News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: Who’s responsible?

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–“It is true that during certain historical periods, some factions of the Christian church hurt and killed Jews, but it is also true that in America, Christianity has not been a threat to Jews,” observes Rabbi Daniel Lapin in his book “America’s Real War.”

He goes on to write, “While acknowledging the past, let us concede that obsession with a problem can indeed lead to paranoia.”

The problem to which Rabbi Lapin refers is anti-Semitism, a reality the Jewish people have endured for countless generations. Any rational person would agree that this antagonistic attitude is not only wrong, but it is an insidious evil.

However, as Rabbi Lapin points out, obsession with the problem of anti-Semitism can result in seeing hostility where it does not exist. Such is the case with Mel Gibson’s new movie, “The Passion.”

The Oscar-winning film star’s movie, set for release in early 2004, seeks to portray the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus Christ with as much biblical accuracy as possible. Gibson’s script is based solely on the Gospel accounts of Christ’s ordeal. In an effort to be historically accurate, he even had all the dialogue translated into Aramaic and/or Latin.

Some Jewish groups, like the Anti-Defamation League, are charging Gibson with promoting anti-Semitism. According to a variety of reports, Abraham Foxman, ADL national director has said, “The film unambiguously portrays Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob as the ones responsible for the decision to crucify Jesus.”

Foxman also added, “We are deeply concerned that the film, if released in its present form, will fuel hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism that many responsible churches have worked hard to repudiate.”

Michael Medved, who like Foxman is Jewish, disagrees with the charges of anit-Semitism being hurled at Gibson. The movie critic and radio talk host recently wrote in USA Today, “Of course, even the most responsible, well-intentioned movie treatment of the last hours of Jesus will provoke concern in the Jewish community, because so many millions of Jews have suffered and died over the centuries due to Gospel-based charges that they are ‘Christ killers.’ But the fact that persecutors and bigots have distorted teachings of the New Testament for their own cruel purposes doesn’t mean that those Gospel texts, sacred to all Christians, must be scrapped, revised or ignored in a serious work of cinema.”

Medved is correct. The historical reality is that Jesus Christ was Jewish. His disciples were Jewish as were his detractors. The Gospel accounts reveal that Jesus was found guilty of blasphemy by Jewish religious counsels who then persuaded the Roman official, Pilate, to put him to death because they did not possess the authority to do so themselves.

I think it is accurate to say that Jesus Christ encountered Jews who loved him, Jews who hated him and Jews who were ambivalent toward him. However, it was first-century Jewish leaders, who at the very least felt threatened by him, in concert with Roman secular officials who were responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion.

Are the Jews as a race responsible for the death of Jesus Christ? Are Germans as a race responsible for the Holocaust? Are Japanese people as a race responsible for Pearl Harbor? Are Caucasian people as a race responsible for American slavery? The answer to each previous question is a resounding no!

Do narrow-minded bigots seek to blame the aforementioned for atrocities committed by members of their race? Yes. Does that mean history should be revised, sanitized and ignored? No.

From another perspective, the Jews as a race are responsible for the death of Jesus Christ. But so is every person of every race who has ever lived. Conservative Christians believe that Jesus was crucified because of the sins of the world. More specifically and personally, my sin brought about the death sentence of Jesus Christ. I am responsible for his crucifixion.

“I am not saying there is no such thing as anti-Semitism,” Rabbi Lapin writes. “I am only urging my fellow Jews to determine in a fair-minded manner exactly what we mean when we hurl that slur — to be intellectually honest and carefully selective when we feel we must do so.”

Let’s be fair-minded and intellectually honest. If Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion, is true to the Gospel accounts, then it won’t convey anti-Semitism. What it will depict is God so loving the world that He sent His only begotten Son — to die on the cross — so whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
Boggs’ column appears each Friday in Baptist Press. He is pastor of Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore.

    About the Author

  • Kelly Boggs