In a recent interview for a Christian television network about his film "The Passion of the Christ," director Mel Gibson, complaining about his critics, repeated the following phrase four times: "He is an anti-Semite" - suggesting this was the accusation repeatedly being made against him.
We have never accused Gibson of being an anti-Semite. But judging from the E-mails and letters we have received since we spoke out after seeing the film last month - some blatantly anti-Semitic, many more suggesting our criticism was somehow dishonest - there is a need to clear the air.
First, let us repeat that we do not believe that Gibson intended his film to be a passion of hate. Our concerns stem from history. For nearly 2,000 years, Jews have been the victims of persecution and pogroms fueled by the age-old canard that Jews bear responsibility for the death of Jesus for all time.
The charge of "deicide" or of Jews as being "Christ killers" has persisted through the presentation of Passion plays despite the Catholic Church's historic Vatican II pronouncement in the early 1960s. It denounced anti-Semitism and stated clearly that the Jews of the past, as well as the Jews of today, bear no responsibility for Jesus' death.
Gibson's film rejects the modern church reforms. We were saddened and pained to find that "The Passion of the Christ" unambiguously portrays Jews as being responsible for the death of Jesus.
We are shocked that Gibson has not fulfilled his promise to remove the most troublesome aspects of this film. We are especially concerned with a scene in which a mob of Jews who are present when Pontius Pilate condemns Jesus to death calls down a blood curse (Matthew 27:25). This scene so far remains intact, even though Gibson indicated that he was removing it.
Even if that particular scene were removed, there would still be ample material in the film to reinforce the image of Jewish responsibility.
We are troubled that Gibson continues to spurn our requests for an audience and that he feels the criticism of his film is part of a campaign to label him an anti-Semite. Gibson's only response to our numerous requests for a meeting was a brief letter, sent last week, in which he failed to address any of the concerns we have raised.
Our concern is that the images could be used by those who are disposed toward hatred to harden their hearts.
Jewish and Christian leaders have not given up hope. We have urged Gibson to consider adding to the movie a postscript with him coming on screen at the end to implore his viewers not to let the film turn some toward a passion of hate.