Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

January 25, 2004


Passion film continues to draw praise and criticism


            Lester Spencer, my new boss at St. James United Methodist Church in Montgomery, was the first person to arouse my curiosity about Mel Gibson’s new film, “The Passion of Christ.”

            Since seeing the film in a private screening in Atlanta weeks ago, Spencer has been publicly promoting the movie, saying even that it may offer the church the greatest opportunity for evangelism since the first century. Though I have yet to see the film, Spencer has about convinced me that this movie will make a major impact upon the world, not just America.

            Spencer is busy making plans to invite hundreds of pastors and key laypersons to a preview showing of a large segment of the movie. His hope is that churches everywhere will prepare and be ready for the influence Gibson’s film will have upon thousands of unbelievers. The entire St. James congregation is being urged to see the film on opening night in theaters nationwide, that being Ash Wednesday, February 25, the beginning of the Lenten season.

            Like most people who have seen the movie, Spencer’s testimony is gripping. He was weeping as the film ended, and was convinced there was not a dry eye in the house. “You do not watch this movie; you experience it,” he said. “It is like having a front row seat at the crucifixion of our Lord.” Spencer believes thousands of people will surrender their lives to Jesus Christ because they see this movie. With that in mind, he believes pastors and churches should be armed and ready to minister to those who will be seeking a relationship to Christ.

            Dozens of respected persons have endorsed the movie after watching it in private screenings. Among them are Billy Graham, James Dobson, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and many others.

            Recently a man I have admired for a long time, Paul Harvey, added his praise to that of others after viewing the movie. Though you may have heard or read his comments, they are worth repeating again:

            “I really did not know what to expect. I was thrilled to have been invited to a private viewing of Mel Gibson's film ‘The Passion,’ but I had also read all the cautious articles and spin. I grew up in a Jewish town and owe much of my own faith journey to the influence. I have a life long, deeply held aversion to anything that might even indirectly encourage any form of anti-Semitic thought, language or actions.

              “I arrived at the private viewing for ‘The Passion,’ held in
Washington DC and greeted some familiar faces. The environment was typically Washingtonian, with people greeting you with a smile but seeming to look beyond you, having an agenda beyond the words. The Film was very briefly introduced, without fanfare, and then the room darkened.

            “From the gripping opening scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, to the very human and tender portrayal of the earthly ministry of Jesus, through the betrayal, the arrest, the scourging, the way of the cross, the encounter with the thieves, the surrender on the Cross, until the final scene in the empty tomb, this was not simply a movie; it was an encounter, unlike anything I have ever experienced. In addition to being a masterpiece of filmmaking and an artistic triumph, "The Passion" evoked more deep reflection, sorrow and emotional reaction within me than anything since my
wedding, my ordination or the birth of my children. Frankly, I will never be the same.

            “When the film concluded, this ‘invitation only’ gathering of ‘movers and shakers’ in Washington, DC were shaking indeed, but this time from sobbing. I am not sure there was a dry eye in the place. The crowd that had been glad-handing before the film was now eerily silent. No one could speak because words were woefully inadequate. We had experienced a kind of art that is a rarity in life, the kind that makes heaven touch earth.

            “At the end of the film, after we had all had a chance to recover, a
question and answer period ensued. The unanimous praise for the
film, from a rather diverse crowd, was as astounding as the compliments were effusive. The questions included the one question that seems to follow this film, even though it has not yet even been released. ‘Why is this film considered by some to be ‘anti-Semitic?’ Frankly, having now experienced (you do not ‘view’ this film) ‘the Passion,’ it is a question that is impossible to answer.

            “There is not a scintilla of anti-Semitism to be found anywhere in this powerful film.  If there were, I would be among the first to decry it. It faithfully tells the Gospel

story in a dramatically beautiful, sensitive and profoundly engaging way. Those who are alleging otherwise have either not seen the film or have another agenda behind their protestations.

            “We would all be well advised to remember that the Gospel narratives to which ‘The Passion’ is so faithful were written by Jewish men who followed a Jewish Rabbi whose life and teaching have forever changed the history of the world. The problem is not the message but those who have distorted it and used it for hate rather than love. The
solution is not to censor the message, but rather to promote the kind

of gift of love that is Mel Gibson's filmmaking masterpiece, ‘The Passion.’
            “It should be seen by as many people as possible. I intend to do
everything I can to make sure that is the case. I am passionate about ‘The Passion.’ You will be as well. Don't miss it!” Harvey is convincing, to say the least!

            I plan to see this movie on opening night. I hope you will go see it too. + + + +