In the Autumn 04 Issue 11 edition of ‘The Word’ – the magazine of Carnmoney Presbyterian Church – there is an article on page 12 dealing with the movie ‘The Passion of The Christ’. The article is written by David Ferguson who is listed on page 1 as being a member of a 9-strong Editorial Team. Herewith is the full text of the article:-
‘It’s been a little while since the release of this Mel Gibson film, but I think that even now I would be jumping the gun if I suggested that opinions about it have begun to mellow. Jews are still hot under the collar about Hollywood turbo-charged anti-semitism. Many Protestants, especially here in Ulster still see it as a piece of pro-Catholic propaganda. (Isn’t it interesting how so many people have such strong opinions about something they’d never even seen?) Then there is the violence and the whole business of religion and entertainment being mixed together.
Are these criticisms valid though? Let’s take them one at a time. The film covers a very short period: from Christ’s prayers in Gethsemane to his death on the cross. During that time, not many of the Jews did anything very commendable; not even his disciples. The women who followed him stood by him, but they couldn’t actually do anything except weep. That isn’t anti-semitism; that’s just the way it happened. Even if Mel Gibson had wanted to show the Jews in a kinder light, he wouldn’t have had much to work with.
Secondly, Mel Gibson is a Roman Catholic. It isn’t the least bit surprising that he should be interested in having, every so often, a quick glance at events through the eyes of Mary. I’m sure that any number of Protestants have, like Gibson, read the scriptures and wondered what Mary must have been feeling as she watched her son being tortured and murdered. It isn’t pro-Catholic to wonder.
The violence is a more difficult issue. Yet even there it’s not hard to see where Gibson is coming from. He wanted to show that Jesus was a real man who suffered real pain for us; and that would be defeated by sanitising the story. In any case it is a bit hypocritical of our society to complain about violence when it has been our steady diet for years on end, from the lorry-loads of dead soldiers, gangsters, cowboys and Indians in the films of ther Forties and Fifties, all the way to the horribly realistic thrillers and action movies of the present day. Judged against some of these, Gibson’s film would have to be pretty graphic to have any shock value.
As for the problems arising from entertainment mixing with religion, this is not a new issue. Hundreds of years ago many of the Puritans disapproved of the theatre and even of printed fiction. More recently being “good living” often meant not going to the cinema. Given that Mel Gibson wanted to tell this story couldn’t he have at least stuck to scripture and not added in bits of his own? Well, the scriptures don’t give every single detail of those last 24 hours; just the ones the Gospel writers thought were important. This means that directors and actors have no option but to fill in the blanks themselves and ask questions like, “What happened between this passage and that one? Why did Jesus say that at that particular moment? What tone of voice did he use when he said such and such a line?”…and so on. Even the minister has to consider things like these when he reads aloud from scripture on Sunday mornings. Show business has a wayof creeping in no matter how you try to keep it out. So if even preaching can sometimes have a theatrical element, why can’t the movie theatre preach now and again?
Through a past connection with Carnmoney Presbyterian Church that will soon become obvious I have today sent the following letter to the editor of their church magazine in the hope that he might print it in their next issue of ‘The Word’ by way of response. This is the full text of my letter.
Although I am not a member of Carnmoney Presbyterian Church, perhaps the fact that I was married in it some 17+ years ago may qualify me to pen a response to the article by David Ferguson on ‘The Passion of The Christ’ [The Word – Issue 11]. David refers to 3 criticisms that have been voiced in relation to this movie. The first is the charge of it being Anti-Semitic. Here David’s analysis is quite right. Any movie that depicts the Biblically recorded facts concerning the involvement of both Jews and Roman Gentiles in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ can hardly be viewed as being Anti-Semitic and the ultimate truth is that everything that unfolded was according to “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” [Acts 2:23].
The second criticism was that the movie was viewed in David’s words by ‘Many Protestants, especially here in Ulster…as a piece of pro-Catholic propaganda’. David’s response to that is worded ‘Mel Gibson is a Roman Catholic. It isn’t the least bit surprising that he should be interested in having every so often a quick glance at events through the eyes of Mary. I’m sure that any number of Protestants have, like Gibson, read the scriptures and wondered what Mary must have been feeling as she watched her son being tortured and murdered. It isn’t pro-Catholic to wonder’.
David clearly believes that anything allegedly ‘pro-Catholic’ is just Mel Gibson’s attempt to unravel the mind of Mary during the events depicted and is certainly not any attempt to foist Roman Catholic doctrine and dogma upon the viewer. In response to that I should like to quote some comments from the Introduction of a booklet called ‘A Guide to The Passion: 100 Questions About The Passion of The Christ’. This booklet is published by a Roman Catholic organisation called ‘Catholic Exchange’ and the writer of the Introduction, Tom Allen [Editor & President of ‘Catholic Exchange’] is a Roman Catholic. Mr Allen wrote ‘I noticed early on the fervour with which so many Protestant communities were preparing to use the film for evangelistic purposes…the irony is that our Protestant brothers and sisters cannot adequately speak to many of the issues and questions the film evokes because the film is so distinctly Marian, so obviously Eucharistic, so quintessentially Catholic…The film quite accurately links the sacrifice of the cross with the sacrifice of the Mass. In doing so it faithfully depicts biblical and Catholic teaching’.
Any honest reading of the portions underlined will show that in the eyes of Tom Allen this movie most certainly is ‘pro-Catholic’. Before commenting upon the 3rd criticism let me also comment on David’s view of the non-Scriptural content of the movie where he basically excuses Mel Gibson by giving him ‘artistic licence’ to ‘fill in the blanks’. The problem that Christians have with this is two-fold. Firstly we are commanded by God not to add anything to His Word [Proverbs 30:5-6] particularly if the addition ends up either contradicting or misrepresenting His truth and that is precisely what has happened in this movie. Just one example – Mary is shown as sensing the nearness of a chained Jesus through a thick stone floor that separates them – this ascribes unscriptural Godlike qualities to Mary. The reality is that the unscriptural additions to the movie were not the product of Mel Gibson’s ‘artistic licence’ because the second of the Christian’s two-fold problem is that the unscriptural additions are in fact based mostly upon the occultic ‘visions’ of a long-deceased Roman Catholic mystic nun called Anne Catherine Emmerich that are recorded in her book ‘The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ’ and as such they are positively dangerous to the spiritual well being of any Christian.
The 3rd criticism related to the violence and entertainment aspects of the movie and David comments ‘It is a bit hypocritical of our society to complain about violence when it has been our steady diet for years on end…So if even preaching can sometimes have a theatrical element, why can’t the movie theatre preach now and again. Concerning the violence it’s not so important in this instance what ‘society’ thinks but rather what the word of God says. God’s Word says very little that is graphic concerning the physical sufferings endured by the Lord whereas Mel Gibson’s film concentrates in the extreme upon them. Today millions around the world have crowded movie theatres to view what was described by the secular Time magazine as ‘the religious splatter-art film…a relentless, near pornographic feast of flayed flesh’. In contrast we read in Luke 23:49 “And all his acquaintances and the women that followed him from Galilee stood afar off, beholding these things”. Concerning movie-depicted gratuitous violence God wants His people to say “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes” [Psalm 101:3] and to heed Paul who wrote “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things” [Philippians 4:8]. This movie fails many of these Biblical pre-requisites.
As far as an entertainment movie having a capability to ‘preach’ let me quote the valued judgment of A W Tozer on this issue – writing on ‘The Menace of The Religious Movie’ Mr Tozer said ‘Religious movies are mistakenly thought by some people to be blessed of the Lord because many come away from them with moist eyes…Men and women who are dedicated to sin and appointed to death may nevertheless weep in sympathy for the painted actors and be not one bit the better for it. The emotions have had a beautiful time but the will is left untouched…The movie…is the introduction into the work of God of that which is not neutral but entirely bad’. A W Tozer died in 1963 but “he being dead yet speaketh” [Hebrews 11:4].
In conclusion let me say that viewing a depiction of the crucifixion in graphic detail will not impart saving truth for no movie can reveal the grief of Christ’s soul being made “an offering for sin” [Isaiah 53:10] or the grace of imputed “righteousness” [2 Corinthians 5:21]. Two walking home to Emmaus had watched the actual ‘Passion’ and spiritually they didn’t understand what had happened until a ‘stranger’ joined them and proceeded to ‘preach’ to them the Word of God and only through that method did they receive spiritual enlightenment [Luke 24:13-32] and still today as we read in 1st Corinthians 1:21 the truth is that “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe”.
- Your servant for Christ
- Cecil Andrews
Cecil Andrews – ‘Take Heed’ Ministries – 4 October 2004