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Wednesday, March 17, 2004


‘Passion’ forum
packs pews to
discuss Gibson’s film

"It does not explain the complexity … it drops you into the whirlpool."

— THERESA GREGORY, Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church lay pastoral associate

Express Staff Writer

A forum on Mel Gibson’s hotly debated film "The Passion of the Christ" filled St. Thomas Episcopal Church last week in Ketchum.

Approximately 300 people packed the pews, took up floor space and squeezed into every available seat Thursday, March 11, to hear local religious figures discuss their thoughts on the film and answer questions from the audience.

Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church’s Lay Pastoral Associate Theresa Gregory, Pastor Bob Henley of Big Wood Presbyterian Church and Rabbi Martin Levy joined St. Thomas’ Father Brian Baker to form the discussion panel. Each gave an opening statement about the film and then engaged in a thorough discussion. The evening concluded with a question and answer session with the audience.

Of the panel members, Henley was the most favorable towards the film. He said it gave "powerful and affirming answers to questions of who was this man and why did he do what he did." When an audience member later asked the panel whether they felt "it possible to understand Jesus from the crucifixion," Henley offered a "qualified no," saying that the movie was "called the ‘Passion of the Christ,’ not the ‘Life of the Christ.’"

To that question and others, the majority of panel members were more critical.

Baker’s high tempo and off-the-cuff manner entertained the packed pews. Baker admitted that, as a priest, watching a film about Jesus is akin to a doctor watching the television show "ER." It is easy for him to find flaws.

"I brought my critical eye to this movie, ‘The Gospel According to Mel Gibson,’" Baker said. "The crucifixion is not the whole story." Noting the rotting teeth of the brutal Roman torturers, Baker joked that a morale of the movie was "if you don’t want to be a bad person, take care of your teeth" and that "bad oral hygiene may be the root of all evil."

Father Baker expressed disdain for some of Gibson’s violence, calling it "gratuitous." In particular, Baker took issue with a closing scene where a raven plucks out the eye of one of the crucified criminals who had wished Jesus ill will. This comes soon after Jesus’ prayer, "Father forgive them, they know not what they do."

Gregory was open-minded in her criticism. "The movie is a work of art that now belongs to us and not Mel—now it’s our turn to decide how it affects us."

Gregory added that one of her largest issues with the film, aside from the violence, was its decontextualized nature. "It does not explain the complexity … it drops you into the whirlpool." She felt it assumes an amount of Christian knowledge in the audience.

Rabbi Levy, the Wood River Valley’s first full-time Rabbi, spoke about historical accuracy and what he considered anti-Semitic elements in the film.

"We all see the movie through our own faith systems," Levy said. He told a story of speaking with a former colleague, a Baptist minister in Texas, who simply "did not see" the anti-Semitism.

Conversely, and in disagreement with Henley’s denial of anti-Semitism in the movie, Levy said he "saw it very clearly in many scenes … Mr. Gibson points a finger at us."

Nevertheless, Levy was anything but negative, offering that "what comes out of the maelstrom of debate and hype is a discussion."

"Regardless of what you think of the movie, whether you loved it or pan it as most of the nation’s critics have, it raises questions of how we share our beliefs," Levy said.

He concluded by thanking the entire Wood River Valley, calling it "a paradigm for the nation--a marvelous and beautiful place to discuss and explore and to live and share religious beliefs."

Funds raised at the forum were given to the inter-ministerial fund, which seeks to help crisis victims of any religious persuasion throughout the community.


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