The largest National ecumenical group offered a reflection guide to Mel Gibson's upcoming movie, "The Passion of the Christ," in lieu of the recent controversies raised by the film, Feb 13, 2004.
While the National Council of Churches' Interfaith Relations Commssion, which issued the guide, did not comment on the film, but rather offered Christian viewers a framework in which to see the film and to discuss it among thier families and congregations.
Christians who viewed the film, set to open at box offices on Ash Wednesday, adorned it with praises, calling it a great "tool of evangelism." However, at the same time, a firestorm of criticism surrounded the film's potential stirring of anti-semetic sentiments through its dramatic dipiction of Jesus' last hours.
"Many Christian and Jewish leaders are concerned that this movie might set back decades of Jewish-Christian relations," the guide notes.
In several cases in the past, the story of Christ's Passion has tragicly lead to the labeling of Jews as "Christ Killers" and to subsequent actos of violence against Jews. The greatest concern expressed by the Interfaith Relations Commission was over this possible rise of anti-semitism, in the midst of necessary dialouge between the two faiths.
The guide addresses the question "Who killed Jesus?" while reminding the readers that Jesus himself was a Jew. It encourages Christians to read at least two Gospel accounts of the Passion along with commentary on the religious and political context of the gospel writers.
When Jesus prayed from the cross, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do," what did he mean?, the guide asks. Movie viewers are asked to discuss how the movie portrays Jews, and to consider specific steps to build or strengthen relationships with Jewish people and institutions.
The entire guide can be found on the ncc website for download: http://www.ncccusa.org/interfaith/passionfilmguide.html