The Latest Temptation of Christians
Now that anyone who's anyone has weighed in on Mel Gibson's film The Passion of The Christ, it's my turn. I'm a regular individual, not a professional, nor a commentator beyond the occasional miffed letter to the editor. I have no radio show or weekly column. I'm just a run-of-the-mill, devout Christian.
Like commentators before me, I also believe that the highly publicized nature of the charge of anti-Semitism relative to this film was brought about in error. My experience in both Protestant and Catholic circles in Texas and California has been one of witnessing the power of Christ's Passion to inspire sincere individuals toward repentance and lovecertainly not hatred toward Jews. So I too have winced when I've read what sounds like over-the-top predictions of violence against Jews come Ash Wednesday.
On the other hand, through my learning and teaching within the Jewish community and being a guest at many a Shabbat table, I've heard worries honestly expressed and am therefore moved to plead with my Christian brothers and sisters to respond with compassion when Jews raise questions about the net effect The Passion will have on their welfare.
Those who defend The Passion seldom take these fears to heart. Worse yet, I've witnessed in these months leading up to the film's release a persistent tendency by writers who profess to be Christians to write off "Foxman and company" with such words as "kibitzers," "leftists," and "opportunistic fundraisers." Early on, a well-known Christian entertainment pundit denounced those raising questions about the film as "a pack of anti-Christs," thereby tapping into the rhetoric of historical anti-Semitism. The latest dismissive wave of the hand came from an otherwise much respected and loved giant among Christian personalities who wrote, "Shaky charges of 'anti-Semitism' are really just a smokescreen. I believe the real problem the liberal establishment has with this movie is that it has the audacity to portray Christ as He really was—not only as a historical figure, but as the Savior of mankind."
We common folk are also guilty of insensitivity. For instance, one pro-Passion website, garnering thousands of online signatures in support of the film, permits the occasional, blatantly anti-Semitic remark to accompany a signature without comment or apology by the site owners. For example, one person appends to his signature:
St. Pio of Pietrelcina once wrote that "the Jews are the enemies of Our Lord Jesus Christ and his Holy Church." Unfortunately, his words have proven to be true in regard to their violent reaction to this beautiful film. Let's pray for them.
All of this is troubling in light of the fact there are communities of Jews here in America that weather a certain amount of religious hatred that Christian Americans seldom face. Jewish reaction (which has not been "violent" as far as I've heard) may have more to do with personal experience, recent as well as historical, than anything else.
Take Los Angeles, the city I live in. A couple of years ago there was an incident in the heavily Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Pico-Robertson in which religiously identifiable Jews, walking home on the Sabbath, were confronted and attacked by skinhead types who were apparently cruising the streets seeking targets. A Jewish teen ended up in the hospital after his assailants kicked and beat him, yelling epithets like "dirty kike."
Ask yourselves, fellow Christians, when do we in America have to fear walking home from church while wearing a cross and holding a Bible?