As someone who writes commentary for a living, I have learned to not get too emotional about most political issues, to take stinging criticism in stride, to not let disputes get personal. If I didn’t keep a little distance, I’d probably already have dropped over from a stroke. Yet once in a while an issue angers me so much that, try as I might, my eyes pop out of my head, my blood pressure rises, my hands start trembling.
The debate — if that’s what you want to call it — over Mel Gibson’s forthcoming movie "The Passion" is such an issue. I’ve even lost my cool at a local representative of the Anti-Defamation League. But I cannot help myself for a simple reason.
Organized Jewish groups are demanding that Christians change their religion to suit their sensibility. It’s as simple as that. Gibson is presenting a straightforward account of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, as portrayed in the Gospels. Jewish organizations can’t dispute that the movie is striving to be an accurate presentation of the Gospel account, but argue that such an account will lead to anti-Semitism.
The ADL and other groups demanded an early screening of the movie. Even Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, who lobbed puff questions at Rabbi Marc Gellman, who was criticizing the film, questioned the demand that the film’s critics should have a right to an advance screening. As O’Reilly pointed out, he doesn’t let his enemies view the draft of his books, so that they can spend months trashing and distorting its content.
That seems simple enough. But totalitarians such as ADL National Director Abraham Foxman don’t grasp simple concepts of property rights (it’s Gibson’s movie, not Foxman’s) or artistic freedom. "The film unambiguously portrays Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob as the ones responsible for the decision to crucify Jesus," he said in a statement, as reported on WorldNetDaily. "We are deeply concerned that the film, if released in its present form, will fuel the hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism that many responsible churches have worked hard to repudiate."
Thankfully, the Christian community has Foxman to tell them which churches are responsible, and which ones are not. Surely, Foxman would consider an Orange County evangelical congregation to be irresponsible for its recent airing of a segment of the film. What’s next? Previews of sermons?
Two key factual points the ignoramuses ought to consider before continuing their campaign of censorship and harassment:
First, the Gospels do suggest that Jewish authorities were involved in the crucifixion of Jesus. It’s not that hard to find. Let’s see, choose any of the Gospels, then turn toward the end of them, in the depictions of Jesus being turned over to the authorities. Most Bibles even have simple subheadings to ease the process.
From John 18:28: "Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. … So Pilate came out to them and asked, u2018What charges are you bringing against this man?’ If he were not a criminal,’ they replied, u2018we would not have handed him over to you.’"
Now, I’m not saying Foxman and company have to believe the Gospel account. I am simply saying they ought to read it and understand what it says. If they insist that others deny the words of Scripture, then they are insisting that others change their religion to suit them. That is an outrage that demands a firm rebuke.
Second, the Gospels are not suggesting that Jews are, as a group, responsible for Jesus’ death. They are suggesting something far more radical and disturbing. They are suggesting that every man and woman living then and now is responsible, through each individual’s sin, for the death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
It is not about blaming Jews. It is about blaming individual sinners. Couldn’t Foxman at least try to understand the theology behind the Scripture before condemning the work of others? Other points are relevant:
Jesus was a Jew, his followers were Jews, everyone was a gentile or a Jew. So, of course, Jews were among the heroes and villains in the story of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
It’s true that some people have distorted the Christian story to persecute Jews. I’m not unaware of that point. Although I am a practicing eastern Orthodox Christian, I come from a Jewish background. My dad was a Nazi concentration camp survivor. My mother still displays on her wall a piece of wood from the family’s synagogue in Germany that was torched on Kristalnacht.
The ADL should deal with those who distort the Christian message, not insist that the message be changed just in case some idiot might interpret it in the wrong way.
It’s frustrating also, that some Christians and even a group associated with the Catholic bishops, have been critical rather than supportive of Gibson’s act of faith. They are far too busy promoting "tolerance" to spend any time advancing their faith.
Another point made by that rabbi on O’Reilly’s show: Perhaps Gibson’s disturbing movie is too harsh in its tone. But despite what O’Reilly stupidly said, Jesus did not die for equality and so we love one another.
Those are side benefits of the crucifixion and resurrection, but they are not the main purpose. Jesus died for our sins, to save our souls. Harsh stories need to be told in harsh ways.
Perhaps I should calm down and take solace in this fact: All these years later, the Gospel still sparks debate and causes offense. It still matters, despite the efforts of those who want to transform real Christianity into some Disney-fied version.
Steven Greenhut (send him mail) is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Orange County Register.