Local churches buying up tickets in blocks for long-awaited film’s opening

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

The Ash Wednesday release of Mel Gibson’s movie, &uot;The Passion of the Christ,&uot; already has theaters across the nation and in Hampton Roads booked.

The film, which some believe will cause a spiritual revival in this country, depicts the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus. The movie opens with his betrayal by Judas, his condemnation by the Pharisees and his appearance before Pontius Pilate. Pilate defers to King Herod, but Herod returns Jesus. Pilate then asks the crowd to choose between Jesus and Barrabas. The crowd chooses Barrabas.

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Pilate washes his hands of the matter, and Jesus is forced to carry the cross through the streets to Golgotha where Roman soldiers violently crucify him.

Many people have expressed concern over the violence depicted in the film, but at least one local minister said the film doesn’t even come close to the actual torture that Christ must have suffered.

&uot;A study of the Roman history shows that when they crucified people, as was their means of punishment, it was a violent and terrible thing,&uot; said the Rev. Tony Ray Peaks, pastor of Open Door Church on Kings Fork Road. &uot;We look at this film as a tremendous opportunity to see what Jesus did for all of humanity and how severe his suffering was.

&uot;It is our mission to have as many people as possible see this film and we have bought out two 270-seat theaters at Harbour View Grande and we are giving away the tickets toward that goal.&uot;

At St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Linden Avenue, Father Lu Ruoff said he will wait for his parishioners’ reviews before deciding whether to see the film.

&uot;Some of our people plan to attend as a group, but I won’t be going,&uot; said the priest. &uot;I worked in New York City back in the 1970s with abused children and we were in the middle of a crusade against violence in television then.

&uot;Now, 30 years later, we still have violence in television and films. It seems to me that it’s just another Hollywood film to make money. I don’t want to buy into that. There’s so much hype.&uot;

Despite the violent portrayal of the crucifixion, Wayne Rountree, senior warden at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on North Main Street, is looking forward to seeing the film.

&uot;I cannot wait to see it. Although the church has no plans to go as a group, I believe that about 80 percent of the congregation has plans to see it,&uot; he said. &uot;As for the violence, …I suspect that the actual crucifixion was an extremely violent and horrible experience.&uot;

People should bear in mind that this film is one man’s version of the crucifixion, he added.

Metropolitan Baptist Church on 125 County St. usually has its own passion play, &uot;A Man Called Jesus,&uot; each year. Arvis L. Saunders, director of drama ministry, said the play won’t take place this year, however, since one of their players passed away.

As with the Metropolitan play, Saunders sees &uot;The Passion&uot; as a dramatic portrayal of the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus.

&uot;It shows how Jesus gave his life for the remission of our sins,&uot; said Saunders. &uot;This year, in lieu of our own production, the 50 members of the cast will go as a group to see ‘The Passion of the Christ.’

&uot;We will attend in memory of one of our main players, Deacon Robert Jones, who played the disciple Jesus loved, John.&uot;

Concerning the violence of the Gibson production, Saunders said she has witnessed rehearsals of the crucifixion in the church that caused grown men to cry. She wonders how much more emotional it would be if it were real?

The Rev. Steven Blunt, pastor of First Baptist Mahan Street, said his congregation is not attending as a group, although he may attend.

&uot;I know some people are trying to make that (the violence) an issue,&uot; he said. &uot;But it’s going to be another Hollywood depiction of Jesus versus the historical Jesus.

&uot;There is always a concern with any depiction of Christ. There is also a lack of black people in the film. And, Hollywood will never depict Christ as a dark-skinned man.&uot;

Whaleyville United Methodist Church will not be seeing the movie as a group, but Pastor George Griffin’s wife, Mary Curtis, said she is looking forward to see it. She said that some people are concerned about the violence, but she has a different concern.

&uot;The only thing that concerns me is the dubbing,&uot; said Curtis. &uot;I feel something will be lost through reading it because it loses its visual effect.

&uot;I don’t normally go to see dubbed films but this one is too important to miss.&uot;

Pastor Russell Blanchard of Faith Outreach Community Church in Gatesville, N.C., is leading a group of church members to Greenbrier Mall Cinema to see the film.

In preparation for viewing the movie, the church is revisiting the Gospel in order to better understand that Christ was not only the Son of God, but also a man who suffered and died an excruciating death.

&uot;I believe that God may very well use this film to reawaken the church by reminding us of the sacrifice and suffering of Jesus,&uot; said Blanchard. &uot;I feel that being reminded of the sacrifice will bring a lot of personal inter-reflection and through that, we’ll realize that because of his sacrifice, we can sacrifice for him.&uot;

Blanchard added that although he is not excited about seeing the violence of the crucifixion, it will certainly be less than what actually must have happened to Christ.

The pastor is taking his son, Justin, almost 16, to see &uot;The Passion&uot; after the family sits down to discuss what to expect in the film. Blanchard strongly urged that other parents do the same.

Along with the $25 million film, co-written, directed, and financed by Hollywood actor Mel Gibson, there are books, web sites and Christian radio stations all focusing on the movie. Gibson’s Icon Production company and distributor Newmarket Films added 800 additional theaters to the original 2,000 because demand to see the film has been so great.