Chicago Tribune, 04/26/04: Velma Dority managed to tune out the chatter on religious radio stations calling on all Christians to see “The Passion of the Christ.” She ignored her virtuous friends who bragged about seeing the film countless time.
But when Ms. Dority’s five sisters told her she must see “The Passion”—that watching Jesus suffer would make her a better Christian—she took action. She called her doctor and obtained a written excuse saying the movie would be harmful to her health.
“Once I told my family the doctor said not to see it, they said ‘OK, don’t see it,’” said Ms. Dority, 64, of Chicago, who suffers from a variety of ailments, including asthma. “I felt much better after I got the doctor’s approval because I didn’t feel bad about not seeing the movie.”
With Mel Gibson’s blockbuster earning more than $366 million at the box office and energizing evangelicals and conservative Catholics across the United States, some devout Christians have found themselves facing a dilemma.
They prefer not to view the film, because of its violent and gory nature or its traditionalist orientation, but feel pressure from pastors and other Christians to go. Some even say they are made to feel anti-Christian for not joining in the “buzz” surrounding the film at their Sunday services.
Since the debut of “The Passion” on Feb. 27, churches of many denominations have virtually made viewing it an act of religious faith. Some have rented cinemas and bused members to showings. Special study groups have been organized to discuss the film and Jesus Christ’s life and crucifixion, while “Passion” websites and chat rooms flourish.
But for some Christians the violence in the film, which depicts in gruesome detail Christ being beaten with nail-studded whips until his skin in caked in blood, is too much to tolerate. Many fear the visceral images could leave them more traumatized than spiritually transformed....
Calls to conform and see the film are especially common among evangelical Christians. Overall, they have been among Mr. Gibson’s staunchest backers, and the holy heat they have generated has made some pastors who are lukewarm to the film feel pressure to encourage their parishioners to see it.
“We were approached by a sister church in our neighborhood that is also Baptist about buying a large number of tickets together,” said Keith Herron, senior pastor at Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo. “If we did that, we would have clout with the (theater) manager and essentially, could do anything we would want to do.”
The idea was clear, Mr. Herron said—the theater could be turned into a stage for saving lost souls. But Mr. Herron recoiled at the notion of using “The Passion” for instant conversions to Christianity.
“We just thought that was manipulative and the wrong approach to sharing the love of Christ,” he said. “To pull on people in a moment of weakness like that is just wrong.”
Mr. Herron said a number of evangelical churches are “absolutely” compelling worshippers, families and in some cases young children to see the film.
“There’s incredible pressure to go see it,” Mr. Herron said.