"The Passion of The Christ" is a movie about the last 12 hours in the earthly life of Jesus Christ. It will be released in the U.S. on Feb. 25, 2004. [Local Showtimes] Director Mel Gibson says, "My hope is that this movie will affect people on a very profound level and reach them with a message of faith, hope, love and forgiveness."
'Passion' in this sense refers to the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. A 'Passion Play' is an dramatic presentation based on the gospel stories of the Passion. Throughout the Middle Ages, such Passion Plays were used to - among other things - incite hatred against Jews:
Because much of Christian Scriptures were written in polemical style that often portrayed Jews and Jesus--and therefore Judaism and Christianity--as adversaries, a common interpretation of the crucifixion was that the Jewish people were responsible for killing Jesus. According to this interpretation, both the Jews at the time of Jesus and the Jewish people for all time bear a divine curse for the sin of deicide. Throughout nearly 1900 years of Christian-Jewish history, the charge of deicide has led to hatred and violence against Jews of Europe and America, and various forms of anti-Semitic expression. Historically, Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter Sunday) was a period when Jews were most vulnerable and when Christians perpetrated some of the worst violence against their Jewish neighbors.
For this reason, some Jewish leaders and groups have denounced Gibson's movie for the way it allegedly presents the role of Jews in the death of Christ. They claim the movie can, or will, promote anti-semitism - just as Passion Plays did during the Middle Ages.
A small number of Christians - including Franklin Graham and Gary Bauer - agree. However, the vast majority of those who have seen previews of the movie say that The Passion of The Christ does not in any way promote anti-semitism. [...more on this...]
In fact, many Jews agree with radio talk show host, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who writes:
Most American Jews, experiencing warm and gracious interactions each day with their Christian fellow-citizens, would feel awkward trying to explain why so many Jewish organizations seem focused on an agenda hostile to Judeo-Christian values. Many individual Jews have shared with me their embarrassment that groups, ostensibly representing them, attack Passion but are silent about depraved entertainment that encourages killing cops and brutalizing women. Citing artistic freedom, Jewish groups helped protect sacrilegious exhibits such as the anti-Christian feces extravaganza presented by the Brooklyn Museum four years ago. One can hardly blame Christians for assuming that Jews feel artistic freedom is important only when exercised by those hostile toward Christianity. However, this is not how all Jews feel.
From audiences around America, I am encountering bitterness at Jewish organizations insisting that belief in the New Testament is de facto evidence of anti-Semitism. Christians heard Jewish leaders denouncing Gibson for making a movie that follows Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion long before any of them had even seen the movie.
Meanwhile, many Christians plan to use the movie as an outreach (i.e. evangelism) opportunity. Evangelist Greg Laurie says, "I believe The Passion of The Christ may well be one of the most powerful evangelistic tools of the last 100 years, because you have never seen the story of Jesus portrayed this vividly before."
Indeed, sites like the The Passion Outreach Project and PassionOutreach.com include a wealth of tips, materials and background information that help Christians share the movie's message with others.
In what the media describe as a marketing "tie-in made in heaven," churches, ministries and individual Christians are buying thousands of tickets.
Glenn Barth of the Mission America Coalition
, a Christian evangelical ministry, has hardly seen anything like it. "My phone is ringing pretty much from the minute I come into the office," said Barth, who is based in Minneapolis. When the regular lines are busy, "people find me on my cell phone and call me during lunch."
The calls jamming Barth's phones are all about Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." And the pastors, church leaders and campus evangelists on the line all want to know the same thing: How can they plug into outreach efforts for the film, which is scheduled to open nationwide on 2,000 screens Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday?
"There's a buzz in the Christian community across the country about this film that I haven't seen about many events," said Barth, who is Mission America's national facilitator for city and community ministries.
There is, however, considerable concern regarding the movie's graphic and prolonged violence [...more...]
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