January 16, 2021

Richard is a Canadian Baptist

Richard is a Canadian Baptist pastor. I thought his thoughts were worth posting and sharing.

Why I (probably) Won’t Go See The Passion- by Richard Campeau

The controversial film The Passion of the Christ, directed by superstar Mel Gibson, will be released in theaters on Ash Wednesday. So much has been said and written already that one hesitates to comment further. Nevertheless I feel I should write down my reasons for deciding in advance to not go see the film. I want to do this because, as a pastor, many people come to me, and many more will come, either to ask me what I think or to enthusiastically state that The Passion is a harbinger of revival. Such people are shocked when they hear that I’m not planning on going to see the film. Some have rebuked me for such non-conformity to the evangelical party line. My attitude, they charge, betrays a blatant disregard for the work that God intends to do in the souls of many. This short essay is my attempt to explain myself. It is simply the expression of my own reasons for staying away from this film. It is not in any way meant to bind anyones conscience in this matter.

It’s not about antisemitism or Gibson’s Catholicism.

I should state at the outset that my reasons for not wanting to see The Passion have little or nothing to do with what has been the primary point of controversy concerning this movie – its alleged antisemitism. While it is certainly true that Passion Plays have often been linked to flare-ups of antisemitism and violence against Jews it is not something that is intrinsic to the genre. This is particularly true in more modern versions of the Passion Play. In medieval times passion plays would often deliberately cast Jews as bloodthirsty Christ-killers. Modern passion plays, in my experience, are very careful to avoid such casting and to make the point that all are guilty, the Jews, the Romans and the audience. Despite all the negative press, Mel Gibson’s film appears to do this as well. It is an interesting and telling touch that the hands that are seen holding the spikes as they are hammered into Jesus hands are Gibson’s own hands. Even the director is guilty!

Furthermore I should state that my reluctance has nothing to do with any legalistic shunning of Hollywood and the movies. If any Christians conscience forbids them to go to the movies, they shouldn’t go. But this is certainly not my case. I enjoy cinema and an “R” rating (such as The Passion received) would not necessarily turn me away from a worthy film (though I would take it in consideration and I would want to know why it is so rated before I put my money down). Nor does my reason have to do with Mr. Gibson himself or his somewhat unusual religious persuasion (Note # 1) although I do think my fellow evangelicals could be more aware of Mr. Gibson’s views. He is certainly a strong and unapologetic believer in Christ and The Passion of the Christ is his labor of love. It is rather refreshing to hear faith in Christ promoted and defended by such a “high-ranking” Hollywood insider. I do wonder, however, how many evangelicals are aware of the details of Mr. Gibson’s faith, and particularly of his expressed belief that all non-Catholics (and he interprets “catholic” rather narrowly), including his godly protestant wife, are lost and headed for hell, even if they love and trust Jesus (Note # 2). Mr. Gibson, of course, is entitled to his views, and these in no way influence my decision to not see the film. But one can’t help but be amused at the thought of thousands of “seeker-sensitive” evangelicals flocking to see a film by a director whose vision of the faith is characterized by the Latin Mass, meatless Fridays, penance, and other such seeker-insensitive stuff.

So why won’t I go see The Passion of the Christ?

In the summer of 1980 I took a college course in cinema. I will freely admit that I thought it would provide easy credits. If one has to take a summer course it might as well be one in which much of the work consists in watching movies! It turned out, however, to be a somewhat traumatic experience. Week after week our class watched films like Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, which bluntly portrayed the violence and fallenness of the world. I vividly recall the effects such on-screen violence and despair had on me. It wasn’t good. For a day or two after each screening sadness and depression lurked. Going to class soon became a chore. This situation was perhaps made more difficult due to the fact that I had become a Christian just a couple of months before. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5) had become very important to me, like a mission statement for my life. But in the beatitudes, Jesus describes soft-hearted people (the poor in spirit; the meek; the merciful; etc.) and I found myself having to deal with images that would, if I allowed them, make me less sensitive and more hard-hearted than I felt I was called to be as a Christian. Perhaps my immature Christian faith led me to wrong conclusions about cinema, but ever since that summer I have preferred to stay away from movies that depict gratuitous violence.

Which brings me to The Passion.

Mel Gibson’s stated goal was to render the crucifixion of Christ as realistically as it can be rendered on film. This involves showing the violence of the crucifixion as graphically as possible and bearable. By all accounts he succeeded in this aim. Christian reviewer Steve Beard, in a favorable review, warns that “this is not a family-friendly Christian movie… The Passion is the most brutal movie you will probably ever see. People will be sobbing in the theaters or running out to get sick in the lobby.” He then adds that it “is the most sadistic and simultaneously holy thing I have seen.” (Note # 3)

This reminds me of a kind of preaching that I find particularly offensive. It is the kind of preaching that is usually brought out around Good Friday in which the preacher goes to great lengths in belaboring the details of the crucifixion, particularly the details concerning what was happening to Jesus physically. Such preaching rehearses the details of what happens to the internal organs of a crucifixion victim, or the effects of lactic acid build-up in the muscles, or how water and mucus gather in the lungs of the crucified and begin to drown him. Such descriptions, I think, are the revivalist’s cheapest trick. And I hate it!

I hate it not because it isn’t true – I know enough about biology and anatomy to know that it is. I hate it because it’s voyeuristic. I hate it because its not true New Testament preaching of the cross. The New Testament itself leaves such details implicit rather than explicit. The apostles saw no need for such graphic displays of gore. The readers know that dying nailed to a piece of wood is awful. No more needs to be said but that “they crucified Him” (Luke 24:20) and that “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). Why should I want to see more than God saw fit to tell us about the most awful, scandalous event in the history of the cosmos? And what would seeing it do to my heart? Will seeing this really make me a better Christian (as has been claimed)? Is showing this to unbeliever really the key to bringing them to a knowledge of Christ? It might be good to remind ourselves that of all the Christians in the New Testament only a handful actually saw the events depicted in The Passion. Clearly the Holy Spirit doesn’t need people to have seen before they will believe. He didn’t then and he doesn’t now.

Frankly, I know all the truth I need to know about the cross from the gospels and the epistles. If I don’t want to be assaulted with violent words about the crucifixion why should I want to expose my fragile self to vivid pictures of my Savior’s suffering. I know what on-screen violence does to me. Its not good. And thats why I stay away from movies of cruel, gratuitous violence. For me this includes The Passion of the Christ.

Note # 1 – Mr. Gibson holds to traditionalist catholic beliefs which reject the changes of Vatican II.

Note # 2 – see Peter J. Boyer The Jesus War: Mel Gibson and The Passion, The New Yorker, September 15, 2003 On the web at http://www.wcnet.org/~bgcc/gibson.htm).

Note # 3 – Steve Beard, Brutal Passion, Good News Magazine, March/April 2004 on the web at http://www.goodnewsmag.org/magazine/2MarApr/ma04brutal_passion.htm


  1. Mel Gibson’s stated goal was to render the crucifixion of Christ as realistically as it can be rendered on film.

    This is not quite true. Gibson used every trick in the Hollywood movie playbook for manipulating emotions cranked up to 11. The close-ups. The emotional glances and dramatic pauses in action. Slow motion. The high-drama music score never took a rest. These were all kicked into high gear for the whole movie, even when Jesus was doing something ordinary like carpentry.

    My emotional defenses were up the whole movie because I could tell Gibson was trying to manipulate them. I watched in a state of cold detatchment.

    I would have liked a realistic movie about Jesus that showed what it was really like to be around Jesus, laughing with the apostles and whatnot. Instead, every Jesus movie ever made took itself too seriously.

    P.S. I thought Jackson’s Lord of the Rings did the same thing, only not quite so over-the-top.

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