April 1-7, 2004
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
IRC invites all faiths to a discussion centered on Gibson’s interpretation of Jesus’ passion
More than 30 people of the Christian and Jewish faiths gathered on March 24 at Drumlin’s Conference Center to share and discuss their thoughts and opinions on Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ. The panel discussion was led by Rev. Thomas Wolfe, Ph.D., dean of Hendrick’s Chapel at Syracuse University and president of InterReligious Council’s (IRC) cabinet of leaders of religious communities and organizations and Rev. Bill Redfield, president of the board of the IRC of CNY. Dan Cummings of WIXT-TV moderated the event.
In his opening remarks, Rev. Wolfe asked the audience to hold respect for others opinions. Rev. Redfield added further, “Regardless of what you think, the amount of conversation this movie has generated has been fantastic.” Of the many topics covered, there was an overall agreement among the participants that the portrayal of Christ’s condemnation and crucifixion was unnecessarily violent. Marilyn Wolfe, senior pastor of United Methodist Church, had many issues with the film, including the characterization of the roles of Pilot and Mary. “Pilot was portrayed as having a heart and soul. We don’t know if that is accurate. It may or may not have been, but his characterization should not have been so developed,” she said. The fact that other Jewish characters in the movie didn’t receive more in-depth characterization also bothered Marilyn. “That made me mad. The development of the characters wasn’t equal. Where was Mary’s outrage? I re-invented in her character in my mind as having a whole personality –– of having more anger,” she said.
Wolfe said that her reactions to the movie were extreme and that some of the choices Gibson made were troubling. Wolfe felt that the beating and the trial were not necessarily accurate and that the number of times Jesus fell while carrying the cross was also overstated. She would have liked the movie to continue with the story after Jesus’ death. “The people surrounding Jesus during the beatings and crucifixion would have been traumatized,” said Wolfe. “The movie never showed what happened to the people left behind. The characters in the movie lived beyond the movie. I could picture these people after Jesus’ death. The exaggerations of the beatings and torture didn’t make the movie more real for me. It was getting in the way of the other messages,” said Wolfe.
Nancy Rhodes is a movie reviewer for WAER radio station and Women’s Voices radio and was raised a Catholic. For the most part, she agreed with Marilyn’s comments. “I was troubled by the movie because Mel Gibson said it was the most accurate portrayal of Christ’s crucifixion ever told,” said Rhodes. “It’s not. There are things to admire about the movie and things that are not admirable. Gibson promised it was more like a documentary. However, he made many choices in the name of what he wished to portray. Many of the scenes were inaccurate,” said Rhodes. Of the 30 or more in attendance at the forum, many were of the Jewish faith and had a lot to say about the movie and the publicity surrounding it. Dorothy Pearl, a Jewish member of the community, didn’t see the film because she dislikes violence. “But what gives me angst is that I have a feeling Mel made some choices that portrayed Pilot as sympathetic while other Jews were not. What will be the repercussions of this?” asked Pearl. “Will it incite and encourage anti-Semitic feelings?” Pearl felt that the Jews were portrayed in a stereotypical way and appeared to be evil people. “I and others in the Jewish community are concerned about the ramifications,” she said.
Rev. Betty Wright, Evangelist pastor of Elmwood Presbyterian Church, said she thought the group was focusing on the wrong things. “It wasn’t meant to portray all Jews as bad,” she said. “I don’t think Mel was wrong in what he did. He was led by the Spirit of the Lord. The bible’s interpretation of the crucifixion was brutal. I thought about the excessive physical violence also. Jesus was all human and all God. He had a supernatural power that allowed him to endure what he went through,” said Wright. Rev. Tom Wolfe said that there are four theological interpretations of the event with historical subtext. “Where I feel the story falls short is I would like to have seen it be more historical in nature –– what happens to people when they are oppressed and how they turn against each other.” Rev. Wolfe said that the power of oppression leads to impossible choices; it can lead to profound acts of courage or human failure. I didn’t see that in the film.” Rev. Wolfe agreed with Rhodes’ comments about Gibson’s claim that he presented a movie that was historically accurate. “What it is actually is an interpretation of history,” said Rev. Wolfe.
Rich Friedman, executive director and vice president of the Syracuse Jewish Federation, said that he does not deny that Gibson had the right to make the movie. “I’ve learned more about Christianity because of it,” he said. “But what pieces do you take of the four Gospels? Mel chose which parts to take. I think he could have chosen better.” Friedman went on to say that Gibson had the power to diffuse the potential of anti-Semitism if he had chosen differently. “Mel had such an opportunity to tell your story and he didn’t do it well. I’m not saying that he is anti-Semitic or that the movie was. But he could have focused more on the message. He missed the opportunity to reinforce the message of Christianity –– suffering, redemption and rebirth. That Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sins.”
Catholic Press Association