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Chapman, rabbi debate ‘Passion,’ anti-Semitism on CNN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Morris H. Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, defended “The Passion of The Christ” on CNN Feb. 6, saying the film is not anti-Semitic because people who love Christ love the Jewish nation.

Chapman was a guest of CNN anchor Daryn Kagan along with Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles on “CNN Live Today.”

Kagan first asked Chapman how some Christians see the Mel Gibson film as an opportunity to spread the Word of God.

“After seeing the preview, I was stirred to the very depths of my soul,” said Chapman, who was part of a preview of the film at First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., in December. “It is the most graphic, dramatic portrayal of what our Lord Jesus Christ went through than anything I have ever seen.

“To watch Jesus’ back beaten bit by bit by the cat-o’-nine-tails was just almost unbearable. And you just can’t go to the film and remain unaffected. I believe that people who see the film will begin to question, ‘Who is Jesus?’ And many of them will find the answer.”

Hier said he had seen the film twice and came away with a very different impression than Chapman.

“I have never seen a more negative portrayal of Jews than in this film,” Hier said. “I’m not talking about the high priests only — all Jews. They never have an intelligent thing to say in a two-hour film. The Romans are made to look good.

“The audience will have only one conclusion: If the Romans look good, with the exception of the four whippers, and the Jews look so bad, who is responsible for this terrible inhumanity inflicted on Jesus? And they will only conclude that it was the Jews collectively, which will stir anti-Semitic feelings, even if it’s not immediate, all over the world.”

Kagan then asked Chapman if it’s possible that the film is a moving depiction of the crucifixion of Christ but also includes anti-Semitism.

“Well, I think that thought is in the hearing of the one who listens,” Chapman replied.

The CNN anchor asked if Chapman was calling Hier anti-Semitic.

Chapman said he was absolutely not calling anyone anti-Semitic. He said people can either focus on a negative aspect of what took place in history or on the real message of the film, which is that “Jesus Christ died for our sins.”

Kagan asked Chapman if he was talking about history as it is depicted in the film, that all Jews at that time were bad and the Romans were good.

“Absolutely not,” Chapman said. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to the world. He came to die for us. And in fact [God] sent His Son through the Israelites. Jesus Himself was a Jew. People who love Christ love the Jewish nation.”

Kagan asked Hier if it is possible in the broad scope of the movie world that there is room for some people to be touched spiritually by The Passion but not others.

“There have been many films made about Jesus,” Hier said. “None will have the reaction from Jews that this film will have because the graphic brutality; the violence in the film is unprecedented. And it’s directed only on one people. There can be no misjudgment about this. All the Jews in this film are deemed guilty.”

Hier added, “There’s a very negative portrayal of Jews and very unfair.”

Chapman said he disagreed with the rabbi at that point. “The fact of the matter is that Christ died for all our sins,” the SBC leader said. “We are all responsible for putting Christ on the cross. In Isaiah 53 the Bible says that ‘the Lord hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.’ The New Testament says ‘for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ And so the Jewish people didn’t put Him to death, the Romans didn’t put Him to death. We all put Him to death.”

Chapman added that, as he saw it, the Romans were beating Jesus in the film. The fact that some Jews were calling for the crucifixion is just a fact of history, Chapman said.

“That is not the film I saw,” Hier replied, with Kagan giving the rabbi the final word. “The Roman authorities, from Pontius Pilate down, the generals, the captains were portrayed as sensitive and nice people, with the exception of the four whippers. And there can only be one — in my view there can only be one interpretation. At that time, the main people responsible for the terrible inhumanity inflicted on Jesus were the Jews, and that is an unfair and a distorted view of history.”

The Passion of The Christ is set to open in 2,000 theaters nationwide Feb. 25.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: PRESENTING THE GOSPEL ON CNN and DEBATING ‘THE PASSION.’ For information on using The Passion in outreach, resources are available on the Web from LifeWay Christian Resources at www.lifeway.com/passion.

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  • Erin Curry