National Lutheran News

Gibson film splits religious community

Is “The Passion of the Christ” inspirational or sadistic?

Mel Gibson’s new film, “The Passion of the Christ,” began screening in theaters nationwide on Ash Wednesday. Rarely has a motion picture been launched amidst such controversy.
Some evangelical Christian congregations bought up all the seats in local theaters and gave the tickets away to their members.

The Rev. Kent Stillson, who serves Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Spear-fish, South Dakota (where the long-running Black Hills Passion Play is staged each year), told Metro Lutheran, “[The film] is probably an accurate portrayal of what happened to Jesus.” He added, however, “The violence was too prolonged and graphic.” Stillson said he wants his confirmation students to see the film, but that “they’ll need debriefing.”

A Lutheran theologian who teaches at Gustavus Adolphus College told a standing-room-only mostly-Jewish audience in St. Louis Park they would do well to skip the film altogether. “Just save the $7.00,” suggested Dr. Darrell Jodock, a professor and ELCA clergyman.

Participating in a Feb-ruary 26 panel discussion at Sabes Jewish Community Center, Jodock shared the microphone with Rabbi Barry D. Cytron, who teaches theology students at St. Thomas and St. John’s Universities.

Both Jodock and Cytron criticized what they saw to be “gratuitous violence” in the film, which made the soldiers look sadistic. Both also warned of a possible anti-Jewish response to the film.