This story's print version misstated Mel Gibson’s religious beliefs. In news articles, Gibson has been described as believing in a movement that rejects church reforms made by Vatican II in the early 1960s. The reforms include celebrating Mass in local languages and declaring that Jewish people are not collectively responsible for the death of Jesus.
On Ash Wednesday, as the sun beamed down on her open black-and-flowered umbrella, Carolyn Marshall stood in front of the Hollywood Stadium 14 Theaters and handed out free tickets to the 2 p.m. showing of “The Passion of The Christ."
Marshall, a member of the Evangelical Free Church and a volunteer for the International Friends ministries, bought 64 tickets to the film in order “to share the Gospel” with interested international students, her acquaintances and any of their friends. She was among thousands of Columbians who attended opening-day showings, many of them sold out, of director Mel Gibson’s film.
Movie-goers share their opinions
“It was outstanding,” she said later. “My hope is that believers will fall more in love with Jesus.”
“The Passion” is a depiction of the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus — the time Christians refer to as Christ’s passion — drawn from the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The most controversial movie about Jesus since “The Last Temptation of Christ,” it has captured the collective Christian imagination and incited public debate about its violence (It is rated R.) and its portrayal of Jews.
Wednesday’s showings, at Hollywood and at the Goodrich Forum 8 theater, seemed to mostly draw church-goers.
Jim McNeil, a student at Hickman High School and a member of Grace Bible Baptist Church, said the film was unbelievably detailed in its portrayal of the Crucifixion and that it was Scripturally accurate. “I thought it was inspirational to see how (Jesus) was resurrected,” he said.
Jim Wharton said he was disappointed that the film ends with the Resurrection and does not include Christ’s ascension into heaven. “You need to know the background for the story,” said Wharton, who attends Forum Boulevard Church. He said he was especially moved by the image of Jesus carrying his cross uphill to his own Crucifixion.
No one interviewed for the story seemed troubled by the subtitles; the film is in Latin and Aramaic.
Churches promote "Passion"
Many of Columbia’s churches — those as big as The Crossing and as small as Redeemer Presbyterian — prepared for the film’s opening by promoting it from the pulpit and, in some cases, handing out information packets during services.
At Calvary Episcopal Church, reflection guides on “The Passion of The Christ” are being distributed in order “to give the congregation Scriptural and theological frame of reference” that they are encouraged to keep in mind during the movie, the Rev. Fred Thayer said.
Memorial Baptist Church encouraged congregants to invite friends who are not involved in a church, said Todd Pridemore, minister of outreach and activities. Memorial sought permission from the Hollywood theater to pass out tracts at the film, but the request was denied.
Three churches, including The Crossing, have bought out entire showings of the film at the Hollywood theater. Some churches, such as Grace Bible Baptist Church, purchased blocks of tickets in advance for youth groups.
“The film is a good witnessing tool and serves as a powerful reminder of the price our savior paid for us,” said Conrad Hake,youth pastor at Grace Bible Baptist. His youth group attended the film in lieu of its usual Wednesday night meeting.
Kelly Burns, a youth group leader at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, took about 25 young people to the 3:50 p.m. showing at the Forum theater, then to an Ash Wednesday service at the church.
A college group from Calvary Episcopal purchased advanced tickets and went together on opening night.
The Crossing bought out a March 5 showing of the film in order to give its members the opportunity to go and bring a friend, said Pastor Keith Simon. The Crossing has encouraged attendance of the film for weeks, and a trailer of “The Passion of The Christ” was played during a Sunday worship service last month
Simon saw an early screening of the movie last month in Chicago. He said he was initially “suspicious” of the film but after seeing it thought “the combination of art and truth made for an extremely powerful movie.”
Mel Gibson's influence
Simon’s reference to art touches on an unusual aspect of the film noted on its Web site: Gibson asked the film’s cinematographer, Caleb Deschael, to make the movie look like the work of Italian Baroque artist Caravaggio, who “used sharp contrasts of light and darkness in order to make images have a lifelike glow.”
On the Web site, Gibson, an extremely traditional Catholic, strongly advocates the integration of his film in churches. The site provides information for churches on how to buy blocks of seats for the film, and there are fliers and church bulletins promoting the film that can be downloaded for free and printed out and distributed by any interested party.
Gibson clearly thought churches would be his best marketers: According to his Web site, he has not aired a single television commercial promoting the film.
Thayer, of Calvary Episcopal, said “The Passion of The Christ” won’t fundamentally change how the church marks the special weeks leading to Easter.
“Every holy week in the Episcopal church is all about passion,” he said. “The movie is just a new way of provoking thought and reflection about (the holy week).”