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ANALYSIS: Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion’ film: moving toward ‘Gospel Lite’?

DIAMOND BAR, Calif. (BP)–Politically correct and theologically sensitive critics may accomplish today what non-believers were unable to achieve for 2,000 years — make the Gospel less offensive.

Mel Gibson, “under fire from Jewish groups,” according to Religion News Service, has agreed to “soften” his portrayal of Jews in his upcoming film’s depiction of the death of Jesus Christ.

“The Passion,” which will be released next March, will add sympathetic Jewish characters to the storyline and have them shout unbiblical words of opposition to Jesus’ crucifixion, lest moviegoers get the impression that Jews actually wanted God’s Son put to death.

The movie apparently also will do without the Gospel account of a Jewish mob calling for Jesus’ blood “to be on us and on our children,” according to RNS. “That’s in the Gospel,” the news service quotes the film’s marketing director, Paul Lauer, who added, “It’s not in our film.”

Given the inroads critics already have made and given liberal Hollywood’s antipathy for anything Christian, Christians should pray that the Good News doesn’t end up merely the pretty good news by the time it hits theater screens.

Gibson’s movie, which has been previewed in select private showings, already is widely acclaimed — by Christians — as the most accurate and faithful film depiction of the last hours of Jesus’ life.

As any Christian with a casual familiarity with the Gospels is aware, Jesus’ death was predestined by God and directly resulted from the plotting and insistence of Jews and Jewish leaders, including Judas Iscariot, the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, King Herod, high priests Annas and Caiaphas, and ultimately was carried out on orders from the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who unsuccessfully tried to persuade the Jewish mob that there was no reason to kill Him.

One might imagine contemporary Jews could be a tad sensitive about their ancestors’ roles in the plot and murder, even though Jesus and His followers also were Jews.

Gibson, a devout and conservative Catholic, has explained that he set out to convey “the full horror of what Jesus suffered for our redemption.” But at this rate, by the time the film is released next year, the Passion may be diluted to “Gospel Lite.”

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, is quoted by Religion News Service as saying, “We respect his [Gibson’s] creative rights, but we also believe that creative rights come with responsibilities.”

It would appear that respect extends only if Gibson doesn’t offend Foxman’s concept of Christian “responsibility.” However, Foxman and other Jewish critics show little respect for Gibson’s right — and responsibility — to faithfully portray Holy Scripture.

In short, Gibson’s Jewish critics presume to dictate how faithful Christians must portray Christ’s Word.

The critics’ hubris is astounding.

Imagine the outrage if Christians complained about Jews’ depiction of the Pharaoh as a meany because it reflects poorly on Egyptians. Imagine the huff it would create if Christians insisted that Muslims must portray Muhammad as an apostate blasphemer because he denied Jesus’ divinity. Where were these critics when Martin Scorsese filmed “The Last Temptation of Christ,” a vile and blasphemous portrayal of Jesus’ last days?

It seems Christ-bashing is within the bounds of “responsibility,” while accurately presenting the Gospel is not.

Gibson and Jim Caviezel, the actor who portrays Jesus, have expressed hope that an accurate depiction of the Savior’s agony and suffering will communicate to movie audiences as no film before just how momentous the price was that the Lord paid to save His chosen.

Indeed, Christ took upon Himself all the pain and punishment for all the sins of mankind — past, present and future — so we can be saved eternally. It was no small moment in the story of man. But if critics like the Anti-Defamation League have their way, how much more diluted will this all-important message be? Why let little things like historical accuracy and biblical inerrancy get in the way?

Not surprisingly, Gibson’s appeasement apparently isn’t appeasing enough.

Religion News Service reported that Rabbi A. James Rudin, senior interreligious affairs adviser for the American Jewish Committee, was troubled after viewing a preview of the film. Rabbi Rudin insists that he knows how the Christian Gospels “should” be depicted.

The film “should be more on what killed Jesus, not who killed Him,” Rudin proclaimed.

In short, Foxman, Rudin and other Jewish critics would dictate a non-offensive Gospel to Christians. For anyone familiar with the Gospels, the irony should not be lost. If Jesus had merely toned down His message 2,000 years ago, Judas, Caiaphas and the rest of their ilk would have been much happier too.

The Passion’s pre-release buzz holds promise for believing Christians that finally the story of our Lord will be portrayed faithfully and meaningfully. Indeed, there already are reports of agnostics and Muslims working on the set who converted to Christianity during the production.

“I hope the film has the power to evangelize,” Gibson told Charisma News Service. “Everyone who worked on this movie was changed.”

Mel Gibson might take a cue from the Apostle Paul, “… if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”

In some ways, not much has changed in 2,000 years. Paul told the saints at Corinth, “We preach Christ crucified …,” but that “… to the Jews [it is] a stumbling block.”
Mark Landsbaum is a freelance writer in Diamond Bar, Calif., and a former Los Angeles Times staff writer. He is a member of the Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton. Copyright 2003, Mark Landsbaum. Used by permission.

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  • Mark Landsbaum