DALLAS–Mel Gibson’s representation of the sufferings of Jesus Christ in the movie “The Passion” surpasses all earlier efforts by cinematographers, according to Southern Baptists who recently viewed a rough cut of the film in Dallas. “For the next two hours plus, I sat with a knot in my stomach and a lump in my throat,” stated Jim Richards, executive director of Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. (In his column in this issue of the TEXAN, Richards offers his first-person account of viewing the movie.)
“It is certainly the most graphic and dramatic portrayal I’ve ever seen,” added another guest, Gary Hearon, executive director of Dallas Baptist Association. Referring to the demonstration of how the crucifixion occurred, he added, “I didn’t see anything I’ve not read in Scripture, but I saw it in a more graphic way because it was portrayed before our very eyes. You see the flesh and blood flying as a result of the scourge.” Adding that it conforms to all he has read about crucifixion, Hearon added, “It’s very true to life.”
Southern Baptist Convention President Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, said, “The movie is biblical, powerful and potentially life-changing. He predicted millions of people would see “The Passion” when it opens on Ash Wednesday next spring. “The thing that I’m most excited about is the opportunity it’s going to give those of us who preach the cross to explain the meaning of the cross and message of the cross to untold millions of people who are going to be asking questions about the cross and why Jesus died.”
Graham said he was particularly impressed with the quality of the film, the accuracy of content and overall emotional impact. “There’s no question it is the most hard-hitting display and demonstration of the crucifixion.”
“Graphic is the most accurate word to express what we saw,” stated Janet Denison of Dallas whose husband, Jim, pastors Park Cities Baptist Church. She expects the final version will be even more graphic since the sound has not been fully mixed. “I would not use the word entertaining with this movie at all. It was very difficult. At one point I wanted it to be over,” she said.
And yet she intends to take her two sons, ages 15 and 17, to see movie when it is released. “I have thought about it a lot. I would prepare them, see it with me with them, and talk about it afterward.” She believes the R rating will actually cause more parents to see the movie with their children instead of seeing it separately were it rated PG-13. She recalled several members of the screening audience pressing Gibson over their concern with the rating. “He said it will stay R-rated, but added that the Bible is R-rated” in some of its content.
Graham said parents would have to make a decision as to whether their children are mature enough to handle the film. “It is extremely violent because the cross was violent,” he stated. While many Christians do not see R-rated movies of any kind, he believes the exceptional quality of “The Passion” makes the movie an exception to that rule.
While Hearon does not promote R-rated films, he understands why “The Passion” will earn the rating. “Twenty-five years ago we never would have seen anything like this,” he conceded, adding that society has become numb to the violence in most movies. He is hopeful that the rating will not prevent some people from seeing it that ought to go. “The evangelism will come later,” he added.
That’s the way it should be, Mrs. Denison added. “I think he is concerned that people deal with it,” describing Gibson’s desire “to simply put it in front of them and make them need to choose.” She added, “That’s where he is going to stop it and I think that’s decent evangelism. When it comes down to it, it’s an individual choice. You cannot leave that movie and not think about what you just saw; asking did it really happen and why.”
Ed Young Jr. of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, has no doubt that the movie will be one of the greatest evangelistic tools in modern day history. “I think people will go to it and then flood into the churches seeking to know the deeper implications of the movie. That’s where we have a chance to capitalize.”
Hearon added, “It’s a very clear gospel presentation of the last eleven or twelve hours of Christ’s life.” He observed some things in the movie that are not in Scripture, per se, but found no problem with its veracity.
“As Protestants, we may think there’s a little bit greater emphasis on Mary,” Mrs. Denison, referring to settings in which she was present even when Scripture does not confirm her participation, specifically citing the scourging of esus. “I have no problem with that. Richards also mentioned the same scenario, adding that nothing was included that violated Scripture in the limited number of extra-biblical scenes.
Hearon disallowed the criticism of an Anti-Defamation League spokesman objecting to the movie’s portrayal of Jews as being responsible for the crucifixion. “All you have to do is read the gospels. The Romans crucified Jesus, but the Jewish leadership delivered him up to be crucified. The gospel is clear in that.”
Mrs. Denison added, “You’re arguing with the script which he took from the Scripture.” She said critics ought to take the matter up with the Bible as opposed to the person presenting the message of the Bible.
“Anyone with open mind knows this is a story of faith, hope, forgiveness and sacrifice willingly given,” Graham said. “No one is placing the blame on anyone. We all share the blame for the death of Christ in that we have all shared in sin. The issue is not who killed Jesus,” he insisted. “The issue for everyone is who will respond to this great love of God.”
“The bottom line is that our sin nailed Christ to the cross,” Young added. “The movie crosses all barriers to black, white, Jew, Gentile, white collar, pink collar, blue collar. The whole message is one of love and forgiveness and grace.
Putting the focus on the portrayal of Jews misses the point, Hearon observed. “Of the 250,000 people who were crucified, only one came back to life,” he reminded. Furthermore, Hearon said, “The Jews didn’t take Jesus’ life. The Romans didn’t take his life. He laid it down voluntarily,” an emphasis that he found clearly presented in the movie. “Jesus gave his life for the salvation of the world, Jews and Romans included. They didn’t take his life.”
Graham also found the scene Hearon described as the most moving theme of the entire presentation. “The movie clearly portrays Christ as laying down his life voluntarily. Jesus was laying down his life in love for the sins of the world,” Graham reminded, quoting John 10:18, “No man takes my life form me, but I lay it down of my own accord.'”
After the bludgeoning beating, Graham said the scene moved to the road as Jesus carried the cross, then collapsed at the place called Calvary. “Gibson portrayed Jesus as crawling, laying himself down on the cross. It was an incredible demonstration of the love of God and heart of Jesus to give himself as a sacrifice.”
Mrs. Denison observed that Gibson had made a movie that “is not particularly commercially viable,” recalling his explanation that he “wanted people to come and leave differently.” She believes he succeeded in that goal, adding, “Palm Sunday will be very difficult because I saw that movie.”
Graham added, “Mr. Gibson’s sole intent really is to share simply, but profoundly, his faith, and not only his faith, but the faith of millions of Christians who believe in Christ. I was comfortable with his desire and motivation to get this message out.”
Hearon was impressed with Gibson’s determination to fund the entire project in order to achieve his purpose. “He wants the whole world to know the price Jesus paid for our salvation.”
Young believes Mel Gibson has “the legitimacy, track record and authority to carry a project through” as well as a personal relationship with Jesus that motivates him in producing this movie. “I admire him for his stance, for taking all the arrows. It’s a bold and gutsy move on his part, but when you’ve been touched by Jesus like he has been then that’s the response. He simply wants to share this message out in the world.”