Millet on “The Passion,” R-rated Movies, and Evangelicals

Another one of those typical “what-do-the-Mormons-think?” articles this morning in the Deseret News, this one on “The Passion of the Christ” and the supposed challenge which its R-rating poses for members of the church. (I always love these articles by the way, because they differ not a whit in their form from the sort of articles we often had to write back at The Daily Universe: call up some random religion professor–it was usually a religion professor–and get them to talk on the record about what everybody had already beaten to death in elder’s quorum the week before. The more straightforward Deseret News article on showings of “The Passion” in Utah is here.) This one has some notable nuggets in it though, because Professor Robert Millet (the BYU religion professor they managed to get on the phone) was willing to elaborate at some length on why he’s going to see the movie.

Millet–who, he says, doesn’t “normally” see R-rated movies– is going to a preview showing next week, with other Utah clergy, including other LDS leaders (I wish the article had said who). He calls it “a sincere effort by people, both Christian and non-Christian, to show there was a tremendous price paid by Christ for our sins,” and adds: “It seems to me that a mature approach to this issue would entail thinking through the principles that the leaders of church have taught us concerning what we ought to view and not to view…This isn’t Freddy Krueger. This is Jesus Christ.” What I found most interesting though, were his comments on evangelicals. He’s quoted as saying: “If evangelicals are right, this will impact the Christian world in a way few things have, so for us to ignore it is a bit of a slap in the face.” I find that a wonderfully ecumenical statement, in the best sense: it shows a willingness to recognize that our own standards and decisions in regards to expressing and preserving our “Mormonness” should not be made without a concern for recognizing and respecting the views of other believers. Evangelicals too often get a bad rap in certain Mormon forums, perhaps because the worthy and important efforts of FARMS has unfortunately made it easy to think that every Protestant who disagrees with us must be shouting from the anti-Mormon barricades. But they aren’t; and being willing to participate along with evangelicals and others in what is shaping up to be a major cultural event in the lives of a huge number of American Christians shows, I think, sensitivity and good sense. I have had (for reasons that aren’t relevant here) a less than stellar opinion of Millet in the past; this statement, then, was for me a pleasant surprise.

45 comments for “Millet on “The Passion,” R-rated Movies, and Evangelicals

  1. Ben
    February 21, 2004 at 12:20 pm

    That’s very good to hear. This article had the opposite effect-,1249,590044900,00.html

    -As of midweek, at least 18 churches [in Utah] had purchased between 5,000 and 6,000 tickets, she said, most of them at Jordan Commons, where two copies will play, and the rest at The Gateway, which has one copy.
    A variety of churches have called, she said, “Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Catholics. We haven’t had any Jewish calls, and no one from the LDS Church.”

    …Keith Merril on Meridian reported that after he wrote his review, he was bombarded by emails from members wanting him to give them an authoritative yes or no on whether they should go to the film…

    Why can’t we LDS make our own decisions, instead of wanting leaders to make them for us? How can a movie about Jesus somehow be against our moral standards, unless we are clining mechanically and legalistically to the MPAA’s inconsistant ratings? At least the FTSOY pamphlet has been changed away from ratings and towards standards…
    Stepping off the soapbox…

  2. February 21, 2004 at 1:16 pm

    Most people I have encountered who pursue a spiritual life find that spirituality is very elusive. The Spirit does not command in all things, and making every decision based on first principles is not only exhausting, but impractical. By embracing rules, like those that forbid the viewing of R-rated movies, people simplify and give order to their lives.

    Rules are inherently imprecise. They are usually both overinclusive (you will miss some uplifting R-rated movies) and underinclusive (R-rated movies aren’t the only spiritually harmful ones). But mocking people who embrace such rules is unseemly and condescending.

    As a recent convert to the Church, I sat in the Marriott Center and heard President Kimball ask the students of BYU to refrain from viewing R-rated movies. Whether President Kimball was speaking “as a prophet” or “as a man,” I don’t know. But I have followed his advice, and I feel as though I have been blessed for it.

    All of that said, I recognize that the nature of rules (being both under- and overinclusive) cries out for occasional exceptions. If the exceptions are too easily granted, however, the rules lose force. So it is not surprising to me that many Mormons are struggling with their decision to view/not view The Passion. This is not merely a question of whether to view a movie about Jesus Christ, but rather a question of whether to create an exception to a rule that has served them well.

    Finally, I find some irony in the positions of people who mock the R-rated-movie rule. They inevitably portray those of us who stand on the other side of the rule as simple-minded. And, yet, their advocacy of movie-going suggests that we should allow ourselves to be taught by people whose opinions we (almost uniformly) do not respect. I do not listen to Hollywood actors and filmmakers when they lobby for their latest cause on Capitol Hill. I do not listen to them when they try to sell me a product on television. I do not listen to them when they show me how to build a lasting relationship with my wife. So why is it so important that I listen to them when learning about Jesus Christ and the Atonement?

  3. Ben
    February 21, 2004 at 1:25 pm

    I hope I didn’t come off as mocking. I was trying to use this an example of LDS becoming too dependant on their leaders. Elder Packer has discussed this. IIRC, he said something like “we are reluctant to give more and more detailed directives for fear that members are not learning of the full power of prayer and revelation.” Bruce Hafen wrote an article that approached the subject in a different way- “On Dealing with Uncertainty.”
    (I just posted this for my Institute class at

    He says “We need to develop the capacity to form judgments of our own about the value of ideas, opportunities, or people who may come into our lives. We won’t always have the security of knowing whether a certain idea is “Church approved,” because new ideas don’t always come along with little tags attached to them saying whether they have been reviewed at Church headquarters. Whether in the form of music, books, friends, or opportunities to serve, there is much that is lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy that is not the subject of detailed discussion in Church manuals or courses of instruction. Those who will not risk exposure to experiences that are not obviously related to some Church word or program will, I believe, live less abundant and meaningful lives than the Lord intends.”

  4. February 21, 2004 at 1:38 pm


    You might be interested to know that Prof. Millet has recently been on the lecture circuit (a 14-city tour) with an Evangelical scholar, doing the How Wide the Divide thing. There’s a reference to this in the February 2004 issue of Christianity Today (“Winning Them Softly”).

  5. Ben
    February 21, 2004 at 1:45 pm

    Millet talks about his experience with that tour and Greg Johnson a little in “What is Our Doctrine” which he gave to BYU religion faculty. It might be the same thing he’s doing for the SMPT conference.
    The text is available by Millet’s permission from

  6. February 21, 2004 at 1:52 pm

    Just to be clear: in praising Millet’s decision, I’m praising the reasons he made it–they strike me as sensible and wise. I’m not praising it as the “right” decision, much less the “right interpretation of the statements of numerous church leaders in regards of film watching choices.” Millet clearly regards his decision as “personal”–that is, he’s obviously willing to defend it, but he’s not putting any authority behind it. Which I think is the correct way to go here. I also intend to see “The Passion.” But as I wrote before in this thread (here and elsewhere:, I don’t think there’s any sense that my seeing this, or any, R-rated film can be understood as faithfully conforming to the rule which Gordon mentions.

    Dave and Ben: thanks for the links. I’ll have to check that stuff out.

  7. Adam Greenwood
    February 21, 2004 at 2:04 pm

    Thanks for the links, gentlemen. I got a real kick out of the story of Brigham Young saying that he, Brigham, had been addressing the conference in the morning but now in the afternoon the Lord had some things he wanted to say.

  8. Chris R
    February 21, 2004 at 4:37 pm

    I too enjoyed the links and the discussion contained within. I do have a question, though. While it is acceptate to say I dont know why doctrine is what it is, and we should be prepared to accept that answer in response to the questions we may have, what happens when our personal revalation seems contrary to revalation given through the prophets. When these revalations are or appear conflicted, do we have a duty to ask our leaders with a sincere heart for clarification, or accept an “I don’t know” answer?

  9. ben
    February 21, 2004 at 4:42 pm

    That Hafen link keeps including the final ), which prevents it from working.

  10. Aaron Brown
    February 21, 2004 at 5:35 pm

    Like Russell, I was pleasantly surprised that Millet, of all people, would make the statements that he made. Since I liked his “What is Our Doctrine?” fairly well too, I guess I’m going to have to reevaluate my prior opinion of Millet. He is bringing his lecture tour to an adjacent stake tomorrow, so I’ll have to go check it out.

    Gordon … you’re probably right that those LDS who mock other LDS that adopt a strict “No R-Rated movies” rule can be “unseemly and condescending.” I’ve certainly been guilty of this myself at times. And over time, I have come to appreciate the argument you make in favor of R-rated film avoidance, even though I don’t embrace it myself. I do suspect that some of the “mocking” to which you refer, though, is in response to the frequent condescension and self-righteousness of those on the other side (yourself excepted, no doubt). Not that that’s a justification …

    Ben … a minor, nit-picking point: You make much of the MPAA’s alleged “inconsistency.” This is a common refrain of those who criticize the R-rating avoidance rule, and there may well be some truth to the observation. However, I think the problem may not be the MPAA’s inconsistency, as much as its consistency. That is, it consistently treats a certain level of “violence” (to use just one example) in film as deserving of a particular rating, never mind the context of that violence. We all intuitively recognize that the violence of a “Glory” or a “Schindler’s List” has different moral implications than the violence of a “Robocop” or an “I Spit on Your Grave.” There are arguments to be made whether viewing the violence of “Death Wish IV” raises the same moral concerns as that of “Boyz in the Hood,” etc. The problem, it seems to me, is that the rating system treats all these films the same, assuming they contain a certain frequency of violent acts. An unfortunate “consistency” of the MPA, in my opinion.

    Aaron B

  11. February 21, 2004 at 8:41 pm

    I always love discussing the “R” rating even if in some aspects it’s been beat to death.

    I’d like to agree with Aaron. The “unseemly and condescending” attitude is definitely a two way street. One side really feeds off the other and vice versa. I’m not sure what can be done to avoid this unfortunate situation as a whole because strong emotions can be tied to this particular decision for some reason.

    About whether or not Mormons should/should not make their own decisions and whether or not Church leaders should/should not be specific… Time will tell on this one. What happens when Jack Valenti kicks the bucket and the rating system is totally revamped? Will the Church come out and endorse a certain “cut off” point for the new system (not that they’ve ever really “endorsed” one now, but you know what I mean)? I wonder how that will differ from the current “R” dilemma… meaning, will non-R watchers be “allowed” to watch more or less “inappropriate” content than before? Just curious on what some of you might think the future will bring…

  12. Julie in Austin
    February 21, 2004 at 8:57 pm


    I am going to predict that the future will bring more “avoid inappropriate content” and less “don’t see movies with an R rating” because (1) in an international Church, not everyone, obviously, uses our dumb ratings system and (2) I would imagine leaders want to be sure that the bases of Internet, videos, etc., etc., that aren’t rated are covered.

    I have to admit: I’d like to hear from others why certain issues, like R ratings, drinking Coke, etc., etc., become such hot button issues, while other moral areas do not (“What do you mean you pay a 1.25$ fast offering?” “Well, I just can’t tolerate someone who doesn’t hold FHE!” “I’ve had enough with these apostate liberals who don’t do their home teaching!”)

  13. February 21, 2004 at 9:06 pm

    “However, I think the problem may not be the MPAA’s inconsistency, as much as its consistency. That is, it consistently treats a certain level of “violence” (to use just one example) in film as deserving of a particular rating, never mind the context of that violence.”

    Actually I think the complaint is that this is *not* the case. Thus PG-13 rates James Bond and Indiana Jones while the recent Saints and Soldiers gets a R rating. Also you have silliness like Kill Bill having a sword fight in color getting an NC-17 while converting that segment to black and white gets an R.

  14. February 21, 2004 at 9:21 pm


    Thank you, thank you for your comment. You said some things that I agree with whole heartedly but didn’t want to say myself because bloggers on this site might have had just about enough of Bob’s opinions on the “R” rating.

    But the whole “international Church” bit is one of my favorite things to point out, seeing as how I’ve lived over ten years of my life in four countries where people don’t have a clue about our system. Not to mention where conference talks are translated to say, “avoid inappropriate content” rather than “don’t see R”. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Sometimes listening to our leaders in another language can get me feeling the Spirit more because it’s more of a universal truth rather than the American-specific truth.

    “I would imagine leaders want to be sure that the bases of Internet, videos, etc., etc., that aren’t rated are covered.” One thing I have to point out here because it just irks me… computer games / video games DO have a rating system. But alas, we don’t have a prophet who has yet to familiarize himself with that system. So you get situations like my family where my parents don’t want my younger teenage brother to EVER watch a rated “R” movie but the majority of his games being rated “M” for Mature (no one under seventeen allowed to buy them) just isn’t a problem. Now, my family is my family and you can think that this sort of thing doesn’t happen usually. But I can assure you, I know many people who are this way.

    So, yes, I’m all about the “case by case decision making” rather than the “one size fits all” approach.

  15. February 21, 2004 at 9:34 pm

    “I do not listen to them when they try to sell me a product on television. I do not listen to them when they show me how to build a lasting relationship with my wife. So why is it so important that I listen to them when learning about Jesus Christ and the Atonement?”

    Gordon, maybe I don’t understand your definition of “listen” but remind me again, why don’t you listen to them? It’s not so black and white in my mind. Sometimes, heaven forbid, Hollywood isn’t just pure evil. Maybe it will be the case with this movie or maybe not. But why must you toss it [this movie] aside so quickly? Wasn’t it Gordon B Hinckley who said something like “let others bring to us the truths they have and let us build upon them”. I probably slaughtered the quote but you know where I’m going with this.

  16. February 21, 2004 at 10:43 pm

    I’m not sure whether it will surprise anyone, but I agree with much that has been said here. (And I think I want Julie to teach my children when they start attending Insitute.)

    R-rated movies are not a hobby horse for me. I don’t attend R-rated movies, and I like this rule because (1) I don’t value movies very highly, and (2) it serves my interest in avoiding explicit sex and gratuitous violence. Plus, the rule is simple and easy to follow. (Actually, I don’t go to PG-13 movies either, unless my wife really wants to see it with me, so that tells you a lot about my lack of interest in this aspect of popular culture.) On the other hand, I don’t spend any time at all telling people (other than my children) not to attend R-rated movies. If you want to go to hell, that’s your choice! ;-)

    But seriously, several people having mentioned the two-sided mocking on this issue, and this is important. I think that it touches many issues, not just R-rated movies. Let me try out an idea here and see what you think.

    The Church in the U.S. is dividing (or already is divided in some places) along educatoinal lines. Casual empiricism tells me that the people who are most likely to embrace rules like the prohibition against R-rated movies will be on the low end of the educational spectrum. In my experience, more education leads to less stringent adherence to rules and more frequent reliance on standards. That’s my premise … are we all agreed?

    OK, if that is true, then an assault on rules-based living has a subtext, which reads, “You are simple and unsophisticated. If you were smart like me, you wouldn’t hold such inconsistent and irrational beliefs.” My main point in defending the rule was to point out that rules-based living is not necessarily unsophisticated.

    Of course, there is also a subtext in the mocking that comes from the other direction. It reads, “You are worldly and unrighteous, flirting with spiritual disaster.”

    Are these two forms of mocking equally insidious? I’m not sure. I need to ponder that a bit more.

  17. February 21, 2004 at 11:30 pm

    Bob, Two quick responses to your question. First, I think you have President Hinckley in the wrong context. He was talking about people in other churches, and he said, “I say to other people, you bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to that.” In other words, they will learn from us, not we will learn from them.

    Second, I don’t mean to say (and neither does President Hinckley, I assume) that we never learn from other people, including actors and moviemakers. My point was more modest: when I think of all of the people in the world who might teach me about living a more Christlike life, actors and moviemakers as a group have to be pretty low on the list, just a hair above pop singers. Maybe The Passion would change my life — I will never know — but if I am in the mood to learn more about the Atonement, I will spend my time reading the Gospels or an insightful book, not watching a film based on Mel Gibson’s reading of the Gospels.

  18. Karen
    February 22, 2004 at 11:11 am

    I think that Gordon, perhaps inadvertently perhaps not, brought up an interesting point: different mediums of art affect different people in different ways. I think there are powerful pieces of cinematic art, which have affected me both emotionally, and at times spiritually in very positive ways (and I’m not talking about the usually low quality church-produced films.) I’m also drawn in by literature. I’m less affected by painting, perhaps because I don’t know as much about it, but love visiting museums with my very art savvy friends who are extremely affected by it. On my mission I came across a passage in Jesus the Christ (of all places) that kind of disturbed me, and asked my mission president about it. He basically said that un-canonized scripture is the equivalent of literary criticism, some of it very high quality, and some of it not high quality, and that the best thing is to keep both an open mind and a critical eye. He used the example that Mormon “muzak” is very inspiring to some people, but neither one of us could stand it. I’ve thought a lot about his advice, and have pretty much incorporated it in my life. I suppose that what I’m trying to say is that “if there is anything lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy, we [should] seek after these things.” Because I include cinema in that definition, I’m selective about what I see, but don’t automatically rule out R-ratings. I don’t advocate that approach for anyone else, preferring to let them make up their own minds, and make decisions about which art forms are most useful and personally affecting to them–a decision that would, in turn, affect their art consumption.

  19. February 22, 2004 at 4:28 pm

    Gordon, my turn to give you two quick responses (or not so quick):

    My interpretation of Hinckley’s quote may be far fetched for some, but I still think that in order for someone to “bring all the good” that they have, we would have to learn from them indirectly. But we Mormons tend to focus on the “we can add to that” part because we know we have the truth in its fullest. That’s generally not a problem.

    Now for my second response: What is it, Gordon, about movies that make you avoid them so much in the first place? Part of me wants to do a study that would take the ratio of written trash to that of good writings and compare it to the ratio of good movies vs. trashy ones. Now, my study will never be done because it’s too subjective. But the point is, why is reading a book always better than watching a movie? At least, this is how I feel most intellectuals think. Sometimes I have sympathy for those in Hollywood who are given next to no credit.

    They just make movies, which must be easy. Movies rarely have quality material. Whereas writing a book, that most be hard. We can endlessly learn from books.

  20. February 22, 2004 at 5:34 pm

    Gordon, I have a request. This post along with another has made me revisit the rated R issue in a new light. I’ve recently posted about it on my own blog and would really like your input:

  21. February 22, 2004 at 6:02 pm

    I find books more intellectually satisfying than movies. Movies can only dig so deep before they become a satire of the philosophy they try to convey. A good example of this would be the Matrix movies. The final two movies were a complete mess because the movie format couldn’t translate very well the complex philosophical ideas underlying the story. Of course, it’s entirely possible that the makers of the Matrix didn’t have any real philosophy to communicate and this only became apparent in the final two films.

    Anyway – my point was going to be that movies and books are different formats for communicating ideas but the differences in the format make it almost impossible to compare the two. Still, one has to wonder why Mormons are so much more concerned with the movie format than they are with books. I know many devout Mormons who have books on their shelves that surpass R-rated movies in sleaziness and inappropriateness. I was in the home of a sweet, elderly, LDS lady just the other day and was surprised to see that she is a Danielle Steele fan. Now I’ve never actually read a Steele novel (anyone care to admit they have? ;)) but I can’t imagine it contains very wholesome content. Why are we so quick to judge people’s movie-going tastes but fairly indifferent when it comes to reading?

    One argument might be that this is because movies have a more lasting impact on the mind (you can’t shake the image of a sexual encounter you’ve seen it on screen), whereas books leave out much of the detail. But I don’t buy that because books tantalize you with just enough details, allowing the mind to fill in the rest. Isn’t that more dangerous than having the details spoon-fed to you?

    I don’t know. I find this whole debate exasperating, and this is probably because my favorite movie is rated R and because many books that I have enjoyed have stronger emotional content than Saints and Soldiers is likely to have (which is supposedly the reason it received the R-rating).

  22. February 22, 2004 at 6:19 pm

    I think the mess of the last two Matrix movies was less the format than some extremely poor script choices and directorial choices. (i.e. they had people speak about what was going on rather than show it, they had fight scenes drag on in pointless ways, etc.)

  23. ed
    February 22, 2004 at 6:22 pm

    Karen writes:
    “my mission president….basically said that un-canonized scripture is the equivalent of literary criticism, some of it very high quality, and some of it not high quality, and that the best thing is to keep both an open mind and a critical eye.”

    I’m a little puzzled by this distinction being drawn so sharply. Is there really that wide a distance between “canonized” scripture and other writings? Do we think that canonized scripture is infallible, and if so, why do we think that? Are we saying that God would never allow church leaders to put something wrong in the D&C, but all the other church publications are subject to opinons and errors?

  24. February 22, 2004 at 6:25 pm

    Karen, Thank you for the thoughtful comment. I agree completely that “different mediums of art affect different people in different ways.” It occurs to me that people who feel inspired by a particular movie or book assume that everyone else (who is spiritually attuned?) would feel similarly inspired by the same work. Perhaps our assumption is that things are either “true” or not, therefore, the Spirit will either testify or not. Maybe the Spirit is not a toggle switch.

    Bob asks about my deep-seated hostility to film. Actually, there is something of a story here, if you are interested. When I was a teenager, I went to every movie that I was legally allowed to attend, and some that I wasn’t. I saw a lot of garbage. When I joined the Church at age 18 (almost 19), I made a concerted effort to clean those images from my mind, and I have found that to be a slow and sometimes painful process. Come to think of it, my views on cinema are probably similar to the views of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis about swords. People without that same baggage can probably have a more balanced approach.

    All of that said, I think my point about being careful who you learn from is worth considering. This applies not only to movies, but to music, books, professors, mentors, friends.

    With respect to Bob’s post on bobandlogan, asking “how to do we best handle this issue / situation / problem?” my sense is that discussions like this go a long ways. Multiply this discussion several thousands times, and things will happen.

  25. February 22, 2004 at 6:32 pm

    Brayden: “Why are we so quick to judge people’s movie-going tastes but fairly indifferent when it comes to reading?”

    Because movies are rated?

  26. Karen
    February 22, 2004 at 11:10 pm

    Ed–I think you bring up an excellent point about canonized scripture vs. other inspiring writing, that I think may be a good topic for a separate blog. (Calling Nate Oman…I think you and I had a really interesting discussion in law school about what is doctrine…I’m wondering how you would comment on this issue…) I want to give the topic some more thought, because in reading your comment, I don’t have a quick answer as to my opinion. My gut reaction, however, is that there really is a distinction between what has been canonized and other writings. But that brings a secondary question as to whether or not all scripture is equal, and I feel pretty confident saying no to that. I’m curious as to the thoughts others have on this topic.

    Gordon–your comment of “maybe the Spirit is not a toggle switch” made me smile. Thank goodness it isn’t. How upsetting would life be if we always expected to mirror others’ spiritual reactions? I think we would live with a permanent sense of guilt and self-blame–feelings antithetical to the spirit.

  27. February 23, 2004 at 1:03 am

    Thanks, Gordon, for your brief personal history on cinema. Your Anti-Nephi-Lehi approach gives me somewhat of a paradigm shift in my thinking toward your specific situation. It’s nice to have an environment where we are comfortable enough to share such things.

  28. Aaron Brown
    February 23, 2004 at 2:19 pm

    I’m enjoying everyone’s comments.

    A quick anecdote regarding Brayden’s insightful discussion on books vs. cinema: When I was at BYU, an almost completely unedited version of Schindler’s List was shown on a major television network. At about the same time, a couple of real-life Schindler Jew survivors came to BYU to speak about their experiences. They spoke to a packed, overflowing house. That same week, we had a discussion in my Russian Literature class regarding art, cinema — the various issues being discussed on this thread. I was struck by the frequency with which students made comments like the following:

    “There’s really no need to see the film; if I really want to understand what happened I can go read a book about it.”

    At about the same time (I think?), the controversy surrounding Brian Evenson’s “Altman’s Tongue” was a hot topic. I marveled at the following oft-voiced sentiment:

    “You know, it really isn’t necessary for an author who’s trying to make a point about ____ to resort to this kind of violence.”

    Assuming these responses are not atypical, I question what they tell us about popular LDS views of “art.” With respect to the first statement, I think Brayden’s discussion raises my same thoughts. With respect to the second, I wonder: How much sense does it make to talk about some aspect of art being “necessary”? Is any art form really “necessary”? This strikes me as a weird criterion to be preoccupied with.

    Aaron B

  29. Aaron Brown
    February 23, 2004 at 3:01 pm

    Since this thread started out with a reference to Robert Millet, and Karen has posed everybody’s favorite question (“What is doctrine?”), I think I’ll share the following:

    Last night I attended Robert Millet’s “Mormon and Evangelical” dialogue, given as a fireside in Pasadena. It seemed to be very well-received (I had a less positive reaction than most, but then I’ve read Robinson and Blomberg, all the FARMS reviews, and talked this issue to death with so many people that I had an inevitable “Been there, done that” reaction). Perhaps the most interesting interchange dealt with the tendency of anti-Mormon literature to quote 19th Century LDS leaders, and the question of how we distinguish the often disturbing commentary from modern LDS “doctrine.” Millet set forth his list of 4 criteria (at least one of which a teaching must meet), in order to qualify as “doctrine.” (I won’t specifically review them; you could all probably guess what they are). But he also tried to succinctly sum up his point by saying “True doctrine has sticking power.” In other words, the mere fact that a teaching has fallen into serious disuse is itself evidence that its “doctrinal” soundness is seriously suspect.

    This exchange was fascinating to me for two reasons. First, if someone as orthodox as Robert Millet can sit in front of an audience of hundreds of LDS people and bluntly acknowledge past leaders’ erroneous pronouncements (albeit not with specificity), that’s real progress. That an Evangelical minister can casually mention that Brigham Young said that “Adam is God” and Millet doesn’t feel any need to rebut or clarify that statement is a huge leap forward (in my opinion). I am genuinely pleased with this development.

    Second, I think there are some important and unavoidable corollaries that follow from Millet’s standards – from the idea that true doctrine has “sticking power.” It seems to me that LDS are really not in a position to state confidently that a new, dramatic pronouncement from President Hinckley is “doctrine,” until we’ve waited around long enough (how long??) to see whether the pronouncement has “stuck.” Maybe this will all merit a big “So what?” from our sophisticated T&S crowd, but for your average member of the Church, I think it could be a really big deal.

    Aaron B

  30. February 23, 2004 at 3:19 pm

    I’ve long thought Millet was one of the best things to happen to the religion department at BYU. He’s reconsideration of the issue of Grace in the late 80’s was long overdue and helped bring back into focus certain doctrines we’d been overlooking. It is sad that most of the rest of the department hasn’t lived up to what he’s done.

    I taught his brother and mother on my mission (both had gone inactive) and was very impressed with the stories they told me of him. (His brother played really good blues as well) I’ve never met the man. He was one of those people I always meant to take a class from and never did. (And the religion classes I did take from the religion department instead of the honors department I rued)

  31. Scott
    February 25, 2004 at 11:08 am

    It’s 2:55 AM and I just got home from watching “The Passion of the Christ.” Here are a few thoughts on why I consider the film unworthy of the patronage of discerning moviegoers or Latter-day Saints.

    When Gibson titled this “The Passion,” he meant it. Don’t expect anything else. The portrayal of Jesus’ pain begins with the opening frames in Gethsemane (yes, with blood from every pore) and continues unrelentingly through to the inevitable conclusion. There are a few fleeting flashbacks (of the Sermon on the Mount, Last Supper, first encounter with Magdalene, and some imagined domestic scenes with Mother Mary), probably comprising no more than ten minutes of the running time. If you’re hoping to see Jesus’ life or teachings, you’ll be deeply disappointed. If you want to see his torture, humiliation, and death, you’ve come to the right shop. Because Latter-day Saints traditionally eschew the symbol of the crucifix as (i) a mode of misplaced spiritual attention (i.e., on Christ’s suffering and death, rather than on the resurrection and saving work in Gethsemane) and (ii) kinda creepy, many will be discomforted or flat-out repulsed by the film.

    Many of the film’s aesthetic weaknesses flow from that monomaniacal fixation. Some examples:

    (a) Thin Characterization. While the New Testament paints in broad strokes, it is not without human drama and nuance—-emotional, rather than purely physiological, passion. Perhaps Gibson assumed that viewers’ existing familiarity with the dramatis personae made exposition and character development unnecessary. If so, he assumed wrongly. Viewers may be familiar with Mary Magdalene, but they are not familiar with Monica Bellucci qua Mary Magdalene. Building that familiarity—-getting the audience to see her as something other than a stranger or extra-—takes screen time, dialogue, and action. But, apart from a glimpse of her upturned face in a flashback, her only “action” is clinging to Mary’s arm, weeping. So, despite the fact that we know we should be empathizing with her, it never quite settles in. Some sacrifice in secondary character development might be acceptable if it was in the interest of more fully developing the protagonist. But Gibson makes the same mistake with Jesus. The bulk of Jesus’ screen time (which is, naturally, the bulk of the running time) is consumed by “passion” rather than action. That’s a tough way to build a character. Jim Caviezel (who I’ve liked in “The Thin Red Line” and “Frequency”) does what he can, saddled with those constraints. But it isn’t enough. Showing us the living, loving, healing, teaching Jesus would have given more weight to the character and, thus, to his suffering. (A weightier character, however, would likely make the ham-fisted depiction of his sufferings seem even more exploitative. More on that below.) I hesitate to pass judgment on the acting when the actors had such slim material with which to work. Suffice it to say that, while no one will get an Academy Award nomination out of this, neither will they get a Razzie.

    (b) Thin Plot. The apprehension, trials, and execution of Jesus are organically dramatic within the larger story of his life. In isolation, however, they lose some of their punch. Imagine a roller-coaster with no climbs, gentle banks, or lulls—-one that begins with a rapid, headlong plunge, cranks into a dizzying loop, and then continues to plummet downward. That’s one I’ll sit out. Yet Gibson structures his film in that way. (The only breaks were of Judas’s neck and the thieves’ legs.) It’s not a dramatic progression, but a test of endurance (in more ways than one).

    (c) Lack of Spiritual Context. I don’t mean to suggest that Christ’s suffering and crucifixion are devoid of spiritual significance. But most of that significance can only be recognized against a backdrop other events, teachings, and prophecies with both intrinsic and explanatory value. Gibson may assume that, because many of his viewers are already more or less familiar with that backdrop, such exposition is unnecessary. But many of his viewers don’t have the necessary context to give (the desired) meaning to the events depicted; and, absent that, the film seems inexplicable and barbaric. Even for those possessing the requisite background information, however, Gibson’s dogged persistence in portraying Christ’s suffering quickly yields diminishing returns. Would showing five fewer lashes compromise the meaning of the scourging? How about ten? How about fifteen fewer? Do we have to see every unsteady step on the road to Golgotha? Do we have to see every hammer stroke on every nail? If not, then Gibson’s approach is tedious and gratuitous. (I take my clue from the Gospels on what is too much or not enough.)

    I could go on for hours here, but it’s getting late. So let’s cut to the chase:

    If you see “The Passion of the Christ,” know now that it is likely to be the most graphically violent film you have ever seen (regardless of whether you’re accustomed to seeing R-rated movies or not). I don’t mean Sam Peckinpah violent. (Peckinpah’s violence was stylized and operatic, not to mention much lower tech.) I don’t mean Quentin Tarantino violent. (He turned the camera away from a severed ear, while Gibson lingers in slow-mo over the cartilaginous stump.) No, this is in the category of Gaspar Noe, Takeshi Miike, and cinematic nihilists of their ilk. Every aspect of Jesus’ suffering falls under the camera’s leisurely, unblinking gaze: his disfigurement from protracted, brutal beatings; the reduction of his skin (over about a fifteen minute period) to a fleshy, blood-sodden julienne; the rough affixing of the crown of thorns; his staggering and falling under the crushing weight of the cross; the blood-spouting penetration of every nail in hand and foot (and a Procrustean disjointing); the long, anguished suspension on Calvary; and the final spear in the side. If the prospect of seeing such explicit, extended scenes appeals to you, then, by all means, go see the movie (and God help you). But, I can assure you, there is nothing virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy in this sadist-staged spectacle.

    There’s a lot more I could talk about here: the androgynous figure of Satan (and its curious visual parallels to the film’s Mary); the distinctively Catholic treatment of Mary; the Arnold Fribergian art direction (Herod even has a chained leopard near his throne; did Friberg steal that idea from someone else?); the film’s presentation of Jews (and possible effect on budding anti-Semites); historical questions (including the extent to which the Book of Mormon may commit us to historically problematic claims, though that’s kind of tangential, I guess); etc. But, man, I’m really tired and I have a long day at work tomorrow (or today, rather).

    Recommendations: (1) Don’t see the movie. (2) If you do see it, do not bring the children. (3) If you do see it, don’t hesitate to leave the theater if you feel so inclined. (About 10-15% of viewers in this morning’s audience left the theater at various points. Had I not felt an obligation to jump squarely on the grenade, I too would have walked out.)

    Anyway, there you have it. Fair warning.


  32. February 25, 2004 at 11:28 am

    Ouch. (In more ways than one.) Thanks. I may reconsider my intention to see the film, and that’s speaking as someone who, I think, is even more comfortable with “theologies of the cross” than you are, Scott.

  33. Taylor
    February 25, 2004 at 11:57 am

    Thanks for this excellent review! I am supposed to be a NT scholar, but I am having serious issues about seeing this movie. I watched the 2 min trailer and almost had to turn it off because it was so violent! Theologically, I think that I outgrew having my emotions played on by sensationalizing the suffering of Jesus.

  34. Chris Goble
    February 25, 2004 at 12:36 pm

    Thanks for the review. Initially I was inclined to see it. The rating wasn’t much of an issue for me, but I don’t appreciate movies that lack a thought provoking base. As the reviews have been coming out, I was expecting something similar to what you described, and hence was less inclined to go. With your review, I will definitely give it a pass. I too have never appreciated the morbid fascination of Christ’s suffering. Some of the creepiest places I have visited have been the catholic cathedrals in Portugal. When you think about it, it is kind of wierd having a very lifelike figure of a mutilated person hanging on a cross in a church. No wonder many of the natives thought European religion was a little strange.

  35. Paul
    February 25, 2004 at 12:46 pm

    I think this is a great opportunity to support Christianity. All too often we’re seen as being on the fring of christianity when in reality we hold the same central value: the literal atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It’s a movie that many (and that’s an understatement) Christians will see and want to talk about. We too our Christians and this is a great way to build relationships of trust. To me this is an example of, like Millett said, the ratings system failing us. This movie isn’t rated “R” because it’s innapropriate but because it’s violent, and that is a huge distinction. I should say though, that I was expecting violence but nothing on par with what Scott described. That does give me some reservation. I’ll close with this though, why is it that Jews can make a movie about the Holocaust (which is extrememly violent and depressing) and it wins tons of awards and everyone has to see it, and as described above it’s even shown on networkd tv virtually unedited, but when Christians make a movie about the most important person in history it’s viewed as anti-semetic? Were people worried about anti-German sentiment after Schindler’s List?

  36. Kristine
    February 25, 2004 at 1:15 pm

    Paul, I assume you’re talking about Schindler’s List. It was not nearly as violent as what Scott describes–there was no dwelling on the gruesome. Moreover, the hero of Schindler’s List was in fact a German (Austrian?) Christian, so there was a nuanced portrayal of the perpetrators and no anti-German or anti-Christian interpretation was really possible. (In fact, Schindler was made a little more heroic than he actually was, to the extent that Spielberg was accused in some circles of trying to minimize and prettify the Holocaust). That is not true in Gibson’s film, which (from what I’ve read), goes well beyond the gospels in attributing guilt to the Jews, referencing a particularly nasty strain of medieval (and later) European anti-Semitism that was whipped into a frenzy with the annual presentation of the passion plays, which regularly resulted in anti-Jewish violence all over Europe. The comparison of the two films would be ridiculous if it weren’t so potentially and insidiously dangerous.

  37. Paul
    February 25, 2004 at 1:39 pm

    Kristine, I was talking about Schindler’s List, which is why I specifically mentioned it in my previous post. I’m totally unconvinced though that the two movies are not comparable. So I guess I’ll be ridiculous and “insidiously dangerous”. Gibson, in an interview, referenced the passion plays and stated he was trying to directly contradict much of that annual presentation. Also, Mary in the movie is portrayed by a Jew whose father survived the Holocaust. She only agreed to play the part after her family read the entire script. Her father completely supported her in this, saying that it was not-antisemitic, at least in his mind. Finally, Schindler was German, the hero of Schindler’s List; Christ was a Jew, the hero of Passions. Using your logic there could not be any anti-semitism because one Jew was the hero. That doesn’t fly with me and sounds a little “ridiculous” as well.

  38. lyle
    February 25, 2004 at 1:46 pm

    Look folks, if you are uncomfortable with a visualization of the suffering of the Lamb of God…keep your visualization to yourself. As Scott mentioned…he didn’t find anything worth while in the film…FOR HIM! Just don’t presume to judge, either way, those that choose to see the Film and or laud it for brining people closer to an understanding of what OUR sins inflicted and cost the Lamb of God.

    Kristine, Paul has a good analytical point. Levels of violence have nothing to do with his comparison. If Nazi Germany was to blame for the Holocaust, just as the Scriptures place the blame for the Genocide committed upon Jesus Christ by the Sanhedrin/Sadducean/Roman Israel…[insert your own punchline here].

  39. February 25, 2004 at 2:06 pm

    “This movie isn’t rated ‘R’ because it’s innapropriate but because it’s violent …”

    I assume “inappropriate” here should be read to mean “sexually explicit”? Or are you saying that violence, however depicted, is “appropriate”?

    By the way, I am curious why so many people think that graphic violence is less spiritually corrosive than graphic sex. Both make the Top 10 (“thou shalt not kill” and “thou shalt not commit adultery”). Is it because we feel more of a temptation from adultery than murder?

  40. Paul
    February 25, 2004 at 2:18 pm

    Gordon, allow me to clarify what I meant. Violence is not always inapropriate however, inapropriate can be because of violence….if that makes it any more clear. Again, this is obviously just my (and Millet’s option :)). Violence for the sake of violence is to me highly inapropriate and offensive (ie Freddy Krugar). However, violence when used with some historical/eternal significance seems to me not only apropriate but necessary. I should clarify I haven’t seen the Passions yet, so I’m not making a judgement on the necessity of it’s graphic content, however, it seems some is highly apropriate. If I recall, the church video about the last few hours of Christs life was pretty graphic at times as well. With regards to your adultery vs. murder, I’ve decided not to touch that comment with a ten foot pole…at least for now.

  41. Kristine
    February 25, 2004 at 2:19 pm

    Gibson can *say* anything he wants, but I fail to see how reproducing the scenes from the passion plays which portray crowds of Jews (NOT the Sanhedrin) as demanding the death of Jesus and invoking his blood on their children could possibly contradict those passion plays.

    The personal opinions of one actor and her father don’t seem to have any significant generalizable content. You can find Jewish Holocaust deniers if you beat the bushes hard enough; their Jewishness does not make their opinions correct.

    I wasn’t claiming that the mere existence of a good German necessarily makes it impossible for one to condemn the actions of the Nazi regime, only that the hero of Schindler’s list is quite deliberately held up as a counterexample to arguments that ordinary Germans were complicit in the Holocaust (don’t forget that the movie was released at nearly the same time as Daniel Goldhagen’s _Hitler’s Willing Executioners_). The same cannot be said for Christ in the passion plays or in Gibson’s movie; indeed, the fact that he is a Jew merely serves to make the Jewish crowds seem more murderous for demanding the blood of one of their own.

    All of that said, I’m not ready to line up with the crowd accusing Gibson or his movie of being “anti-Semitic.” Anti-Semitism is far more complicated than that, and it’s unlikely that either the medieval passion plays or Gibson’s movie would have the effect of creating anti-Jewish feeling in a viewer not already predisposed to such sentiments. By focusing on the elements in the gospels which emphasize Jewish guilt in Christ’s death, it is possible to inflame and reinforce the preexistent anti-Semitic sentiments of some fraction of viewers. It’s quite likely (and devoutly to be hoped) that in the 21st-century U.S. those sentiments are markedly rarer than in 10th-century France.

  42. Matt Evans
    February 25, 2004 at 2:24 pm

    Though I almost never see rated-R movies, I’m going to The Passion this weekend.

    While reading about Scott’s reaction to seeing the brutal treatment his God received at the hands of his children, I was reminded of two passages from the Book of Mormon. It seems wise to recall how another of God’s creations reacted to seeing it’s God crucified:

    “And the rocks of the earth must rend; and because of the groanings of the earth, many of the kings of the isles of the sea shall be wrought upon by the Spirit of God, to exclaim: The God of nature suffers.”

    “And it came to pass in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, on the fourth day of the month, there arose a great bstorm, such an one as never had been known in all the land.

    And there was also a great and terrible tempest; and there was terrible thunder, insomuch that it did shake the whole earth as if it was about to divide asunder.

    And there were exceedingly sharp lightnings, such as never had been known in all the land.

    And the city of Zarahemla did take fire.

    And the city of Moroni did sink into the depths of the sea, and the inhabitants thereof were drowned.

    And the earth was carried up upon the city of Moronihah, that in the place of the city there became a great mountain.

    And there was a great and terrible destruction in the land southward.

    But behold, there was a more great and terrible destruction in the land northward; for behold, the whole face of the land was changed, because of the tempest and the whirlwinds, and the thunderings and the lightnings, and the exceedingly great quaking of the whole earth;

    And the highways were broken up, and the level roads were spoiled, and many smooth places became rough.

    And many great and notable cities were sunk, and many were burned, and many were shaken till the buildings thereof had fallen to the earth, and the inhabitants thereof were slain, and the places were left desolate.

    And there were some cities which remained; but the damage thereof was exceedingly great, and there were many in them who were slain.

    And there were some who were carried away in the whirlwind; and whither they went no man knoweth, save they know that they were carried away.

    And thus the face of the whole earth became deformed, because of the tempests, and the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the quaking of the earth.

    And behold, the rocks were rent in twain; they were broken up upon the face of the whole earth, insomuch that they were found in broken fragments, and in seams and in cracks, upon all the face of the land.”

    (1 Nephi 19:12; 3 Nephi 8:5-18)

  43. Scott
    February 25, 2004 at 2:37 pm

    Paul and Kristine,

    I really don’t want to go too far into the anti-Semitism question. On the basis of what I had read going into the film, I thought that the paranoia of Abe Foxman, et al., was probably misplaced. As the film progressed, I grew more and more sympathetic to their concerns. As Foxman has now conceded (though perhaps for purely pragmatic reasons), the film does not appear to be expressly anti-Semitic. In addition to the Jewish protagonists, there are scattered depictions of Jews who were followers of Jesus, who were ambivalent to him, and even some who protested the railroading. And, of course, there are Christ’s pleas for forgiveness for his tormentors. However, two tonal aspects in the film may well lead to anti-Jewish sentiment (or, heaven forbid, action). First, the depictions of Christ’s suffering are of such unmitigated brutality that they virtually compel emotion. Second, there’s an undercurrent of wrath and vengefulness in how antagonists (particularly the Jewish antagonists) are portrayed. While it only bubbles to the surface in a few instances (e.g., the rending of the temple and a raven graphically plucking out the eye of a crucified thief as he mocks Jesus), the caricatures feel malicious (and possibly intended to inspire malice in viewers). I don’t know for sure how the film will play in the hearts of viewers. Neither does the ADL. And, if I were in their shoes, I’d probably share some measure of their concern.

    As for “Schindler’s List” (a spectre I knew would appear at some point in this conversation), allow me to attach some comments I sent in a private e-mail to Russell this morning:

    I’m just now starting to read reviews. (The way this thing has been politicized, I figured most of them would be useless.) Ebert echoes my warning about the violence — “Note: I said the film is the most violent I have ever seen. It will probably be the most violent you have ever seen. This is not a criticism but an observation; the film is unsuitable for younger viewers, but works powerfully for those who can endure it. The MPAA’s R rating is definitive proof that the organization either will never give the NC-17 rating for violence alone, or was intimidated by the subject matter. If it had been anyone other than Jesus up on that cross, I have a feeling that NC-17 would have been automatic.”

    He’s absolutely right. I don’t know if it’s the most violent film I’ve ever seen. But it’s pretty close. Gaspar Noe scandalized Cannes last year with two scenes from his film “Irreversible.” In one, we see a man’s head crushed by repeated blows with a fire extinguisher. The scene is shocking both because of the effectiveness of the visual effects (done largely by totally invisible CGI) and, moreover, because it is shot from a stationary camera position, reasonably close to the victim, and without a single cut. The other scene is (again, from a single camera position, uncut) an extended, brutal rape and beating of a woman lasting close to 10 minutes. Gibson’s work is along those lines for sheer brutality, effort to convey realism, and refusal to dispel tension. But, while Noe only had two such scenes that comprised a small portion of the overall film, Gibson drags it out for a much longer period. The fact that Mormons who do not typically see R-rated movies are contemplating making an exception for this film really, really bothers me. (My *wife* said she’d be willing to see it. The hell if *I’m* taking her.) For some reason (perhaps having to do with Gerald Molen) “Schindler’s List” seems to have become the poster child for “The R-Rated Movie that Mormons Should Watch.” While I question the wisdom of that selection (and the very idea of designating our own exceptions to prophetic counsel), ultimately I shrug it off. But this *ain’t* Schindler’s List.

    An image is worth a thousand words. (And at 24 images per second….) My verbal descriptions of the violence (and the more detailed list at ScreenIt’s web site: ) are inadequate to convey the horror depicted on the screen. I realize that, in saying that, I may be fueling the morbid curiosity of some. All I can say is, if you go see it, listen to your heart. If you feel you should leave, leave. Because, from the Mormon perspective, you will see nothing at the end of the film that will justify the sensory and emotional pummelling you’ll experience along the way. (The resurrection is relegated to a brief, wordless coda.)

    Just one guy’s opinion.


  44. Restoring Lost Comments
    November 25, 2004 at 11:31 pm

    [Restoring Comments Inadvertently Lost in the WP transfer] :

    Matt, it does record that “the inhabitants were slain,” but it doesn’t record their deaths in gory detail. Why should we focus on that aspect of Christ’s death, especially in light of the LDS emphasis on Gethsemane? I’m having a hard time seeing what your citation of the Book of Mormon adds to the discussion (or what you wanted it to add, maybe).
    Comment by: Kristine at February 25, 2004 02:41 PM


    Hi Kristine, Earth was torn apart seeing Christ’s agony, so it seems like we should expect a movie about Christ to cause us discomfort, even if we don’t agonize to the degree Earth did. In our fallen state, we are unable to appreciate the extent of God’s suffering. We can’t even fathom it because his suffering was truly unfathomable — it was infinite.
    But I suspect seeing someone brutalized, and knowing that that the someone is GOD, has a powerful effect on people’s appreciation for God’s suffering. Gibson clearly expects the audience to be internalizing, with each lash of the whip, That is God!
    The worst of God’s suffering was in Gethsemane, but that suffering is especially difficult to convey in any way that we can comprehend. Because we can better relate to his physical suffering, and the painful irony at Christ’s treatment at the hands of those he is in the process of redeeming, it is important we not sugarcoat the story.
    Taylor claims he’s “outgrown” his emotional reaction to the reality of Christ’s death. But by recalling the reaction of a contemporary witness, Earth, we’re reminded that his death CANNOT be “sensationalized.” Earth has witnessed untold atrocities, but never has it been as revolted as it was to see it’s God suffer and be killed.
    It’s impossible to make the death of God more dramatic than it really was.
    Comment by: Matt Evans at February 25, 2004 03:04 PM


    Let me briefly add the scholarly apology for the anti-Judaism (technically, anti-Semetism refers to theories of racial inferiority, which I don’t think apply in this case) that is recorded in the scriptures. This didn’t go over so well in my GD class, but I think it is useful for context. It seems that many people object to the accusations of anti-Judaism because they think that that is what the scriptures “really say.” I don’t know if the movie is anti-Jewish, and even if it were that wouldn’t be a reason for me not to see it. I think I probably wont see it because I have a very weak stomach. But, let me get back to the apology. There are two things to consider.
    First, the word “Jew” in the Gospels does not necessarily refer to one’s religion. Rather, it very likely refers to the geographical location of the inhabitants of Judea. There is no way to distinguish a “Judean” from a “Jew” in Greek since it is the same word (Iudaios). If we understand the accusations to be against the “Judeans” then we have a new perspective. The gospel writers were accusing those who were leaders, not the adherents to Judaism. The way that the word was used to eventually refer to all adherents to Judaism was a historical accident.
    Second, the anti-Jewish interpretations of the genealogical curse (“let his blood be upon us and our children”) are removed from the obvious concrete historical situation to anyone who would have read this in the first century (this scene only appears in Matthew, btw). Not only does it refer to the Judeans, but it also refers to the Roman-Jewish war of 66-70 CE. The gospels blame the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple on the unrighteousness of the Judeans. They don’t justify (or explain) violence against all Jews throughout time.
    Third, it must be understood that after the Roman-Jewish war that “Jews” were not seen as very positive. The Christians about this time started to distance themselves from Jews. They wanted to assert their differences and downplay their heritage. They created a new identity as a seperate sect in order to escape the negative association that Jews had in the mind of Greeks and Romans. The gospels and Acts are in some sense political tracts which seek to distance Christians and Jews, and also to persuade Roman authorities to treat Christians with respect. The sympathetic portrayal of Pilate may be a result of this second motive. If you read Josephus, you find that Pilate was anything but a sympathetic character. But one can understand that a blood-thristy depiction of “Jews” and a reluctant Roman administrator is exactly the kind of picture that is useful for Christians to survive politically.
    The problem with the portayal of “Jews” in the Passion is that it takes as “literal” what is clearly not, but enshrines an interpretation as the only correct one. Honestly, the most distrubing thing about the Passion is the epistemological and hermeneutical assumptions behind its advertising and supporters.
    Comment by: Taylor at February 25, 2004 03:21 PM


    “The problem with the portayal of ‘Jews’ in the Passion is that it takes as ‘literal’ what is clearly not, but enshrines an interpretation as the only correct one.”
    Taylor you failed to address the many statements in modern revelation which support the interpretation of the bible you dislike, and which your Gospel Doctrine classmates likely relied upon. It turns out that the interpretation you dismiss for being based on faulty epistemological and hermeneuital assumptions happens to be vindicated by modern revelation. The Book of Mormon speaks in several passages about the crucial role of the Jewish people in Christ’s death, as have many modern prophets.
    I also want to point out that the Christians who are most likely to believe Jews played the lead role in Christ’s death: conservatives, evangelicals, and Mormons; are also the most likely to regard Jews as being God’s people and to be strong supporters of Israel. It was those Christians that rescued the Jews from Nazi Germany and helped establish the Jewish State in Palestine. Jews might consider this condescending, but it can hardly be called anti-Semitic or anti-Judaism or anti-Zionist.
    Comment by: Matt Evans at February 25, 2004 05:03 PM


    Matt, thanks, I think I understand what you meant. It still strikes me as strange, even absurd, to deliberately recreate the scene of Christ’s death (and possibly to intensify its violence–it seems pretty clear that Gibson goes well beyond the details that are known from the gospels) in order to be repulsed by it.
    Comment by: Kristine at February 25, 2004 05:43 PM


    Matt- What exactly is the interpretation that you think I dislike? Also, could you tell me what “statements in modern revelation” you are referring to? I admit that I haven’t tried to solve this problem in the Book of Mormon, so I am not sure if these arguments apply there. Actually, I am not trying to solve the problem in the Bible either. I am just reporting on the logic of those who object to the Passion.
    Comment by: Taylor at February 25, 2004 05:53 PM


    Matt, I reread your post more closely and realize that you seem to be arguing for a group guilt of the Jewish people in Christ’s death. You’re right, I strongly object to this statement. What exactly does this mean? Does it mean that the Jews living in Antioch were guilty? What about Alexandria, or Rome, or Gaul? What does it mean to for the Jewish people to play a “crucial role”? What do you think the implications of that are? Does it apply to second, third, 25th generation Jews? Also, what do you mean by the “lead role”? I don’t really make the argument that “Judeans” didn’t play any role. You certainly aren’t arguing that the Jews crucified Jesus! The gospels don’t even say that… Rather, I tried to show that the term which we take as self-evident actually may have meant something different to the authors and readers originally.
    Comment by: Taylor at February 25, 2004 06:00 PM


    I think the Book of Mormon does offer some reason to think it was the Jewish culture of the era that rejected and killed Christ. I don’t think that entails anything bad to the Jews themselves, beyond perhaps losing certain blessings. But clearly God doesn’t forget them as the covenant people, as the Book of Mormon attests. But there is a clear view in the text of a move from the Jews to the Gentiles in terms of the focus of God’s interaction with man.
    I certainly agree with the critiques of Gibson tha the follows a perhaps political expediency in the gospels of downplaying Pilate’s role. Still, I think the Romans often were more respectful of the Jews than some admit. (Consider their halting the war against rebels for the Sabbath – and the rebels blocked in the temple then spent that day fighting amongst themselves) The history is certainly far more complex than the testimony of the gospels shows. (We mustn’t forget that our modern notions of history are somewhat alien to the era)
    Still, look at the main persecuters of Jesus. They were the Jews. The Romans only really show up at the end. Yes, in a political context he was but one Messiah of many and a political threat. But, by and large, the Christian movement didn’t catch on among Jews. And that is the bigger issue. That conception of Judaism ultimatly was rejected. The Jews as a whole didn’t recognize Jesus as the Christ. And that I think is the point of the Book of Mormon. The Jews, while abandoning their previous problems with idolotry, still missed the message.
    Of course, to be fair, I think an “outsider” could critique God and ask, “well, how much evidence did you give them so that they should have known this was actually their Messiah? Is it fair to judge them independent of you God provided them.” I can certainly understand the Jewish perspective on this that sees even what is acconting in the gospels as not exactly being persuasive to the typical Jew of the era.
    Comment by: clark goble at February 25, 2004 06:24 PM


    That’s kind of what I had in mind in my initial post (i.e., “the extent to which the Book of Mormon may commit us to historically problematic claims”). Some sample passages:
    1 Nephi 19:13-14 — “And as for those who are at Jerusalem, saith the prophet, they shall be scourged by all people, because they crucify the God of Israel, and turn their hearts aside, rejecting signs and wonders, and the power and glory of the God of Israel. And because they turn their hearts aside, saith the prophet, and have despised the Holy One of Israel, they shall wander in the flesh, and perish, and become a hiss and a byword, and be hated among all nations.”
    2 Nephi 6:9-11 — “And he also has shown unto me that the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, should manifest himself unto them in the flesh; and after he should manifest himself they should scourge him and crucify him, according to the words of the angel who spake it unto me. And after they have hardened their hearts and stiffened their necks against the Holy One of Israel, behold, the judgments of the Holy One of Israel shall come upon them. And the day cometh that they shall be smitten and afflicted. Wherefore, after they are driven to and fro, for thus saith the angel, many shall be afflicted in the flesh, and shall not be suffered to perish, because of the prayers of the faithful; they shall be scattered, and smitten, and hated.”
    2 Nephi 25:12-16 — “And when the day cometh that the Only Begotten of the Father, yea, even the Father of heaven and of earth, shall manifest himself unto them in the flesh, behold, they will reject him, because of their iniquities, and the hardness of their hearts, and the stiffness of their necks. Behold, they will crucify him; and after he is laid in a sepulchre for the space of three days he shall rise from the dead, with healing in his wings…. And behold it shall come to pass that after the Messiah hath risen from the dead, and hath manifested himself unto his people, unto as many as will believe on his name, behold, Jerusalem shall be destroyed again; for wo unto them that fight against God and the people of his church. Wherefore, the Jews shall be scattered among all nations; yea, and also Babylon shall be destroyed; wherefore, the Jews shall be scattered by other nations. And after they have been scattered, and the Lord God hath scourged them by other nations for the space of many generations, yea, even down from generation to generation until they shall be persuaded to believe in Christ, the Son of God, and the atonement, which is infinite for all mankind.”
    2 Nephi 10:3-6 — “Wherefore, as I said unto you, it must needs be expedient that Christ—-for in the last night the angel spake unto me that this should be his name—-should bcome among the Jews, among those who are the more wicked part of the world; and they shall crucify him—-for thus it behooveth our God, and there is none other nation on earth that would crucify their God…. But because of priestcrafts and iniquities, they at Jerusalem will stiffen their necks against him, that he be crucified. Wherefore, because of their iniquities, destructions, famines, pestilences, and bloodshed shall come upon them; and they who shall not be destroyed shall be scattered among all nations.”
    Such passages seem to commit Mormons to the belief that (i) Jews (i.e., those at Jerusalem) were responsible for Christ’s crucifixion, (ii) there was collective responsibility for the act, and (iii) God punished the Jewish people for generations on the basis thereof. I’d be interested to hear alternative interpretations, if you have any.
    Comment by: Scott at February 25, 2004 06:34 PM


    I’m going to see this movie. I don’t think I’m going to burn for it, either. I was trying to explain the great debate to a non-member friend. He questioned why people would follow the letter of the alleged law and not the spirit of it. For the letter would indicate that all PG-13 movies are fine. Not so. The spirit would indicate that what is virtuous, full of moral conviction and praiseworthy is acceptable to view. Each commandment or instruction should be evaluated in context. Is adultery ever a good idea? No. But can there be worthwhile R rated movies? Yes.
    This movie has sparked numerous dialogues with a co-worker (who is evangelical and has said to other co-workers in the past that Mormons aren’t Christian). Because of my interest in this movie and his (his church has bought several blocks of tickets), we have found a common ground in discussing the controversy surrounding it. We’ve also shared our beliefs with each other on Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
    Those who aren’t interested in it, that’s fine. However, to me it has presented an opportunity to share my beliefs and open the minds of others who have had our church misrepresented to them.
    Comment by: Renee at February 25, 2004 06:39 PM


    Not to dispute how some might see those claims as problematic Scott, but it is also part of a common methadology in the Book of Mormon and Old Testament. We tend to prioritize individuals. The OT and BoM tends to prioritize the nation. Read through the text and prophecy rarely deals with individuals and typically addresses groups as if they were (to the modern mind) individuals. This is true quite often of modern prophecy as well.
    This is jarring to the modern American mind which tends to priviledge the individual above culture or community.
    Comment by: clark at February 25, 2004 07:22 PM


    Scripture is definitely filled with notions of collective (e.g., national, lineage, etc.) guilt, blessings, and so forth. I have no problem with that. (In fact, I think it’s a much richer notion than our kneejerk, narrow individualism.) So, to clarify, I’m not troubled by the fact that God (or a prophet) might find a people collectively culpable, answer the sins of the fathers on the heads of the children, scourge generations, and so on. The question is simply whether the Book of Mormon prophecies about the Jews’ role in the crucifixion square with our best understandings of history. I don’t have an answer to that. But, for reasons both you and Tyler are aware of, the NT account of their responsibility (which, at first glance, seems consistent with the BoM prophecies) might be overstated, to say the least. If so, what do we make of the BoM prophecies? Was Smith led, in the translation process, to “true up” the prophecies? Might such elements be part of an Ostlerian expansion?
    If you want to see the movie, more power to you. But, in my estimation, the Grand Guignol Gospel according to Gibson meets neither the letter nor spirit of prophetic counsel. In any case, I’m glad you’ve had the chance to speak with co-workers about your beliefs. That’s always a good thing.
    Comment by: Scott at February 25, 2004 08:27 PM


    Saw it this afternoon. Not sure I completely agree with Scott, but it was over the top in some scenes. When it got really bad in the beating scene I was wishing it would stop. The thought then crossed my mind that it was pretty awful seeing your sins in technicolor and not being able to turn away.
    I thought Mel Gibson did well given his knowledge of scripture. There did seem to be some gratuitous forgiveness scenes. I do think it will open up a chance for discussion with others about the Gospel and Christianity as a whole. I give it a thumbs up.
    Comment by: cooper at February 26, 2004 12:47 AM


    I think they line up with history if you are looking at it through that kind of “language of the Jews.” Certainly from *our* notion of history it doesn’t line up. But that is comparing apples and oranges. The style of prophecy simply isn’t the style of modern conceptions of history. Something I think far too many forget while reading the scriptures.
    I think that the Book of Mormon’s emphasis though, as seen in your quotes, is much more on the failure of the Jews to embrace the style of Judaism that Jesus taught, despite the miracles. I think that the crucifixion isn’t as prominent in Book of Mormon theology as it is in say Catholicism. (Which isn’t to say it isn’t there – but it certainly isn’t the same as say Mel Gibson’s film. If only because we emphasize the atonement in the garden and not the torture of Christ)
    Comment by: Clark Goble at February 26, 2004 01:33 AM


    Note, the LDS Church has “taken no stance” on the Passion. However, the LDS Church Spokesman did reiterate that church teaching is “that we should avoid R movies.”
    See link
    or click on the news item side bar at
    Comment by: lyle at February 26, 2004 11:24 AM


    For what it’s worth…Orson Scott Card’s take on “The Passion of the Christ”:
    He makes some excellent points. Unfortunately, like nearly everything he writes these days, he also has to score some culture war points. Also, he makes this observation:
    “I don’t believe that the manner of Jesus’ death had anything to do with either the atonement or the resurrection. That’s why we Mormons don’t use the symbol of the cross on our churches — to us, crucifixion was merely the method that the Romans used to execute those of whom they wanted to make a public example. Had the death been by lethal injection, the effect on our salvation would have been the same.”
    Actually, I don’t believe this is true–I think there was/is a purpose to Christ’s suffering having been so…shall we say, “embodied.” I personally find the typical (though not necessarily doctrinal) Mormon focus on Gethsemane, and the idea of Christ’s “chosen,” inward suffering, to fail to capture the nature of His sacrifice; something that passionate, in the classical sense–that is, something one is put through, something that one suffers and which overwhelms the will–seems to me would have had to involve something more than an internal struggle with fear and sin before the narcotics stopped the heart.
    Comment by: Russell Arben Fox at February 26, 2004 07:19 PM


    Thanks for the link to Orson Card’s review, Russell. I’d heard someone on NPR recommend it, and am glad you linked to it. (Incidentally, here’s the link without the trailing “.”: )
    Card loved it, even calling it a ‘perfect’ movie, for the reasons I expect to (see my comments to Kristine above). Now I’m really anxious to see it.
    Comment by: Matt Evans at February 26, 2004 09:06 PM


    I know everyone and their dog has put up reviews of the film. But we finally saw yesterday. Here’s my review:
    Comment by: clark at February 29, 2004 01:28 AM


    My wife and I also saw the movie last night. I wrote a review, which unintentionally is somewhat similar to yours:
    Comment by: Bob Caswell at February 29, 2004 08:25 PM


    I will write a review to be on tomorrow. I had a similar reaction to some who have commented on their experience (e.g. clark and bob).
    Comment by: Brent at February 29, 2004 11:12 PM


    My wife and I went to see the Passion on Friday night. We were both happy we saw it. My wife was more moved by it than I was, I was unfortunately distracted by the mental refereeing I was doing with the dozen reviews I’d read. I regretted having been coached by so many.
    The movie wasn’t as violent as my wife or I expected it to be. We’ve only seen one other R-rated movie in recent years, Saving Private Ryan, which was definitely more violent. Jesus is exceptionally bloody from the time of his scourging, but the beating feels less violent because it’s not existentialist. And because I’ve read the story so many times, and visualized what happened, I was always mindful that the movie wasn’t creating the violence — the movie didn’t add violence to the world — it simply told the account of Christ’s crucifixion.
    I would feel comfortable taking kids who are 12 or 13. The story helped humanize Jesus and Mary for me and, just as important, by seeing it in living color, helped emphasize to me that the story really happened in living color. It wasn’t always a legend in Elizabethan English. At one time Mary saw, and her eyes had a definite color, as Romans, who had definite faces and teeth, took Jesus’ hands, which had a definite contours, and drove nails through them. I don’t know how it really happened, but today as I sang the sacrament hymn I was more conscientiously aware that it really did happen. And for that reason alone I would encourage everyone to see it.
    The scene that I’ve thought about most is while Jesus is carrying the cross out of Jerusalem. Mary and Mary Magdalene have witnessed most of the proceedings, but have been unable to be near Jesus because of the guards or throngs of spectators. Once the cross is strapped on Jesus and he’s paraded through Jerusalem, the narrow streets prevent the crowds from mobbing him. The people follow behind. Rather than follow the crowd, John, Mary and Mary Magdalene go through the streets by a different route. Then they turn a corner to see their street intersect with the procession just as Jesus falls to the ground, bloodied and physically exhausted.
    At seeing Jesus fall, Mary has a flashback of Jesus tripping as a three-year-old. The movie intersperses clips of Mary running toward Jesus that are 30 years apart. Only as she reaches her grown, beaten son, this time it is he who comforts her, “See, Mother, I will make all things new.”
    Even though this is Gibson’s artistic license, not scriptural, it caused me to appreciate, again, that Jesus was a real person to those who knew him. He wasn’t the unfathomable mythic figure that’s been constructed in my head. He was someone who, like the rest of us, was loved by his mother.
    At the end of the movie I wasn’t eager to leave. I needed my thoughts to settle; prepare to re-enter the world. I anticipated the shock of leaving the spiritual experience to the theater foyer, full of pop music and reveling movie goers. Instead, we left the theater into a crowded but nearly silent foyer. There was no overhead music, and dozens of sober people were standing quietly, many embracing each other in tears. A small group held hands in a circle against one wall and prayed. This was one of my only encounters of a non-Mormon religious experience, something I valued independent of the movie itself.
    Comment by: Matt Evans at March 1, 2004 01:12 AM


    I had a few more comments with a second consideration of The Passion. Someone mention Saving Private Ryan and I think the parallels are fairly strong.
    Comment by: Clark Goble at March 1, 2004 03:51 AM


    Matt, I haven’t seen the Passion yet, but saying it isn’t quite as violent as Saving Private Ryan isn’t exactly saying much. If SPR isn’t the most violent movie I’ve ever seen, it’s definitely in the conversation.
    Comment by: Logan at March 1, 2004 08:37 AM


    Uh, I think I shouldn’t leave it at that — didn’t mean to sound sarcastic.
    I do appreciate your thoughts, Matt. Potentially (though perhaps rarely), “violence” really can be used to make a powerful statement about courage and strength in a noble way. It sounds as though you felt that this was the case here. It’s one thing if someone overcomes and submits to a good tongue-lashing, quite another if someone can be repeatedly flogged, whipped, and tortured and still be selfless. I think that can speak to everyone, as you said it did.
    Comment by: Logan at March 1, 2004 08:43 AM


    A question for those who have seen the film:
    Melissa doesn’t want to see it, and for a variety of reasons, I almost never go see movies on my own. Thus my movie watching is almost entirely confined to video, which I’m usually all right with–obviously something is always lost when a film is watched outside the environment it was created for, but I can deal with that. However, occasionally a film comes along that genuinely doesn’t work on the small screen–bigness is too essential to its whole visual scheme for the movie not to be fatally compromised by viewing it on your television. Is “The Passion” such a movie? If I’m going to see it, do I need to see it now, or will it “work” (artistically speaking) as a video or dvd?
    Comment by: Russell Arben Fox at March 1, 2004 11:32 AM


    Russell, I would suggest seeing it in the theatre. I think it will “work” as a video or dvd, but the big screen/movie theatre experience may be better.
    Comment by: Brent at March 1, 2004 12:44 PM


    I would also suggest seeing it in the theatre, for the “effect” from the movie itself, and to see a packed theatre watching a movie about Christ. That’s almost worth it alone.
    I understand Melissa not wanting to see it, many women I know don’t want to, and I didn’t want to at first also. But I was surprised with my reaction to the “violence” — I was not squeamish or upset or shocked or sickened. I was thankful, and moved. It seems to me that everyone talking about the goriness of the film has never thought about the atonement, never pictured it in their mind, never seen other movies regarding it, never read books about the suffering, never read the account of the suffering itself. I wasn’t surprised by the violence, I expected it. I was touched by the Savior’s power, I was touched by my own power. I enjoyed seeing the differences between a Catholic rendition of the Savior’s mission, and my knowledge of the Savior’s mission. I was uplifted, and I’m glad I saw it.
    Comment by: Michelle at March 1, 2004 01:01 PM


    I don’t know about the Passion (which I will not see — mainly for lack of time), but you really HAVE to see “Master and Commander” on a big screen.
    Comment by: Nate Oman at March 1, 2004 01:46 PM


    Come now, Nate, you don’t really expect anyone to buy your “lack of time” excuse, do you? Don’t be shy, give us your real reason.
    P.S. I agree with you about Master and Commander, a must see on the big screen.
    Comment by: Bob Caswell at March 1, 2004 02:23 PM


    Russell, I think that The Passion would work better on the big screen with a good sound system. How much better probably depends upon your home entertainment system. i.e. do you have surround sound? 5.1 sound system? Reasonably good TV?
    I don’t think this is one of those films like Master & Commander that really depends upon sound. So it won’t make that big a difference. Yet at the same time I think it would have a much bigger impact on the big screen.
    Having said that it would also depend upon the quality of your projectionist. Many have under-lit bulbs and this is a film where that will make a huge difference – especially at the beginning when they are in the garden. It is very dark and a lot of important subtleties would be lost with a poor projectionist.
    Sadly, with far too many theatres they are *worse* than seeing it at home on a good entertainment system. You also have to worry about those around you. We unfortunately had someone abandon their incontinent grandmother in front of us. My wife is in the first trimester so the waffing smells of urine didn’t exactly help her have a good experience in the film. (I truly get upset at some of the disrespect people have towards others in film — this woman’s family wouldn’t even sit beside her!)
    Comment by: Clark Goble at March 1, 2004 02:45 PM


    Going back to a previous post about the rating system I totally agree about inconsistency. Being an Englishman that makes regular journeys to the USA I have come across various films that here at home are rated 15 (Our rating system is devised as U, 12A, 15, 18) and yet are rated PG13 in the USA. A perfect example of this was Spiderman which got a 15 certificate on its release here and only through peer pressure after a month of debate actually brought about a 12A rating yet Lord of The Rings was released at 12A beforehand. The reason from the BBFC (Our Broadcasting commitee for ratings) was that Lord Of The Rings was Fantasy Violence but Spiderman promoted vigilante violence which was deemed unacceptable for younger audiences. At the same time we also have films rated 15 that are rated R in the USA so how do we in Europe determine which film actually is the R rated and which is the PG13? Does this mean we check on some US website first just to make absolutly sure that the film is suitable for viewing? We also have a few examples of movies that are rated 12A at cinema release but yet DVD versions rated 15 because of the “special features” so does this mean I cant listen to it in 5.1 but instead have to go for the VHS version instead because its within my principles? At the start of most films here there is the rating and a broadcaster telling us “That ratings are there for the viewer to make an informed choice”, thats what I go by, a simple read of the back cover tells me if its going to be a violent film because of its closeness to get to the realism or if its just mindless violence there to get bums on seats.
    The Passion Of Christ isnt about anything else other than the suffering we can only imagine he went through in those last 12 hours. Its not glossed over and its not glamourised and this is the reason it will shock or make us stand up and realise exactly what our Lord and Saviour did for us. for one eagerly await to add it to my collection and yes in 5.1 regardless of the rating.
    Comment by: Daren Kelly at March 28, 2004 06:47 PM


    A late, late comment: I finally saw The Passion, on Easter Eve. Short and sweet summary: a movie filled with a great deal of insight and spirituality, but one whose better elements are all but entirely undermined by the decision to make Christ’s suffering into a repulsive, bloody spectacle. More here: .
    Comment by: Russell Arben Fox at April 13, 2004 12:58 AM

  45. December 30, 2004 at 6:53 pm

    I’ve written an essay regarding the R-rated movie question. I invite you to read it online at

Comments are closed.