JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)—-Two Baptist churches purchased tickets for all of Missouri’s 197 lawmakers to attend a special showing of “The Passion of The Christ” two days before the movie’s Ash Wednesday debut.
More than 100 came, including House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R.-Warson Woods, and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R.-Cape Girardeau.
First Baptist Church, Festus-Crystal City, sponsored the Senate’s tickets, while Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City, sponsored the House’s.
State Sen. Norma Champion, R.-Springfield, said after the Feb. 23 showing she felt as if her Master, bloodied yet victorious, was near.
“It’s one thing to read the Scripture,” said Champion, the widow of an Assembly of God pastor. “It’s another to feel like you’re actually seeing it.”
House Republicans canceled their caucus that had been scheduled for Monday night. No one seemed to regret it.
“It is a little unusual just to clear the evening and give everyone, in effect, a night off to go see a movie,” said Rep. Allen Icet, R.-Wildwood, who attends the St. Louis-area Ballwin Baptist Church. “I think it’s a very, very good decision,” Icet told The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
Added Brian Baker, R.-Belton and assistant pastor and ministry director at First Baptist Church in Belton, “We felt like it’s part of our job, to try to work around it and to recognize that this is an important social event.”
The much-anticipated film did not disappoint the lawmakers.
“I thought it was probably the best portrayal of what our Lord did for us,” said Rep. Jack Jackson, R.-Wildwood and a former chairman of the deacons at First Baptist Church in Ellisville. “If someone after seeing this movie cannot understand the price that was paid by our Lord for us, you’ve really got to step back and take stock of what you’re thinking.”
Lawmakers were touched in different ways, each recalling specific, yet different details of the movie.
“I loved the way the devil was depicted,” said Rep. Dennis Wood, R.-Kimberling City and a deacon at First Baptist Church in Kimberling City. “That was really different. The reality of the way Christ died was depicted very strongly, but I believe with all of my heart that [the real crucifixion 2,000 years ago] was even stronger than it was portrayed. I don’t know how you could go to a movie like that and not have a greater understanding that He did die for our sins.”
After it was over, Baker found himself discussing the movie in the lobby with a fellow legislator.
“I was just telling one of my colleagues, ‘If this presentation doesn’t put things in perspective for you, and recognize that what we do on a daily basis has such a small impact compared to what Christ did for us, then you truly don’t understand what Christ did.’ It was an amazing depiction.”
Odell Beauchamp, pastor of the Festus-Crystal City church that sponsored the senators’ tickets, got just what he wanted: a movie that transcended party rancor. “It’s Democrats and Republicans, so we’re not picking and choosing,” Beauchamp said. “It’s for everybody to see.”
Sen. Steve Stoll, D.-Festus and a Roman Catholic, said he was shocked by the movie’s violence. He was not offended, just taken by surprise by the graphic brutality.
“During the scourging at the pillar, I thought I was really going to become physically ill,” Stoll said. “I couldn’t watch it at all. You realize how we kind of sanitize some things in religion, but when you think about the events, you realize how brutal they were.”
Because House Democrats chose to caucus, Rep. Trent Skaggs, D.-North Kansas City and a deacon at First Baptist Church in North Kansas City, was unable to attend. He said he appreciated being invited by the church that sponsored the representatives’ tickets, Concord Baptist in Jefferson City, and seemed genuinely frustrated that he was tethered to the chamber.
“A lot of people say it’s a controversial film, but I think it’s just because they don’t want to face up to the reality, the brutality, that Jesus went through,” Skaggs said. “If we didn’t have caucus, I’d be there in a heartbeat.”
Earlier in the day, Speaker Hanaway honored Concord Baptist Church’s pastor, Monte Shinkle, for his role in securing the tickets. Shinkle then prayed for the representatives in the name of the One they were about to see depicted in the movie — the slain Lamb of God.
“Where there is sickness, would You please heal?” Shinkle prayed. “Where there is distress, will You bring peace? Where there is confusion, will You bring guidance? Where there are hard feelings, Lord, will You bring forgiveness? Where there is sin, will You bring conviction and cleansing? Dear God, in this day of great distress in our country, will You please heal our land?”
At the theater, Sen. John Loudon, R.-Ballwin and a member of Ballwin Baptist Church, said watching the movie cleansed him.
“I, for one, am moved to live holier,” Loudon said.
Sen. Champion reiterated that her walk with the Lord was strengthened by what she saw, heard and felt. The movie caused a smattering of patrons to clap at the end, as if they were acknowledging the artistic genius of director Mel Gibson. The burst of applause then gave way to silent reflection.
“I’ve seen many, many films about Jesus, but I’ve never sat through one where I felt like I was actually experiencing it,” Champion said. “It was a very moving experience — not a mental, intellectual kind of thing, but a real experience.”
Rep. Jackson, who earned four Distinguished Flying Crosses in combat as a fighter pilot with the U.S. Marine Corps, could appreciate in a deeply personal way the toughness of the movie.
“This country gives medals of honor to men and women who throw themselves on a hand grenade to save the lives of their friends,” Jackson said. “Instead of a lot of us giving the Lord a medal of honor, we shun Him. We spite Him. I thought about that as I have a son of my own. If I had given my son to do that [dying on a cross], and people had mocked him, I would be furious. Yet we have a loving God.”
Shinkle, the immediate past president of the Missouri Baptist Convention and a longtime pastor in Jefferson City, explained why he wanted his church to give lawmakers an unforgettable night at the movies.
“Even though we are in Jefferson City, we have very little contact with those elected officials who drive in every week from all over the state,” Shinkle said. “We want to be a blessing to them. Many of our people are scattered throughout state government like salt and light. They work for and with these people on a regular basis.
“I believe God has placed believers at virtually every level and department of state government. With all the talk about The Passion of The Christ, this appeared to be a great opportunity to give a positive witness for our Lord and be a blessing to our legislators.”
Beauchamp, whose church supplied the senators with their tickets, agreed.
“I think it’s a tremendous evangelism tool,” Beauchamp said. “For lawmakers to go and see it, I just really believe it will touch their lives. My prayer is that this will impact them in their decisions also.
“We have lost the importance of Jesus in Christianity, the price that He paid for our sins. Anybody who becomes a Christian becomes better, and I’m hoping this will stir a revival. It ought to come from the top down.”
Allen Palmeri is a writer with The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. The Passion of The Christ, rated R for violence, is scheduled to open in theaters Feb. 25. For information on using The Passion in outreach, resources are available on the Web from LifeWay Christian Resources at www.lifeway.com/passion. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SENATOR’S ASSESSMENT.