ORLANDO, Fla. — Christian leaders at a conference for pastors, who this week viewed actor and producer Mel Gibson’s biblical epic “The Passion of the Christ,” yesterday said the film is not anti-Semitic but its violence can be difficult to watch.
The R-rated film depicts Satan in physical form, standing alongside Jewish leaders after they condemn Christ to a bloody beating by Roman soldiers.
“What impressed me throughout the movie is that neither Jewish nor Gentile people put Jesus on the cross,” said John Maxwell, chairman of the Global Pastors Network, a group that staged the three-day “Beyond All Limits 2” pastors’ conference at Calvary Assembly of God in an Orlando suburb.
“I will never forget the scene of Jesus voluntarily crawling to and placing Himself on the cross,” he said yesterday.
The two-hour movie was shown to 5,000 pastors under heavy security. Participants also had to sign mandatory confidentiality agreements.
Two Jewish leaders who slipped into the preview, posing as members of “the Church of truth” in Brooklyn, N.Y., said their worst fears were realized.
“There are two guilty parties in this film: Jews and sadistic Roman soldiers,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “And at various points, the Romans have some compassion on [Jesus] but not so the Jews, except for the Jew forced to carry His cross.”
He added, “I walked away shocked that what it does is reinforce the classic medieval notion that the Jews killed Christ.”
Alan Nierob, a spokesman for Icon Productions, Mr. Gibson’s film company, said that “We respect anyone’s right to freedom of expression after viewing this work in progress and expect the same in return.”
The violent nature of the film, which includes a lengthy flogging scene by Roman soldiers, left others feeling conflicted.
“Frankly, it made me kind of sick,” one Fort Lauderdale, Fla., pastor confided, “but I didn’t think it was anti-Semitic.”
The Rev. Dale Bronner of Austell, Ga., said the film will not make Christians think Jews are to blame for the crucifixion.
“What took Jesus to the cross was the sins of humanity,” he said. “We’d never blame the Jews; we love them and Jesus did, too.”
The other Jewish leader who got into the preview, Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, ADL’s consultant for interfaith relations, said, “The image projected in the film is [that] Pilate is a coward controlled by the high priest Caiaphas. … We’re arguing whether this is a historically accurate presentation.”