'THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST' Starting a dialogue: Valley pastors await film
One pastor is urging church members to see it with a nonbeliever.
By D.A. WILKINSON
VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR
CANFIELD -- Churches are renting theaters to see "The Passion of the Christ" because the violent death of Jesus is a key part of the Christian faith.
Christians who see Mel Gibson's new movie can discuss what Christ's death means to them, and they can discuss it with nonbelievers, pastors say.
Gibson has said he wanted a realistic depiction so people would understand Christ's suffering. Christians believe they can be freed from sin because Jesus bore their sin during his death.
The movie is set to open locally Wednesday. Old North Church in Canfield has reserved a 450-seat theater at Tinseltown U.S.A. in Boardman at 4 p.m. Sunday. It also plans to rent a 388-seat theater about the same time March 7 at Regal Cinema in Austintown.
Tabernacle Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Austintown was able to rent a 229-seat theater Tuesday evening, also in Austintown.
The ministers said they have not seen the movie but have learned about it from various sources and heard accounts from people who saw a rough cut of the film.
The Rev. Chris Jarrett, outreach pastor at Old North, said the movie portrays "what Christ went through on our behalf."
The Rev. Mr. Jarrett said church members will discuss what the movie means to them in church classes. The members are being encouraged to take a nonbeliever to the movie and afterward ask, "What do you think?"
The Rev. Gary Koerth, Tabernacle's associate pastor, said that the movie is an affirmation of Christian beliefs and "is the most realistic portrayal of the Crucifixion so far."
Mr. Jarrett said the movie's violence is realistic. The Roman government's use of crucifixion was the violent death penalty of its day, he said, but it was so inhumane that the Romans later outlawed it.
Mr. Jarrett compared Gibson's movie to Steven Spielberg's 1993 movie "Schindler's List," which realistically portrayed the violence and history of the Holocaust.
Open to interpretation?
Still, some small parts of the movie may be open to interpretation.
The Rev. George Balasko, pastor of St. Ann Church in East Liverpool, has been involved in Christian-Jewish dialogue for decades.
Father Balasko also hasn't seen the movie but said he noted that a preview shows Christ carrying the entire cross. The modern belief is that Christ would have carried only the beam to the post fixed in the ground as shown in recent religious movies, he said.
Previews also show nails being delivered into Christ's palms. Father Balasko said the nails would have been driven into Christ's wrists in order to support him.
And while the movie is based on the four Gospels, Father Balasko said, they don't exactly agree. Christ is shown wearing a crown of thorns, but that's not mentioned in Luke, he said.
Striving for accuracy
Mr. Jarrett believes the movie is as accurate as possible considering that 2,000 years have passed since the Crucifixion. He's been told that of the two-hour production, only about five minutes of the movie strays from convention, and those five minutes "are not central to the story line."
The other extreme, Mr. Jarrett said, was Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ."
"Martin Scorsese basically threw out the Bible and did what he wanted. Gibson is trying to be faithful," Mr. Jarrett said.
The Rev. Mr. Koerth said any minor factual disputes would be similar to witnesses having slightly different accounts of an accident.
"The main thing is it's a major tool to reach others with the Gospel," he said.