Pro and Con: Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ

Roundup: Talking About History

From CNN (Jan. 23, 2004):

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR : Welcome to Q&A. Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" has been applauded for its portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But it's also been criticized for fueling bigotry and anti-Semitism and for opening up old wounds that were on the way to being healed. It's an old debate, but now it could begin anew.

With us from Orlando in Florida is Ted Haggard. He is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals and the founder of the New Life Church. He is a board member for the Center of Christian-Jewish dialogue. Ted Haggard, you've seen this film. Is it a good film? Is it historically accurate?

TED HAGGARD, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF EVANGELICALS: It is a good film, it's a work of art, it's a piece of art that Mel Gibson has put together, based on historical facts. But of course, it's just like "Braveheart" or "Saving Private Ryan" or many other movies. There are additions that he's made to it, of course, for artistic appeal and for what any producer does in producing a movie. And so, we as Evangelicals love it. We love the scriptures, and we think it's -- it's a tool that will communicate the primary issues that happened to Christ in the final hours of his life.

VERJEE: Rabbi Marvin Hier, with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, joins us. Marvin Hier, how do you ...


VERJEE: Rabbi Hier, I beg your pardon. You've seen this movie as well. What do you think?

HIER: I think that this movie is an incendiary device that will create a faster anti-Semitism all over the world, particularly in Europe, in the Arab world, and in South America. And I say this as a filmmaker myself. I've made six films. And I say that this film will engender hate against the Jewish people.

VERJEE: Ted Haggard...


VERJEE: Do you think that this will incite hatred against Jews?

HAGGARD: No, Zain. I think there are a couple of things that are very important there. One is, there is no evidence that any time in our generation, since there has been this explosion of Evangelicalism, that anything associated with the passion has done anything but engender love for the Jewish people, and -- and it's Christians who are the number one supportive of the concerns that Jewish people have. And the ones who love the story the most seem to be the most supportive of Israel and Jewish concerns, and civil liberties and things like that.

Interestingly enough, there is a rise right now of anti-Semitism in Europe and in South America, and it's before this movie comes out. And -- so, it's important that we understand that. I actually don't think, Rabbi, that your primary concern is a concern about violence. The movie you produced, "Genocide," you weren't concerned about stirring up hatred against the Germans. And it didn't stir up hatred against the Germans, it was a study of historical fact, which the passion is, which genocide was, and both of those cause everyone of us to search our own hearts and our own societies and do everything we can to make sure hatred like this does not happen in our own generation.

VERJEE: Rabbi Hier.

HIER: With all -- with all due respect, the comparison is quite preposterous. First, let me say, the single cause of anti-Semitism around the world for 20 centuries is the false accusation of deicide, that the Jewish people are responsible for the death of God, the son of God. And this has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and tortures through the ages, and admitted so by every modern pope, especially the current pope, who took responsibility for that on behalf of the Christian Church.

So to say that deicide, which is the central theme of this film, has not caused any damage to the Jewish people and Jewish history is really, you know, a complete fabrication. And I would also like to add one other important point -- in this film, the passion of -- the passion that I saw, the Romans come out as wonderful people, with the exception of the four whippers. From Pontius Pilate down, they are all displayed in this film, Pontius Pilate is a character who says, why are you making me do this? I really don't want to do this. And Pontius Pilate was one of the most vicious tormenters that historians have noted. Yet in this film, he's portrayed as timid and he's portrayed as a person who says, I am being forced to do this, please don't make me do this. That is preposterous.

HAGGARD: Well, I think it's important for you to recognize the facts of our generation. Now, it's true, there have been things that have happened in Jewish history and in Christian history that are embarrassing to all of us, and we Christians and the Jewish people are all responsible to look at history to make sure we don't repeat the negative portions of history that are in all of our pasts.

But for our generation and the previous generation, it's not then Christians that have been the primary promoters of anti-Semitism. I mean, Evangelical Christians, Bible-believing Christians; Christians who love the story of the Christ and love the Jewish people. So, we know right now, the number one viewed movie during our generation is the Jesus video that was produced by Campus Crusade for Christ. Five billion people have seen that movie. There is a little over one billion people on the Earth that have not seen that movie. Everywhere that movie has been well received, there has been a heightened respect for Jewish people and love for Jewish people and...


HAGGARD: And here's why, let me finish. The reason why is because Evangelical Christians are so strong in emphasizing the fact that it was God who gave his own life, and in this movie, "The Passion," Jesus crawls onto the cross himself. He's not thrown onto the cross. He does it himself, because, the Scripture says that Jesus gave his own life. And so we, Evangelical Christians, believe and promote all over the world, and I represent 23 million of them myself, we believe and we promote all over the world that it was our sins that crucified Christ, and that we're responsible for the death of Christ, and we see this movie...

VERJEE: All right.

HAGGARD: ... as a love story. It's not a movie that focuses on Jews and Romans, it's a movie that focuses on Christ.

VERJEE: All right.

HAGGARD: And I think you are making a mistake ...


VERJEE: Go ahead.

HIER: Let me respond to that. It must have been a different movie then that I saw. I saw a movie that the only bad people in the entire movie is everyone that is Jewish. Everybody else comes off as a compassionate, decent person. The new Christians, who believe in Jesus, the Romans, with the exception of the four whippers, wonderful people.

And I will further say, I don't think women in particular and children will stay for this movie. This movie is the epitome of torture and violence. I have never seen a movie with more torture and violence than this movie. And I would say want you to know that despite your assurances, and we have no quarrel with Evangelical Christians, they've been supporters of Israel, but despite your assurances, let me counter-reassure you that the overwhelming majority of the Jews throughout the world will say of this film, it's absolutely horrible.

HAGGARD: Well, I think it's important to understand that it is rated R. I encouraged being rated R so that parents could make the choice about whether people saw the movie or not.

But see, for us, this is a very important story about the suffering of Christ. We celebrate it every Easter. We talk about it in our churches. We study the scriptures, because to the degree that Jesus suffered, that shows the degree of his love for us, to redeem us of our sins and forgive us of our sins. And this is a story that launches out of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And the people themselves can get a copy of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, read it, compare it to the movie, and come to their own conclusions.

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