The 5-day countdown toward the release of “The Passion of the Christ” next Wednesday has begun. Already selling some $10 million dollars in advance ticket sales, the film will add 590 more viewers from the Tacoma-area, including youth congregations in Washington, thanks in part to the promotional help of two youth pastors who say it’s the best movie about Jesus.
"Personally, I was moved," said Pastor Scott Pennington, 35, youth pastor at Lake City Community Church in Lakewood. Although he has read the Gospel accounts hundreds of times, "seeing it in front of me made me realize someone did this for me."
Pennington, along with Rev. James Jones who ministers as a youth pastor at the nondenominational Trinity Church of Pierce County, both saw an unfinished version of the movie in November, during an evangelical Christian youth ministries conference in Indianapolis.
Critics are concerned the rated-R movie may be overly graphic and violent but it’s the truth, according to the two youth pastors.
"The visual impact is letting people know that it was a real story - what Jesus Christ had to go through to pay for our sins," Pennington said. "This is a historical event, not a story about a mythical God."
"It's very visually gripping," commented Jones on the scenes where Jesus was being beaten and crucified. "As you're watching the beating, you get the sense that you're there."
Jones added that the movie brings the story of Jesus to life. "You can only learn so much through reading a book," he said. "You're watching it, you're hearing, you're feeling it. For believers, it's something to watch and see and really get an understanding of what Christ went through."
Pennington likes the film so much that he is even taking 20 people from his high school youth group to see the movie on the opening night. The movie will be the pinnacle for the high school youth group involvement with the movie since they study a curriculum in Sunday school based on the movie. All attendees from the youth group will be required to submit a parent-signed permission slip regardless of age.
"I think all the people in the church should see it," Jones said. The Trinity Church even posted up an announcement which reads: “The Passion of Christ; At Theaters Feb.25!” on the church’s reader board along Tacoma Mall Boulevard. "It will be a great evangelistic tool if it's followed up with discussion about why did that happen, and what does that mean for us in 2004."
Jones did not specify what age would be considered too young to view the movie but he did exercise his discretion as a parent.
"I don't think it's grotesque," Jones said. "But I think it's violent enough that I wouldn't have my 9-year-old rushing out to watch it."
Aside from the violence, other themes from the movie also have some people concerned.
Rabbi Mark Glickman of Tacoma's Temple Beth El hasn’t seen the film but is worried the film might send an anti-Semitic message because it feels it attributes blame to the Jews for the death of Jesus.
"The concern is that people who may not be well-acquainted with Scripture may come away from the movie saying the Jews killed Christ and therefore are blameworthy today," said Glickman.
There is nothing to worry about, according what Pennington and Jones say. They both disagree that the movie is anti-Semitic.
"Neither the movie nor the Bible tries to pin it on the Jewish people or any particular group," Jones said. "It's people's sin, in the end, that caused Christ's death. Christ died because of the sins of humanity."
Movie’s director Mel Gibson feels the same way. In a “Primetime” interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, Gibson made the point of the film clear.
Jesus Christ "was beaten for our iniquities," Gibson said, referring to a passage from Isaiah 53. "He was wounded for our transgressions and by his wounds we are healed. That's the point of the film. It's not about pointing fingers."
Controversy surrounding “The Passion” has only helped to fuel people’s interest to see the movie.
Tacoma Youth for Christ, a ministry that sees to the evangelism of youth, sold all the tickets they bought to the viewing of movie in a 295-seat full auditorium of the Lakewood Towne Center Theater. The early viewing is scheduled for Monday.
"We've heard enough about it from people who have seen the movie," said Bobby Arkills, executive director of Tacoma Youth for Christ. "It has an amazing impact on people."
First Baptist Church of Lakewood also bought 295 seats in one auditorium of Lakewood Towne Center Theater so congregant members can watch the movie on Tuesday.
The movie provides each organization an opportunity to spread the word about Jesus.
"We're using it as an outreach tool," said the Rev. Mark Dinwiddie, minister of education, who says none of the church members have yet watched the movie.
Pennington said, "I'm encouraging our students to bring their friends if they're searching for something, looking for Christianity.”