Icon Productions has partnered with Outreach, Inc. to help market Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” to faith communities as an evangelistic tool.

Gibson, Icon’s founder and director of the movie opening Feb. 25, is featured on www.thepassionoutreach.com, a companion site for the film’s official site at www.thepassionofchrist.com.

The outreach site claims that the movie is “perhaps the best outreach opportunity in 2,000 years.” It includes: a lengthy welcome message from Outreach CEO Scott Evans; basic information about the movie; quotes from Christian leaders who have seen (and liked) the film; and ideas and resources for using the film as an outreach tool.

“I believe that Mel Gibson’s masterful creation has God’s anointing on it,” wrote Evans in his welcome message on the site. “It’s almost as if someone traveled through time with a video camera, captured the original crucifixion, and returned to share it with our world today.”

The site also offers quotes and endorsements from more than 30 Christian leaders and celebrities.

Billy Graham said, “Every time I preach or speak about the Cross, the things I saw on the screen will be on my heart and mind.”

Young Life President Denny Rydberg said, “I think the film will have mass appeal to people of any faith or no particular faith, simply because of the quality of the production and the historical nature of the content.”

Author and Southern Baptist pastor Rick Warren called the film “brilliant, biblical—a masterpiece.”

The site gives more than a dozen outreach ideas using the film, including purchasing blocs of tickets to the movie, preaching a sermon series on the passion of Christ, and sending postcards about the movie (available at the Web site) to others in your community.

One can also sign up for a free, weekly e-newsletter containing more ideas and information about the film.

The Web site is essentially one-stop shopping for any church or group looking to use the film as an evangelistic tool, and in this way it succeeds remarkably.

This grassroots marketing strategy is both slick and emotional—and it’s easy to forget that the mortal behind all this is Mel Gibson: one of Hollywood’s most bankable actors.

“My hope is that this movie will affect people on a very profound level,” Gibson says on the site, “and reach them with a message of faith, hope, love and forgiveness.”

The site also downplays negative reactions to the film, including that of the Anti-Defamation League, which based on a screening in August voiced concern that the movie might fuel anti-Semitism by reinforcing the notion that Jews are collectively responsible for Jesus’ death.

“Most negative reactions have come from those who have not yet seen the film,” says the Passion Outreach site. “Pre-production screenings have been shown by invitation only.”

Passion plays—dramatic presentations of the last hours of Jesus’ life–have often been associated with violence against Jews in church history. The Roman Catholic Church in 1965 at its Second Vatican Council officially repudiated the deicide charge and all forms of anti-Semitism.

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

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