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The Impact of 'The Passion': Predictions versus Results

There has been much speculation regarding the impact of Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ." Many people criticized the violent nature of the film. Many expressed concern that the film would produce a surge of anti-Semitism, reviving the idea that Jews were "Christ killers."

'The Passion of The Christ' was released on Ash Wednesday. A month-and-a-half later, we should be able to determine whether or not the fears of negative impact were justified. Since the movie's release, how many people have needed therapy after exposure to the graphic imagery? How many synagogues have been defaced? How many Jews have been persecuted? How much anti-Jewish rhetoric has proceeded from the pulpits of Christian churches, calling for Jews to apologize for the murder of an innocent man?

The answer: none. Without a doubt, if there were even one instance of such behavior, it would be on the front page of every newspaper, and be discussed for hours on end on every television and radio news program. The truth is, the effect this movie has had is far from what its critics predicted.

Yes, the movie contains very graphic violence. However, Gretchen Passatino of Answers in Action described it well, "The violence of the movie is nearly overwhelming. It is vivid, realistic, and unrelenting - just as it was when it actually happened to the Lamb of God."

The message of the film – as of Christ's own passion – is neither one of violence, nor one of hatred: but one of love.

While filming the scene where Jesus is nailed to the cross, it is Gibson's own hands that are holding the spike and swinging the hammer. This fact alone shows that Gibson understood the message of Christ's passion: it is not the Jews who are solely responsible for Christ's death on the cross – nor is it the Romans – it is every one of us, individually, for whose sins He suffered, and bled, and died.

Watching this film has not produced a spate of anti-Semitic hatred, but it has produced some results:

On March 16, James Anderson, a fugitive from a December 2001 bank robbery

surprised investigators when he walked into the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office saying he was ready to give himself up. Prior to his confession the case had stumped police. When the detective asked why he was coming clean after all this time, Anderson said, "I saw 'The Passion' and that made my decision." Sheriff's office spokesman Paul Miller added, "And he sort of urged [the detective] to see the movie too."

In Oslo, Norway, Norwegian neo-Nazi Johnny Olsen turned himself in to police for two decade-old bombings after seeing the movie's depiction of Jesus' suffering and death. He confessed to bombings of a left-wing youth group's headquarters in 1994 and 1995. No one was injured in those attacks. Before his hearing on March 29th, Olsen, in a choked voice, told reporters, "Jesus lives." "I distance myself from my past and neo-Nazism." Fridtjof Feydt, Olsen's lawer, said, "The trigger that made him go to police and confess was that movie."

One week earlier, 21-year-old Dan Leach of Rosenberg, Texas, viewed The Passion. After seeing the film, Leach confessed to the January 19 murder of his girlfriend, Ashley Nichole Wilson. Leach was arrested March 23 for the crime that was originally ruled a suicide.

On Sunday, Mar. 28, Turner Lee Bingham, 20, returned to the store he had robbed less than 10 minutes earlier to confess to that crime, as well as five or six other previous burglaries. Bingham had seen Gibson's movie, and felt guilty.

Granted, there are some who, like Oslo's Lutheran bishop Gunnar Staalsett, continue to insist that the film glorifies sadism and torture, even in light of these changes of heart. Nevertheless, this film is affecting people – possibly like no other film ever has.

Yes, the treatment of Jesus is vividly brutal in this picture. Yes, I flinched with every stripe, and with every blow of the hammer. But the movie is about more than the torture and suffering of the Lamb of God. Interspersed in the film are flashbacks to periods of Jesus' life and ministry. These scenes take the movie from one of violence, to one of meaning. By the cuts to His sermon on the mount, His dealing with the crowd which brought to Him Mary Magdalene, His agony in the garden of Gethsemane, etc., we see that His suffering and death all happened for a purpose: to take away the sins of the world. Praise God! For Jesus' blood will never lose its power!

With the words of the beautiful song I boldly declare, "I believe that the Christ who was slain on the cross has the power to change lives today, for He changed me completely, a new life is mine. That is why by the cross I will stay."

May the Lord use this film to draw many more unto Himself. Amen.

David M. McNabb
Editor & Bible Guy