CHRISTIANITY is incompatible with anti-Semitism. Which is why we are incredulous that so many are fixated on whether Mel Gibson's film The Passion, due for release next year, will cause violence against Jews. "If it turns out that the controversial film is as brutal as the already-released trailer, then Israel may have to absorb a massive flight of European Jewry this coming spring, when the Jews get all the credit for committing deicide," Rabbi Tovia Singer recently wrote for Israel's Arutz Sheva.
The memory of the Inquisition and the Holocaust—among other anti-Jewish atrocities—remains fresh for many. But given the universal Christian repudiation of anti-Semitism, Singer's suggestion seems ludicrous and borders on anti-Christian bigotry. Ultimately, the campaign to brand The Passion as anti-Semitic with a potential "tinderbox effect" is dangerous to Jews.
Yes, we've seen an early cut of The Passion and in no way does it blame "the Jews" for Jesus' death. As in the gospels themselves, the implication is that humanity—each of us—put Christ on the cross. In several places, Gibson clearly took measures to make this clear. (Most notably, he omitted the cry, "His blood be on us and on our children," from Matthew 27.)
There's much to debate concerning this film. But now it's impossible to discuss the film apart from the trumped up charges of anti-Semitism. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the few other Jewish and liberal Catholic critics of the film are using the worst sort of scare tactics to dominate discussion of the film and the filmmaker. ADL president Abraham Foxman recently told The Jewish Week, "Recent statements by Mel Gibson paint the portrait of an anti-Semite." Singer said, "If in fact it turns out that Gibson relied on the Christian Bible for the script of The Passion, every advance in Jewish-Christian relations over the past half-century may be in jeopardy."
Translation: If you really believe what the Bible says, you have no choice but to be anti-Semitic. No Bible-believing church teaches that way, but Singer and others are clearly forging a false link between anti-Semitism and New Testament narrative. So in reality, it's not filmmaker Gibson who's giving anti-Semites an excuse to use The Passion for hate; it's Gibson's critics.
Comments like Singer's and those of the ADL have the potential to drive a tremendous wedge between biblical Christians and Jews. By arguing that trust in the gospel narratives is tantamount to hatred, Gibson's critics greatly frustrate cooperation and friendship. Jews (and others) are getting bad information about what evangelicals really believe, and evangelicals are tempted to react with anger to allegations of bigotry.
Fortunately, opposition to The Passion or the gospel narratives themselves does not represent the views of all Jews. (Film critic Michael Medved and Toward Tradition's Rabbi Daniel Lapin have defended Gibson's artistic vision.) Everyone is free to judge the film after seeing it. Critics who engage in guilt by association (connecting Gibson with Holocaust denial, for example) undermine their own credibility.
Like Campus Crusade for Christ's Jesus film, the most-viewed movie on the planet, The Passion has the potential to change lives by motivating viewers to think about their need for salvation through Jesus' death. And we fully expect The Passion to provoke exactly the same number of anti-Semitic incidents as the Jesus film: Zero. In the meantime, Christians have an opportunity to prepare for the film—and to demonstrate once again that Christ's sacrifice at Calvary isn't what its critics claim.
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