one of those Christians whom the mainstream media is choosing
not to query about a) the flapdoodle surrounding The Passion
of the Christ and b) same-sex marriage.
The religious right seems to have some kind of stranglehold
on the media. And so when somebody wants to publicize what
Christians think of Mel Gibson and his opus or the mayor of
New Paltz and his nerve, it’s never a progressive Christian
who gets the phone call.
So, somehow when Christians get in the limelight, I find myself
The reports on the block-booking of theaters for early screenings
of The Passion of the Christ garnered headlines, as
conservative Christians talked about what a mighty witness
this movie would be.
And even National Public Radio, seeking a Christian cleric’s
opinion on same-sex marriages, went to an Episcopal priest
in Plano, Texas, who, predictably, defended heterosexual marriage
as sacred and biblically based. Then he went on to say that
it’s better for a child to be raised by a single parent than
two of the same gender, a statement that, as a single parent,
I find both incredibly arrogant and ignorant.
a credit to Metroland—and truly one of the ways in
which it is progressive—that its editor and publisher
has, for over a decade, given a voice to a writer who, from
time to time, speaks for the lively strand of socially active
and theologically liberal Christians who otherwise get grouped
in with the now-predictable agenda of the Christian right.
But, man, it gets lonely.
For example, as a pastor, particularly one whose first name
could pass as a man’s, I was deluged with advance press for
The Passion of the Christ. I got a calendar of how
to build up excitement leading to the day of the film’s release.
I got a DVD featuring interviews with a manic Mel Gibson,
a burdened-looking James Cavaziel and an annoyingly enthusiastic
I was encouraged to order posters and invitations to distribute
in my neighborhood. I was encouraged to work with other pastors
to block-book a theater and use the whole event as a tool
for outreach to the—gotta love the word—unchurched.
I was supposed to believe, sight unseen, that Mel Gibson had
got it right, had somehow unlocked the mystery of what the
crucifixion means and therefore, with his movie, would be
winning souls for Christ.
Well, for starters, that “winning souls for Christ” language
is about as far from the tradition in which a great many Christians
stand as can be.
And while Mel Gibson may have managed to make of Jesus’ death
an orgy of torment, without the need for scholars on his staff
to actually advise him about the historicity of what he was
portraying, I’m not going to encourage the people of Grace,
the congregation I serve, to check their brains at
the door—of the theater or of the sanctuary.
And checking their brains at the door is exactly what the
average viewer is being invited to do, bulldozed by advance
press and the testimonials of scrub-faced (male) preachers
making all kinds of claims—that this is about what sinners
really deserved, but Jesus got instead or that Jesus’ pain
was the worst pain any being has ever experienced or that
somehow, even though the gospel of John does, in fact, scapegoat
the Jews, The Passion of the Christ is in no way anti-Jewish.
All this voicing-over by evangelical Christians about what
the movie is supposed to do obscures the fact that lots and
lots of Christians are offended by this movie: offended by
implicit anti-Semitism, offended by its brutality, offended
by its director who is lining his pockets nicely with this
film, who espouses a form of Roman Catholicism that rejects
the reforms of Vatican II, who—without input from biblical
scholars—makes the claim that this is really how crucifixion
happened and, in interviews and press materials, glibly reduces
the crucifixion to a single, guilt-inducing message: that
Jesus died for me and you.
Well, not all Christians will line up behind that brand of
Christianity. Only you’d never know it based on reading the
firestorm of print and broadcast coverage this movie has occasioned.
If you want to read an insightful view that more reflects
what many Christians would say, given the opportunity to speak
about this film, go to The New Yorker. David Denby—whose
religious affiliation, if any, is unknown to me—rightly critiques
the movie as, in some ways, anti-Christian as well as anti-Semitic.
Denby labels it anti-Christian in the sense that it reduces
the entirety of the life of Jesus to a gore-fest that overlooks
Jesus’ teaching of radical love, which got him into hot water
in the first place.
Furthermore, Denby calls it anti- Christian for overlooking
the social ills Jesus called people to address and instead
makes Jesus’ suffering a matter of individual culpability.
Gibson’s claims that, in fact, it’s not the Jews who bear
responsibility for the crucifixion, it’s me and you, reduces
sin to something individual, almost manageable (if I were
just a better person!). It doesn’t go near the idea of corporate
or social sin—things that we can’t fool ourselves into thinking
can have a quick fix if only we’ll go to church more: pollution,
exploitation of workers, economic injustices, poverty.
And of course, to the extent that the movie is anti-Semitic,
it is also anti- Christian. The reforms of Vatican II explicitly
condemned the historic teaching—with its terrible and repeated
persecutions—of Jewish culpability in the death of Christ.
Protestant denominations followed suit.
I could go on. In fact, I want to go on. Not just about Mel
Gibson’s movie, but about how and why many Christians support
same-sex marriage, about how the terms “liberal” and “atheist”
are not synonymous, about why progressive Christians worry
when there is a threat to the separation of church and state.
could go on. I’m just out of room, not steam.
contact Jo Page at firstname.lastname@example.org