Churches buy thousands of tickets to ‘Passion’
Jan. 30, 2004
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday February 2, 2004
Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ” doesn’t open in the theaters for almost a month, but a growing number of Chicago area churches already are buying thousands of tickets to ensure that their members get to see it.
“I feel like there’s going to be almost like a cultural happening here with this,” Dan Marler, pastor of Church of God in Oak Lawn, said.
The movie depicts the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ‘s life, including a graphic depiction of his scourging and crucifixion.
The film, which Gibson directed, opens in theaters on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25. Many church leaders see it as a unique opportunity to evangelize.
“I think there is a possibility that churches that don’t deal with this are almost going to be missing the boat,” said Marler, whose congregation has bought out all 360 seats at the 10 a.m. showing of “The Passion” on Feb. 28 at Loews Cineplex in Crestwood. “If you’re a Christian church that’s pro-Jesus, how could you not take advantage of this?”
For many months, since several religious leaders who read an early version of the script complained that it places the blame for Jesus’ death in the hands of the Jews, “The Passion” has been at the center of controversy.
Many of those early critics had not seen “The Passion” until recently, when Gibson, who insists his film is biblically accurate and not anti-Semitic, began screening it for select groups of clergy in California, Florida, Texas and suburban Chicago.
After the screenings, several Jewish leaders who saw “The Passion” still condemned the film for its portrayal of the role of Jews in the death of Christ.
Despite the controversy, church groups have been snapping up tickets. Groups interested in buying blocks of tickets for “The Passion” have contacted almost all eight of the cinemas owned by Marcus Theaters in the Chicago area, said Carlo Petrick, a spokesman for the theater company.
“They’ve been calling us for about a month,” Petrick said.
But so far the largest reported block of tickets was at Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., where Gibson hosted the first large-scale screening of the film for pastors in early January.
Saddleback, whose pastor is Rick Warren, author of the mega-best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life, has purchased 18,000 tickets at seven theaters for the first two days the film is out, a spokesman for the church said.
The Evangelical Free Church of Naperville has bought more than 1,000 tickets for four screenings over four days at the Cinemark Theater at Seven Bridges in Woodridge, where several other churches have also bought tickets.
The Naperville church already has been showing a trailer for “The Passion” at services. The church plans to host a discussion with biblical scholars Feb. 29 and a six-week series of small-group studies about the film beginning in March, said Rick Pierson, pastor of spiritual life transformation.
Church leaders are encouraging members to buy tickets for friends as well as themselves, he said.
“In the kind of world we live in today, people need to come to grips with the reality of who [Jesus] is and why he did offer his life for them as individuals,” said Pierson.
Many people who have seen the film have remarked on the graphic violence of the scenes where Jesus is beaten and killed. Pierson said pastors at his church have suggested parents see the film, which is rated R, before deciding whether their children should see it.
“It would be tough to eat popcorn and drink a Coke through this movie,” he said. “But if you want any image of violence in your mind, you should have this one. It’s something that is not exploitative. It’s not in any way entertaining. . . . It’s like, ‘He did this for me?’ That’s what I came away with, that he took that kind of beating, that kind of punishment for me. And I don’t want to forget that image.”
At Wheaton Bible Church, two members have offered to buy out two screenings of “The Passion” at a local theater, said Dave Thomson, the church’s communications director.
“We’re encouraging people to take their friend to the movie and have a movie-and-a-dinner kind of deal,” Thomson said.
John Mitchell, Wheaton Bible’s pastor of evangelism, added, “We’re getting involved in this way because we believe that Mel Gibson’s movie . . . will cause people to ask the most important question of life, which is, ‘What was Jesus doing on that cross?’”
Marler, the Oak Lawn pastor, plans to address questions raised by the film — including whether the depictions of Jewish characters are anti-Semitic — in a sermon the Sunday morning after his congregation sees the movie. “To talk about the controversy would be fine,” he said. “Some Jewish groups are saying it’s anti-Semitic. Is that true? I think it’s a fair question for Christian groups to talk about.”
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