PALM BEACH — The son of evangelist Billy Graham and a former Republican presidential candidate have offered support to the Anti-Defamation League’s concerns that Mel Gibson’s upcoming film, The Passion of The Christ, may spark a wave of anti-Semitism.
Abraham H. Foxman, addressing the ADL’s National Executive Committee Friday at The Breakers, said Franklin Graham, CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Gary Bauer, a Republican candidate for president in 2000 and conservative Christian advocate, have contacted him and are willing to speak to the sensitivity that Jews have regarding Gibson’s film. The ADL has been a vocal critic of the movie, which it contends portrays Jews as the killers of Jesus.
“If they can be heard, others will follow,” Foxman told the 300 people gathered for the discussion on Gibson’s film, which is slated for release Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday. “Franklin Graham…. He understands our pain and he will raise his voice.”
Bauer has not seen the film, said Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for his organization, American Values, a pro-family advocacy organization. But Bauer has taken the position that Jews are not responsible for Christ’s death, she said.
“No one took Christ’s life,” Hamrick said. “He gave it as a free gift of grace.”
Attempts to reach Franklin Graham were unsuccessful. According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Web site, Gibson visited the Rev. Billy Graham in October to show him his film, which focuses on the last 12 hours before Jesus’ death.
According to the site, Graham said: “The film is faithful to the Bible’s teaching that we are all responsible for Jesus’ death, because we have all sinned. It is our sins that caused His death, not any particular group.”
The Rev. Billy Graham angered Jews worldwide two years ago for comments he made to President Richard Nixon in the 1970s in which he denigrated Jews. The comments became public when the National Archives released the Nixon tapes.
Graham, who has had health problems in recent years, has since apologized to Jewish leaders and publicly condemned anti-Semitism.
On Friday, under tight security, Foxman and a panel of Catholic and Jewish scholars suggested that Gibson’s film could undo years of work between the two groups. A backlash could break nearly 40 years of bridge-building since the historic 1965 Vatican II Council’s acknowledgement that the Jews weren’t responsible for Christ’s death.
The Rev. John Pawlikowski, a Catholic scholar, told the audience that Gibson’s ties to neo-conservative Catholics have influenced the actor’s version of biblical events. Select Catholic leaders in America had reviewed the script and expressed concerns about its portrayal of Scripture. Officials plan to issue a paper about the church’s position after the movie’s release.
At least one Roman Catholic diocese in America, the Archdiocese of Denver, publicly supports Gibson’s film. Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput viewed the movie last year and has lent his support.
Pawlikowski said the Denver archdiocese will profit from the movie, with half of the proceeds from a diocese-sponsored showing going to a local seminary.
The Diocese of Palm Beach, led by Bishop Gerald Barbarito, has not commented on the film.
Foxman said the threat of anti-Semitism is real because a recent ADL poll shows that one in four Americans believes the Jews killed Christ. He also said he has received criticism for taking his dispute with Gibson public.
“That’s a luxury we in the Jewish community don’t have,” said Foxman, suggesting a similar silence led to the Holocaust.