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The Passion: NY Times Squeeze Play

The NY Times’ view of Mel Gibson’s new film The Passion is clearly not a positive one. Not even taking into account their reviewer’s mostly negative reation, the paper subjects Gibson to something of a “hammer and anvil” squeeze between the religious community and Hollywood.

Their “interfaith panel” reacts:

    An interfaith panel of eight Christian and Jewish clergy members and laypeople who gathered to watch “The Passion of the Christ” on Monday night admitted they had very different expectations for it. The Greek Orthodox clergyman said he was predisposed to like it; the Methodist minister and the Roman Catholic priest were curious, but wary of its claims of Gospel authenticity; and the Jews were afraid that it would inflame anti-Semitism.

    But after the showing, in a late-night discussion around a table at the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, the panel members were in full agreement: they were disturbed by what they had seen. They said the movie – which was produced, directed and largely financed by the actor Mel Gibson – deviated in bizarre ways from the Gospel accounts, fell flat emotionally and was numbingly violent.

    The Christians said they had been dismayed to see the inspiring prophet Jesus reduced to a mere victim. The Jews said they were horrified to see the Jewish high priests rendered as bloodthirsty schemers demanding Jesus’ death over the protests of a sympathetic Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor.

    ….The Rev. Philip L. Blackwell, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church, said: “I found myself distanced from Jesus because of the violence. I could not identify with him.”

    He and others said they checked their watches during the showing because they found it tedious.

    ….Mr. Gibson has depicted his film as a true recounting of the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life. But the Christian and Jewish clergy at the table were troubled by embellishments that they said had no basis in Scripture.

    Among them: Jesus is taken to the temple to be condemned by the priests. A raven plucks out the eye of the thief being crucified on the cross next to Jesus. And the wife of Pontius Pilate brings a pile of fresh linens to Mary to wipe Jesus’ blood from the ground after he is whipped by sadistic Roman soldiers. The group agreed that the gesture underscored the film’s sympathetic treatment of a Roman governor so brutal he was eventually recalled from his post.

    The Very Rev. Demetri C. Kantzavelos, chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Chicago, was disturbed that the actors speak Latin, and not Greek, the lingua franca. Inaccuracies like these, he said, undermine Mr. Gibson’s claims to authenticity.

    “I came predisposed to like it,” Father Kantzavelos said. “I really wanted to like the movie, and I don’t.”

    He and the other Christian clergy members agreed that the movie was based on a “theology of atonement” familiar to evangelicals, one that emphasizes Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice over his resurrection.

    ….Mr. Blackwell, the Methodist pastor said: “If your theology is blood, and you’re washed clean in the blood, then the more blood and suffering the better because the more salvation there is in it. If that’s your theology, the more stripes, the more you are healed.

    “For me the question is: Is unrelenting violence redemptive?” Mr. Blackwell said. “What happened to the revelatory preaching of Jesus and his love?”

As a Lutheran, I am going to be predisposed against a “theology of atonement” and a sea of blood, but I accept that this is a personal issue.

After their panel of clergy had questioned Gibson’s theology and their reviewer his filmmaking acumen, today they published a story from his career perspective:

    Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, the principals of DreamWorks, have privately expressed anger over the film, said an executive close to the two men.

    The chairmen of two other major studios said they would avoid working with Mr. Gibson because of “The Passion of the Christ” and the star’s remarks surrounding its release.

    Neither of the chairmen would speak for attribution, but as one explained: “It doesn’t matter what I say. It’ll matter what I do. I will do something. I won’t hire him. I won’t support anything he’s part of. Personally that’s all I can do.”

    The chairman said he was angry not just because of what he had read about the film and its portrayal of Jews in relation to the death of Jesus, but because of Mr. Gibson’s remarks defending his father, Hutton Gibson. Last week in a radio interview the elder Mr. Gibson repeated his contention that the Holocaust was “all – maybe not all fiction – but most of it is.” Asked about his father’s Holocaust denial in an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC, the movie star told her to “leave it alone.”

    ….Amid the daily dealings of Hollywood, the film and the star have been fodder for unfavorable gossip. Dustin Hoffman has talked to friends about what he called Mr. Gibson’s “strangeness” during the ABC interview. The producer Mike Medavoy said Mr. Gibson’s religious zealotry made him feel uncomfortable. Mr. Hoffman is Jewish; Mr. Medavoy is the child of Holocaust survivors.

    ….Melisa Richter, a publicist who worked for one of the largest Christian movie production houses in the country, Cloud Ten Pictures, wrote in an e-mail message that the film “feeds into the culture of anti-Semitism that is out there, repeating it again and again in a popular format (the film medium), lacking vital historical context and background.”

    Several prominent people interviewed for this article said they were curious about the film but would not buy tickets to see it.

    Still, some of Mr. Gibson’s Jewish friends have been defending him and the movie. The producer Dean Devlin, who is Jewish, said, “It’s a phenomenal movie about love and forgiveness, and I personally didn’t find it anti-Semitic whatsoever.”

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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