I am a Christian minister. My father was a Christian, my mother an Orthodox Jew. I was raised as a Christian, but still, I was physically attacked as a child in “Christian America.” I was called a “Christ-killer” hundreds of times. I pushed my mother’s grocery cart down the street while self-professing Christians threw eggs and tomatoes from their vehicles, and shouted obscenities – including “Christ-killer” and “Jew-witch.” I remember waking one morning to the words “Christ-killer” spray-painted on the front door.
Six months ago, Mel Gibson requested a meeting with approximately 30 Christian ministers to screen his latest film, “The Passion of the Christ.” Following the screening, Mr. Gibson asked if we thought changes needed to be made to his film in light of accusations that the movie could be used to incite anti-Semitism.
I told Mel Gibson what my mother had told me. When I asked her, “Why am I being beat up for killing Christ?” my mother sat me down and told me the story of her grandfather. He was a rabbi. Russian Orthodox Christians burned him and his entire congregation to death inside the synagogue. She said to me, “They did it while screaming, ‘You crucified Christ, you Christ-killers.'”
I can still see the pain in her eyes as she told me of loved ones who were thrown into the ovens of Auschwitz. “The last words many of them heard,” she said, “were ‘Christ-killers.'” Her last words to me that day were, “Christians hate Jews. They believe that we murdered the Son of God. The pope, Billy Graham and Adolf Hitler are all Christians.”
Mr. Gibson was deeply moved and hung his head. He said, “What can I do?” I replied, “Mr. Gibson, put a postscript at the end of the movie so that when it is shown in anti-Semitic countries, it will be difficult for anti-Semites to use this movie for their evil purposes.” I humbly suggested to him that at the end of the movie, he put the following: “During the Roman occupation, one-quarter million Jews were crucified by the Romans, but only One rose from the dead.”
Mel Gibson said excitedly, “This is Good! I needed something anyway, and this is it. I’ll do it. I’ll do it.”
I can’t express the joy to know that this would be the first Passion movie in history to be used as a vehicle to fight, not feed, anti-Semitism.
As a Christian, I fully understand the theology that Christ gave His life, and no man took it, but as a Jew, I also understand the fear created by the expression “Christ-killer” – the No. 1 expression Jews have heard throughout history – during the pogroms, the Inquisition, the Crusades and the Holocaust. Presently, Jews are still experiencing “Ash Wednesdays.”
During the dark side of the days of the Holocaust, the Protestant church refused to unite as one against Hitler. Quite the contrary, a large percentage of the Church supported him, as was stated by Dr. Oswald J. Smith, pastor of Peoples Church in Toronto, who wrote: “What, you ask, is the real attitude of the German people toward Hitler? There is but one answer. They love him. Yes, from the highest to the lowest, children and parents, old and young alike – they love their new leader.”
As chairman of the board of the Corrie ten Boom Foundation, I want to encourage everyone to see this film. (Dr. Billy Graham memorialized the ten Boom family in the film, “The Hiding Place.” Most of the elders in the family gave their lives for saving almost 800 Jews during the Holocaust.)
Christians are called upon to comfort the Jewish people, and to show compassion, not controversy. The fears of the Jewish people are just as real as the fear Americans faced on Sept. 11 as the poison of prejudice belched like black, apocalyptic smoke through the streets of New York City.
Instead of demonizing, degrading or patronizing the Jewish people, I truly believe that Christians need to ask forgiveness for the terrible sins committed against them throughout history in the name of Christ.
If the object is for the Jewish people to harden their hearts to the message of Christ, then “The Passion of the Christ” will be 100 percent successful, if this controversy continues.
The movie will be released on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25, and Mr. Gibson still has not included the postscript to which he committed on Aug. 19, 2003, in Dallas, Texas, at AMS Productions.
I am not concerned about the movie in the United States. Evangelical Christians are not anti-Semites. My fear is that he will not include this line in the overseas release. For that reason, the Corrie ten Boom Christian Holocaust Center has launched a website asking 1 million Christians to write Mr. Gibson to thank him for the movie, to commit to pray for Mr. Gibson and the Jewish people, and to appeal to him to include this simple postscript. Millions of Jews living in the midst of a sea of bigotry could then know that Christians – real Christians – do not hate Jews, but rather love them.