of whom have not yet seen the film, have for months been engaged in debate over the film. At issue are whether the depiction of the Jews’ role in Jesus’ death could incite anti-Semitism and whether the dramatization of Jesus’ crucifixion is too violent.

In an interview with Peggy Noonan, Gibson said: “It’s interesting that many of the criticisms that have been leveled at me—they think that I just came out of a vacuum with this. I have talked to literally thousands of learned and biblical scholars over the last 12 years. I just didn’t make it up, you know.”

He acknowledged that the controversy surrounding the film took him somewhat by surprise. “I expected some level of turbulence, because whenever one delves into religion and politics—people’s deeply held beliefs—you’re going to stir things up.”

Gibson told Diane Sawyer of ABC News that those “who have a problem with me don’t really have a problem with me in this film. They have a problem with the four Gospels. That’s where their problem is.”

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, has expressed concern that the film “has the potential to fuel anti-Semitism, to reinforce it.” He did say, however, that he believes neither Gibson nor the film is anti-Semitic.

“This is his vision, his faith; he’s a true believer, and I respect that,” Foxman said. “But there are times that there are unintended consequences.”

Religion News Service reported that Gibson did delete a controversial scene to which both Christian and Jewish leaders had objected. It drew from the “blood curse” recorded in Matthew’s Gospel that some have used for centuries to hold all Jews accountable for Jesus’ death. Other flashback scenes, reportedly added after the main filming was completed, depict Jesus saying that he faced death “of my own accord.”

Those who have viewed film agree that many of its scenes are graphic and excessively violent. Gibson admitted that it is “very violent” but advised, “If you don’t like it, don’t go.

“I wanted it to be shocking,” he said, adding that he wanted viewers to see the enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice and the magnitude of his love and forgiveness.

“Let’s talk,” Gibson stressed. “People are asking questions about things that have been buried a long time. I hope it inspires introspection, and I think it does.”

Foxman joined Gibson in expressing the desire for dialogue. “Maybe when it’s all over, in a sobering manner, we’ll be able to come back and look each other in the face and say, ‘We have to deal with this hatred that’s still out there.'”

Wise leaders will take a lesson from the conversation among Gibson, Foxman and the voices of the critics as they debate this film and will apply it to their areas of influence: Listen. Listen to what people say, even—perhaps especially—when they are saying things you don’t want to hear.

Rather than allowing the thunderous adulation of the cheering crowds to suppress the cautious counsel of critics, faithful leaders include in their inner circle of advisers those who are brave enough to tell them what they don’t want to hear.

Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.

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