The Rev. Billy Graham gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to Mel Gibson’s biblical epic, “The Passion of Christ,” after a private screening with the movie star.
The film, which describes the hours before Jesus Christ‘s crucifixion, has generated complaints from some Jewish leaders, who say it suggests Jews were responsible for Christ’s death. Conservative Catholics who have seen the film have called it powerful.
“The film is faithful to the Bible‘s teaching that we are all responsible for Jesus’ death, because we all have sinned,” the 85-year-old evangelist said. “It is our sins that caused his death, not any particular group.”
In a statement released Tuesday by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the Southern Baptist also said he “was moved to tears” by the film.
Gibson spent a reported $30 million to produce the movie. Set for release Feb. 25, the movie’s dialogue is in Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic with English subtitles.
“I doubt if there has been a more graphic and moving presentation of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which Christians believe are the most important events in human history,” Graham said.
Graham attended a screening a month ago — one of several Gibson has hosted for religious leaders. After one in August, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League complained “the film unambiguously portrays Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob as the ones responsible for the decision to crucify Jesus.”
Paul Lauer, the film’s marketing director in Santa Monica, Calif., called Graham’s endorsement “very important.” Lauer said the film is faithful to the Gospel text.
“Therefore,” he said, “we don’t believe the film is anti-Semitic.”
Graham apologized last year for disparaging remarks he made about Jews 30 years ago in an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon. The comments were released on audio tapes made by Nixon.