Gibson's 'Passion' ignites only a few small fires

Religious film provoked milder reactions than were expected, both pro and con

For the Record

July 25, 2004|By Knight Ridder / Tribune

Four months after its release, The Passion of the Christ has ignited neither a Christian revival nor anti-Jewish pogroms.

The movie, about the final hours of Jesus' life, was a box-office smash, grossing more than $370 million so far. But impact beyond the bottom line has been subtle -- and largely anecdotal.

Some hope -- or fear -- that the DVD release next month will increase the movie's reach.

A few Christian leaders say people have told them they started coming to church after seeing the movie. The American Tract Society, based in Garland, Texas, sold more than 4 million evangelistic pamphlets pegged to the film -- the society's highest sales since the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. But churches have not reported any flood of new adherents.

A survey by the Barna Group, a polling company that specializes in issues of interest to evangelical Christians, indicated that less than one-tenth of 1 percent of those who saw the movie were moved to become Christians as a result. And fewer than five Christians in 1,000 who saw the movie were moved to increase their proselytizing.

Before and after the movie's release, on Ash Wednesday, some expressed concern that it was anti-Semitic in how it portrayed the role of Jews in Jesus' crucifixion. But no watchdog organization has reported any attacks on Jews or Jewish institutions as a result of the movie.

Jewish leaders, however, say they've heard from parents who claim their children were taunted by schoolmates. A poll by the Pew Research Center indicated that Americans who'd seen the movie were twice as likely as those who had not to hold Jews responsible for Jesus' death.

At the same time, the film has inspired many Christians and Jews to reach out to each other.

"I've been overwhelmed by the interest from many sectors in the Christian community," said Rabbi David Glickman of Congregation Shearith Israel in Dallas. "That was a wonderful outcome that I didn't necessarily expect."

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