Religious leaders speak out on 'The Passion' - Catholic Courier

Religious leaders speak out on ‘The Passion’

Rochester-area religious leaders — including Bishop Matthew H. Clark — have issued a cautionary message to moviegoers regarding Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which opens locally and nationwide Feb. 25. (Click to see related story on an interfaith discussion series about this controversial film.)
“It is our mutual hope that this film will be understood as an artistic rendering of events as seen through the lens of one filmmaker’s interpretation of the Christian scriptures,” the leaders said in a joint statement released Sunday, Feb. 24. “Because it is ultimately one artist’s cinematic vision of events, it should not be viewed as ‘documentary’ film footage or as representing the authoritative teaching of Christianity, Judaism or Islam.”
The leaders expressed concern about the movie’s potential for generating ill will toward individuals or groups over religious differences. “Instead, we pray that it will evoke in those who see it a desire to study for themselves and within their own religious tradition the (Passion) period’s complex political, historical and religious contexts,” the statement said. “And we also hope that, if the film does raise questions or concerns, it will prompt intelligent and respectful dialogue and help further build a community of harmony.”
The statement was signed by Bishop Clark as well as Violet L. Fisher, resident bishop of the United Methodist Church’s New York West Area; Edie Gause, interim executive presbyter, Presbytery of the Genesee Valley; Marie C. Jerge, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Upstate New York Synod; Rabbi Laurence Kotok, leader of Temple B’rith Kodesh in Brighton; Jack M. McKelvey, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester; and Dr. Muhammad Shafiq, imam of the Islamic Center of Rochester.
Doug Mandelaro, spokeman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, said Bishop Clark felt it was important to join other religious leaders “to offer the hope that no one would react to the film’s highly charged portrayal of Jesus’ Passion with negative feelings toward the Jewish people, a real concern among many people here and elsewhere.” Mandelaro also observed that the diocese has been a national leader in promoting Judeo-Christian relations, and that Bishop Clark considers it important “that we continue to build on the years of interfaith harmony in our community.”
Based on the extreme violence contained in trailers and other advance publicity materials for “The Passion,” Rabbi Kotok told the Courier he fears that harmony may be disrupted.
“All of the fine and blessed work that religious communities have been doing, to gain understanding and reconciliation and mutuality in the modern age, could be thrown back to the Middle Ages,” Rabbi Kotok said of the film’s effects.
Similar concern was voiced by Canon Carolyn Lumbard, spokesperson at the Rochester Episcopal Diocese.
“I know that Bishop McKelvey’s been very concerned about the hype that’s been present on the TV and the news about the nature of the violence and the anti-Semitism,” Canon Lumbard said. “We hope that what the (leaders’) statement will do is bring folks back to their common ground, that they’ll ask questions and take those questions to their faith leaders.”
Imam Shafiq said controversy over “The Passion” has also raised considerable discussion among the Muslim community, and for that reason he felt it was important to join Christian and Jewish leaders in their joint statement.
“Whenever there is concern for anyone in the religious community, we must say we stand for peaceful coexistence,” he said.

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