The movie, directed and partially financed by Mel Gibson, has come under attack from Jewish leaders and groups, who claim it will fan anti-semitism in the way it presents the role of Jews in the death of Christ. (See, for example, these news articles: 1, 2, 3.)
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Gibson has refuted that charge. In a March appearance on Eternal Word Television Network, he said: "This is not a Christian versus Jewish thing. '(Jesus) came into the world and it knew him not.' Looking at Christ's crucifixion, I look first at my own culpability in that."
"I'm not anti-Semitic. My Gospels are not anti-Semitic. I've shown it to many Jews and they're like, it's not anti-Semitic. It's interesting that the people who say it's anti-Semitic say that before they saw the film, and they said the same thing after they saw the film."
Paul Lauer, spokesman for Gibson's Icon Productions, states that "Mel abhors anti-Semitism. In no way does his faith endorse hatred or bigotry or anti-Semitism or blame the Jews for the death of Christ."
The vast majority of Christians who have seen previews of the movie echo the sentiments expressed by Billy Graham:
The Rev. Billy Graham gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to Mel Gibson's biblical epic, "The Passion of Christ," after a private screening with the movie star.
The film, which describes the hours before Jesus Christ's crucifixion, has generated complaints from some Jewish leaders, who say it suggests Jews were responsible for Christ's death. Conservative Catholics who have seen the film have called it powerful.
"The film is faithful to the Bible's teaching that we are all responsible for Jesus' death, because we all have sinned," the 85-year-old evangelist said. "It is our sins that caused his death, not any particular group."
Keith Fournier - a constitutional lawyer, a champion of religious liberty and president of both the "Your Catholic Voice Foundation" and "Common Good" - wrote the following after watching a preview presentation:
From the gripping opening scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, to the very human and tender portrayal of the earthly ministry of Jesus, through the betrayal, the arrest, the scourging, the way of the cross, the encounter with the thieves, the surrender on the Cross, until the final scene in the empty tomb, this was not simply a movie; it was an encounter, unlike anything I have ever experienced. In addition to being a masterpiece of film making and an artistic triumph, "The Passion" evoked more deep reflection, sorrow and emotional reaction within me than anything since my wedding, my ordination or the birth of my children. Frankly, I will never be the same.
When the film concluded, this "invitation only" gathering of "movers and shakers" in Washington, D.C. were shaking indeed, but this time from sobbing. I am not sure there was a dry eye in the place. The crowd that had been glad-handing before the film was now eerily silent. No one could speak because words were woefully inadequate. We had experienced a kind of art that is a rarity in life, the kind that makes heaven touch earth.
At the end of the film, after we had all had a chance to recover, a question and answer period ensued. The unanimous praise for the film, from a rather diverse crowd, was as astounding as the compliments were effusive. The questions included the one question that seems to follow this film, even though it has not yet even been released. "Why is this film considered by some to be "anti-Semitic?"
Frankly, having now experienced (you do not "view" this film) "the Passion" it is a question that is impossible to answer. A law professor whom I admire sat in front of me. He raised his hand and responded "After watching this film, I do not understand how anyone can insinuate that it even remotely presents that the Jews killed Jesus. It doesn't." He continued "It made me realize that my sins killed Jesus"
I agree. There is not a scintilla of anti-Semitism to be found anywhere in this powerful film. If there were, I would be among the first to decry it. It faithfully tells the Gospel story in a dramatically beautiful, sensitive and profoundly engaging way. Those who are alleging otherwise have either not seen the film or have another agenda behind their protestations.
This is not a "Christian" film, in the sense that it will appeal only to those who identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ. It is a deeply human, beautiful story that will deeply touch all men and women. It is a profound work of art. Yes, its producer is a Catholic Christian and thankfully has remained faithful to the Gospel text; if that is no longer acceptable behavior than we are all in trouble. History demands that we remain faithful to the story and Christians have a right to tell it. After all, we believe that it is the greatest story ever told and that its' message is for all men and women. The greatest right is the right to hear the truth.
We would all be well advised to remember that the Gospel narratives to which "The Passion" is so faithful were written by Jewish men who followed a Jewish Rabbi whose life and teaching have forever changed the history of the world.
The problem is not the message but those who have distorted it and used it for hate rather than love. The solution is not to censor the message, but rather to promote the kind of gift of love that is Mel Gibson's filmmaking masterpiece, "The Passion". It should be seen by as many people as possible. I intend to do everything I can to make sure that is the case.
Jewish tradition acknowledges that our leaders in first-century Palestine played a role in Jesus' execution. If Gibson is an anti-Semite, so is the Talmud and so is the greatest Jewish sage of the past 1,000 years, Maimonides.
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