Darren L. Slider
Anti-Semitism or Anti-Christianity?
PASTOR COLGLAZIERS ARTICLE
GIBSON MOVIE OPENS OLD WOUNDS OF ANTI-SEMITISM
A controversy has been roiling over a yet-to-be-released film produced by actor Mel Gibson on the Crucifixion of Jesus. Gibson, who is a fundamentalist Catholic, has made a film that slavishly (and graphically) follows the biblical account of the Crucifixion. However, in making this film, he has unwittingly opened a deep theological wound by portraying the Jews as killers of Christ.
Gibson seems oblivious to the fact that biblical accounts of the Crucifixion are not really accounts at all, at least not in the journalistic sense of the word. What we have in the four Gospels are theological portraits of Jesus. The Gospel writers often contradict one another when recounting details about the death of Jesus. And it seems the writers were more concerned with what was occurring at the end of the first century in their own churches than about what happened on the day Jesus was crucified. The villainization of Jews found in these narratives reflects, as much as anything, a strained relationship between church and synagogue at the end of the first century.
Gibson has claimed he was trying to make a movie true to the biblical account of the Crucifixion, but what he winds up doing is proliferating one of the most haunting falsehoods in Christian interpretation, namely, that the Jews murdered the son of God. It would be hard to overstate how much damage this has caused Jewish people. The church is still trying to come to terms with this element of anti-Judaism, but as Gibsons movie demonstrates, it is a difficult idea to overcome.
With only a modicum of biblical and theological sophistication, Gibson could have understood the theology of the church as an ongoing process, and that any portrayal of the Jews as Christ killers is not only historically questionable but also reprehensible, in that it harms Jewish-Christian relations. We are living in a post-Holocaust world, and any theology the church articulates must take seriously the tragedy of the Shoah. In other words, one can follow the literalness of the Bible, and at times, betray the essence of the Gospel.
Does it really matter who killed Jesus? I think it does.
For more than 2,000 years, the Jewish people have experienced unspeakable persecution. Moreover, they have faced political leaders whose express purpose was their complete eradication. It seems to me that Christians have a responsibility to avoid all anti-Jewish thinking, recognizing that Jesus himself was a Jew and that the Christian faith is an offshoot from Judaism. Christians have every reason in the world to join with Jewish people for the healing of a broken, fragmented human family.
One way to avoid anti-Jewish sentiment is to be clear about the nature of the Passion narratives. Beyond that, it is important to recognize that even if some Jews were associated with the death of Jesus, (keeping in mind that crucifixion was only practiced by Romans), it would be wrong to condemn Jews as a whole. Rather, it is the Jews who have often been crucified by the world, and sadly, Christians are the ones who, in many respects, have been guilty of propagating anti-Semitic prejudice.
Perhaps Pope John Paul II said it best: In the Christian world, erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people and their alleged culpability [for the Crucifixion] have circulated for too long, engendering feelings of hostility towards this people. I would also add that even though Gibsons project is just a movie, some things still matter in this world, like ideas about God and people and how they should treat one another because for some certain ideas can mean life or death.
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Worst of all, however,
Nowadays, it happens instead that traditional Christians routinely experience condemnation and persecution from the left of the theological/political spectrum simply for believing truths of our religion which we have held for nearly
Author’s Note: On Saturday, October 4, 2003, a guest religion column by The Rev. R. Scott Colglazier, senior pastor at University Christian Church in Fort Worth, condemning actor Mel Gibson for producing a (not yet released!) film based on the Gospel account of the Crucifixion, appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I responded that afternoon with a letter to the editor, which the paper published (with some revisions) the following Saturday.