Decoding Da Vinci: View from the pulpit

Christian leaders rally to curb what they fear could be a faith-shaking movie experience

With a religious blitz of books, lectures and educational DVDs, Christian leaders are trying to defend the faith against the highly anticipated release of the movie “The Da Vinci Code.”

One prominent evangelical leader, Rev. Erwin Lutzer of the Moody Church in Chicago, calls Dan Brown’s best-selling novel and the upcoming film “the most serious attack against Christianity” he has known in nearly 30 years of ministry.

More than 7,800 evangelical pastors across the nation have purchased Lutzer’s educational DVD and study guide in hopes of responding to questions raised in “The Da Vinci Code” movie, which opens Friday. Lutzer also has organized a six-part Sunday lecture series where he dissects the novel to separate fact from fiction.

For their part, the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops have set up a snazzy Web site ( and produced an hour-long television documentary to educate the public on the divinity of Jesus, his relationship to Mary Magdalene and the formation of the New Testament.

Lutherans, Presbyterians and other mainline Protestant churches are holding panels and discussions, partly in hopes of engaging and evangelizing nonbelievers. Church Web sites and blogs poke fun at the phenomenon, invite debate and attack fallacies in the fiction. On May 21, the California-based Church Communication Network will broadcast a “Da Vinci” discussion via satellite to hundreds of congregations.

The Da Vinci Code

So error-laden is The Da Vinci Code that the educated reader actually applauds those rare occasions where Brown stumbles (despite himself) into the truth. […] In the end, Dan Brown has penned a poorly written, atrociously researched mess.
Source: Dismantling The Da Vinci Code By Sandra Miesel, Crisis, Sep. 1, 2003

Perhaps most surprisingly, the orthodox Catholic group Opus Dei, depicted in the book as a secret society with a murderous albino monk, has chosen to use the negative portrayal as a chance to speak out publicly about the real Opus Dei.

So, what is it about “The Da Vinci Code” that has prompted the Christian community to respond so strongly? What’s so scary about a Hollywood movie starring Tom Hanks on a search for the secret of the Holy Grail?

Rev. Hilary Mahaney, pastor of St. Mary of the Angels in Chicago, the only U.S. parish run by Opus Dei priests, says the movie’s threat is real. He sees possible dangerous consequences for the Catholic Church and even Christianity.

“I really think it has the potential to do a lot of damage to the church,” he said. “This book and the movie has the capacity of destroying someone’s faith because of the way it confuses historical fact with fiction.”

Lutzer, senior pastor at Moody, agrees. He said the success of “The Da Vinci Code” and the media attention surrounding the newly discovered “Gospel of Judas” has fueled an attack on Jesus in popular culture that is certain to have destructive after-effects.

“Once the debate has died down, Jesus will probably no longer be in the news,” Lutzer said. “But the long-term damage of these views will continue. Because people will now have in their minds this misconception of Jesus that they will live with, that they in turn will pass on to their children.”

Brown’s novel is a thriller that interweaves church history with a fictitious conspiracy to hide that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. After the crucifixion, the novel states, Mary and her daughter fled to Europe and began a royal dynasty. In the book, Opus Dei conspires and kills to keep the truth about Jesus secret. The book contends the emperor Constantine invented the divinity of Jesus for political purposes.

The “code” alludes to cryptograms and clues hidden in works painted by artist Leonardo Da Vinci that allegedly reveal the true nature of Jesus, his relationship with Mary Magdalene and the alleged cover-up by the Catholic Church.

Lutzer said the public’s insatiable appetite for conspiracy theories and the role of women as a pillar of the church are key to the story’s success. But the biggest factor, he said, is the way Jesus is portrayed.

“The book presents a Jesus who’s a mere man, who will never make any demands on you,” Lutzer said. “A Jesus who will never confront the sin in your life. A Jesus who you can take like putty and make him into whatever shape you like. And there is a great desire on the part of people to believe that, because they want to be comfortable with what they are presently doing and believing.”

Because the Catholic Church is presented in the book as the villain, those followers might seem to have the most at stake. Yet a recent poll commissioned by Catholic Digest found that 73 percent of Catholics surveyed said “The Da Vinci Code” did not affect their faith or opinion of the church.

Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco, director of communications for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he doesn’t believe someone’s faith would be shattered by seeing the movie–but it might be shaken.

“Faith is a gift from God. And I don’t think he’s going to withdraw it because a person saw this movie,” he said. “But I do think people can be disturbed by it. And get questions like: `What’s going on here?'”

For that reason, the Catholic Bishops view the film as an opportunity to educate Catholics.

“Our way of dealing with this is to get people the right information,” Maniscalco said. “Maybe we’ve forgotten our church history, just as we forget our American history as we grow up.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
Chicago Tribune, USA
May 14, 2006
Margaret Ramirez, Tribune religion reporter

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