Southern Baptist leaders who attended a screening of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ praised the film's power to grip even the most uninterested, unbelieving viewer.
"I have been unable to erase from my mind the scene of the beating given Jesus by Roman guards," Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, said in a statement to Baptist Press after a December screening in the Nashville area. "It was gruesome. It jarred my sensibilities. The sight of Jesus' back after the cat of nine tails had torn bit by bit into His flesh was almost unbearable. It was so real I was almost certain the audience around me had given a collective gasp, sinking into their seats, shrinking from the horror of such excruciating pain."
The screening at First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, was hosted by Ricky Skaggs, and the audience consisted mostly of artists and executives from the local music industry.
After the screening, Chapman told Gibson he would be praying that The Passion of the Christ would become to audiences in the United States what the JESUS film has become to people all over the world.
"In my opinion, God may well transform this film into a mighty witnessing tool for reaching people in America who may never have been reached in any other way," Chapman said. "All Christians in this nation should be praying for the movie to be a huge commercial success because it will be difficult for a person to see it and walk away unaffected by what has been seen and heard."
The film is scheduled to open in theaters February 25.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said The Passion of the Christ was the most powerful and moving experience he has ever had as a moviegoer.
"The graphic portrayal of the brutal death of our Lord and Savior is an unforgettable and indelible reminder of the horrendously high cost Jesus paid to deliver us from sin's terrible penalty," he said. "The Passion is not only a work of artistic brilliance but also the product of deep devotion of a man whose life has been profoundly changed and influenced by Jesus."
Gibson shared his testimony after the screening and explained that he was convinced God wanted him to bring the gospel to the big screen in such a way that the average person would have an opportunity to see what Jesus had done for him. The film is the culmination of twelve years of dreaming and working toward its completion.
James T. Draper, Jr., president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, said it is obvious that the film is Gibson's passion, and he does a remarkable job with it.
"For viewers of The Passion of the Christ, it is a journey into inexpressible reality," Draper said. "Few Christians today have any real sense of what took place when Jesus Christ was crucified. The brutality, anger, hatred, and arrogance of His enemies and the genuineness of His mission, His passion, grip the viewer in a visceral way.
"No one can help but be affected by the sacrifice He made. It is precise, vividly honest, and graphic in portraying the sufferings of our Lord," Draper continued. "This is a movie that Christians need to see to be reminded of the price paid for our salvation, and it is a movie that Christians need to use to introduce these truths to those who have not yet met Jesus Christ."
Chapman, Land, and Draper urge everyone to see The Passion of the Christ.
"God may already be saying to us, 'I want to empower Southern Baptists to lead in a great spiritual awakening in this nation,'" Chapman said. "The production of this highly professional film is evidence, I believe, that God is empowering others to kneel beside us and pray that He will awaken the sleeping giant in America — the church — and draw all men to Himself."
Editor's Note: Some churches and associations are planning to incorporate the release of The Passion into an organized, evangelistic outreach. What an opportunity for your church members to pray for lost friends and family members, invite them to the movie, then follow-up with an invitation to receive Christ as Savior and Lord!