Jews and Catholics warn Gibson about his film
Yesterday's Weblog included a warning about judging people by their fruits while they're still seedlings. Those who feared Time's cover story on evangelism in Islamic countries found those fears very misplaced. Meanwhile, a similar but more public pre-emptive campaign is being waged against Mel Gibson's epic The Passion.

Usually it's conservative Christians who make headlines by attacking films they haven't seen, but the shoe is on the other foot this time. The main critic of Gibson's film seems to be the Anti-Defamation League.

"Based on initial media reports, we have serious concerns about the film you are currently making about the last hours of the life of Jesus, The Passion, and would like to be assured that it will not give rise to the old canard of charging Jews with deicide and to anti-Semitism," ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman said in an open letter to Gibson in response to a bootlegged early copy of the script.

Five advisory-board members of the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops joined with the ADL in criticizing the film. "A film based on the present version of the script of The Passion would promote anti-Semitic sentiments," the "Ad Hoc Scholars Group" said in an 18-page report, according to The Jewish Week.

We know that their dramatic presentation of Jews as 'Christ killers' triggered pogroms against Jews over the centuries and contributed to the environment that made the Shoah [Holocaust] possible. Given this history and the power of film to shape minds and hearts, both Catholics and Jews in the ad hoc group are gravely concerned about the potential dangers of presenting a passion play in movie theatres. … We realize that such significant alterations will be expensive and time-consuming, but without such revisions the film will inflict serious damage and in all likelihood be repudiated by most Christian and Jewish institutions.

An unnamed "leading Catholic theologian" called the script "one of the more anti-Semitic documents most of us have seen in a long time." (It had to be one of the following Catholics, all members of an advisory committee to the Bishops Conference on Catholic-Jewish affairs: Mary Boys of the Union Theological Seminary; Philip Cunningham, executive director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College; Lawrence Frizzell, director of the Institute of Judeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University; John Pawlikowski, director of Catholic Jewish studies at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.)

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"The Anti-Defamation League and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reviewed the script and we wrote a report that was sent to Mr. Gibson's company," Boys told The Herald Sun of Melbourne, Australia . But apparently Sister Mary and her colleagues lost sight of the very important distinction between a statement by the conference and the one of members of the conference. The opinion of advisory board members is even more removed.

After Gibson threatened to sue both the ADL and USCCB, the Catholic bishops actually did issue a response—saying they had no comment on the film.

"Neither the Bishop's Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, nor any other committee … established this group, or authorized, reviewed or approved the report written by its members," said a statement issued by general counsel Mark Chopko. "We regret that this situation has occurred and offer our apologies. … When the film is released, the [bishops' conference] will review it."

The Jewish Week called the bishops' official statement a "seeming contradiction" since , the USCCB's conference's interfaith leader, Eugene Fisher, established the scholars' group.

It's not the first time such a Jewish-Catholic scholars' group has gotten into trouble with the bishops' conference. Last year, the bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs issued a statement saying that Jews aren't part of the "all nations" clause of the Great Commission. "This evangelizing task no longer includes the wish to absorb the Jewish faith into Christianity," said Reflections on Covenant and Mission, posted and promoted on the USCCB's website. But within days, it was pulled from the website and disavowed by the full bishops' council.

Meanwhile, the ADL and other Jewish leaders continue to fight the Gibson film. "Gibson is a great actor and director, but he has a responsibility to make a movie that does not contribute further to a legacy of pain and suffering," write the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Marvin Hier and Harold Brackman in a Los Angeles Times op-ed that spells out their qualms about the film.

Likewise, the ADL's Ken Jacobson defends his group's criticism of the film. "We have good reason to be seriously concerned about Gibson's plans to retell the Passion" he says in a letter to the New York Post, which last Thursday published a columnist's summary of the dispute. "Historically, the Passion—the story of the killing of Jesus—has resulted in the death of Jews."

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Of course, the story of the killing of Jesus is told every year in thousands upon thousands of churches worldwide without any violence to Jews whatsoever, but the ADL seems more concerned about such questionable history as Oberammergau's Passion Play causing the Holocaust.

For his part, Gibson is no longer threatening to sue, and says critics should judge the film once it's actually in theaters. But will it offend Jews? "It's true that, as the Bible says, 'He came unto his own and his own received him not,'" he said. "I can't hide that." But he promises his film is "meant to inspire not offend. … My intention in bringing it to the screen is to create a lasting work of art and engender serious thought among audiences of diverse faith backgrounds. If the intense scrutiny during my 25 years in public life revealed I had ever persecuted or discriminated against anyone based on race or creed, I would be all too willing to make amends. But there is no such record."

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Division in the Anglican Communion (news):

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  • Diocese riven by revolt over gay bishop | The crisis in the Church of England over the appointment of its first openly gay bishop deepened yesterday when clergy and senior laity in the Diocese of Oxford rebelled against the decision of their bishop to choose him (The Daily Telegraph, London)
  • Williams is told of liberal wing's support | Eight diocesan bishops signed an open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, supporting Canon John's nomination as Suffragan Bishop of Reading (The Daily Telegraph, London)
  • Evangelicals to meet Williams over gay bishop | Dr Williams has told friends that he believes there is no reason not to go ahead with the consecration (The Times, London)
  • Privacy call in gay bishop row | A bishop has called for the row over the controversial appointment of a gay priest as Bishop of Reading to be resolved away from the media spotlight (BBC, video)

Division in the Anglican Communion (opinion):

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Gay marriage:

Other sexual ethics issues:

  • Same sex in church | Conference looks at issue that bedevils Evangelical Lutheran Church (Grand Forks Herald, Neb.)
  • Va. Church greets gay faithful with open arms | The Metropolitan Community Church , the world's largest gay Christian fellowship, is planning to open a branch in Fredericksburg this summer (The Washington Post)
  • We need a new moral compass | Scientific advances and attitudes to sexuality mean we have no choice but to adopt new ethical standards (Will Hutton, The Observer, London)
  • Time to face facts: Gays gain victory | The gays have won. The problem is no one will admit it. (Jonah Goldberg, The Washington Times)
  • Gay kiss on TV: Business as usual | Heterosexual sex is alive and well, but the day when homosexuality threatens most heterosexuals seems to be passing in America (Frank Rich, The New York Times)
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Church life:

Christian music:

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PBS's This Far by Faith:


  • Piano-player in a brothel | Malcolm Muggeridge, born 100 years ago, was very much a man of the 20th-century world — but rebelled against it (Christopher Howse, The Spectator)
  • The minister's method | How should we rate John Wesley, who was born 300 years ago this week—as a figure of the past or an influence on the present? (Ian White, The Guardian, London)
  • Pharaoh's chariots found in Red Sea? | 'Physical evidence' of ancient Exodus prompting new look at Old Testament (WorldNetDaily)
  • Space impact 'saved Christianity' | Did a meteor over central Italy in AD 312 change the course of Roman and Christian History? (BBC)
  • Scholars defend authenticity of biblical-era artifact | "What you have here is a case of dueling scholars," says Ben Witherington III (United Methodist News Service)
  • Looking for a cross to bear? Check eBay | None of the nearly 95,000 of us who trooped to the Royal Ontario Museum and examined the box that had supposedly contained the bones of Jesus' brother James was surprised to hear it's been declared a fake (Slinger, The Toronto Star)

Clergy abuse:

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  • New Phoenix bishop takes over | Conciliatory approach to abuse victims vowed (The Washington Post)
  • Bishop wants to put church 'in order' | Archbishop Sheehan, a former Dallas-area priest, steps into troubled Phoenix diocese (The Dallas Morning News)
  • Religious relic prompts a journey of faith to La Crosse | Christians from throughout the state as well as from Minnesota and Iowa stopped to view the cloth, called the "Tilma of Tepeyac," which was part of a cloak worn by a man who said he saw the Virgin Mary more than four centuries ago in Mexico (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
  • The Milton phenomenon | The image on the window at Milton Hospital is unlikely to sustain the devotion of the famous French shrine at Lourdes, but the spontaneous outpouring of interest - 40,000 by now - is astounding (Editorial, The Boston Globe)

Pope John Paul II:

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