Mel Gibson's latest exclusionist outrage

The Chicago Tribune reports on a trend of questionable size and gravity: Christians pressuring other Christians to see The Passion of the Christ against their will, and — wait for it — implying that Passion patrons are more holy than those not inclined to add to Mel Gibson’s record-setting box-office numbers.

Call it Passion Gnosticism — akin to some Christians’ measuring spiritual maturity by participation in Cursillo, Education for Ministry or 40 Days of Purpose.

The endless pressure, the unrelenting chorus goading these besieged Christians to conform, lurks in the Tribune‘s opening paragraphs:

Velma Dority managed to tune out the chatter on religious radio stations calling on all Christians to see “The Passion of the Christ.” She ignored her virtuous friends who bragged about seeing the film countless times.

But when Dority’s five sisters told her she must see “The Passion” — that watching Jesus suffer would make her a better Christian — she took action. She called her doctor and obtained a written excuse saying the movie would be harmful to her health.

So far, the story is describing what is usually called marketing (those chattering “religious radio stations”) and possibly busybody advice from friends. But reporters Geneive Abdo and Lou Carlozo have picked up the scent, and they have another 1,300 words to write.

They describe Colleen Hayes as experiencing “peer pressure and discomfort from all directions, including family gatherings and her classes at Loyola University Chicago.”

“It makes me feel not in touch with the people who have seen it,” said Hayes, who is completing a marketing and communications degree.

“It tends to be a conversation in so many circles and it makes me feel out of it — but not far enough out it to want to go see it.”

A Baptist pastor takes it up a notch:

“We were approached by a sister church in our neighborhood that is also Baptist about buying a large number of tickets together,” said Keith Herron, senior pastor at Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo. “If we did that, we would have clout with the [theater] manager and essentially could do anything we would want to do.”

What could that nefarious “anything we would want to do” include? Rituals so secret and evil that you take your life into your hands even to acknowledge them? Shouting “Glory”? Wearing brightly colored polyester clothing? No, it’s worse than that: “The idea was clear, Herron said — the theater could be turned into a stage for saving lost souls.”

You know how it is with those power-mad evangelicals:

Herron said a number of evangelical churches are “absolutely” compelling worshippers, families and in some cases young children to see the film.

“There’s incredible pressure to go see it,” Herron said.

The reporters do not explain in what ways these churches are “absolutely compelling” members to attend Gibson’s R-rated film, so there’s no solid charge for pastors to deny.

Naturally, the story includes ominous remarks from an academic who sets it all in furrowed-brow perspective:

“This phenomenon . . . of people putting pressure on other believers to participate in what they define as holy is not a passing phase,” said Amanda Quantz, a professor at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. “This kind of fanaticism — you are a good Christian or you are a bad Christian — has much more fuel than the movie. The movie is just a tool for this type of thought.”

Gibson has to date been accused of fomenting anti-Semitism, turning Jesus’ suffering into a homoerotic fantasy and filming The Passion to make millions of dollars from Jesus’ crucifixion. But now he stands accused of what may be the most divisive action of all: making some Americans feel left out of a discussion about a film they choose not to see.

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  • Margaret Davis

    The peer pressure is just unrelenting!!

  • James Freeman

    Dear Trib editor:

    Please call me when you do the peer-pressure, conformist-marketing piece on teens and how the media badgers them to become “pimp,” disrespect “bitches” (which we all know includes the entire feminine gender)– that is, except when it’s time to “get some” — and then buy bunches of cheap crap they don’t need.

    Otherwise, please stop insulting my intelligence. Jerk.

    Sincerely,

    Mr. Mad as Hell and Not

    Going to Take This Anymore

  • John Granger

    I was contacted by the Tribune reporter because Prof. Mattingly quoted me as someone who was not going to se the Passion in his column. She was disappointed – and told me as much – that I had experienced no pressure to see the movie or heard of any.

  • Rong

    I must live a very sheltered life in an incredibly loving church, because I haven’t seen any of this. Sure a good portion of our church has seen the movie and the church has even done a Sunday School study of it. But, there are also a large number of people that have not seen it due to its graphic violence. I certainly haven’t heard of them being ostracized for not attending the movie.

    If some of you are like me, the more I’m pressured the more I’m NOT going to see something. Still haven’t seen Titanic (even though we have the DVD) and from all the pressure I got about it at the time I’ve resolutely held to not watching it….ever….well maybe, but I’ve held out for so long that it doesn’t matter at this point.

    To all you Passion pushers, get over it, and peddle what really matters – The Bible.

  • Fr. Tim Doubblestein

    Passion pushers? Since when is it bad manners to want to discuss something you have found interesting, significant, challenging (you pick the descriptive)? What is so shocking about encouraging someone to see something they might enjoy? Peer pressure? I’d call it participating in a relationship.

    On the other hand, to imply that a person is less a Christian because they have not seen or honestly don’t like a film is just nuts.

    On the other hand (how many hands is that?), refusing to see a movie because someone wants you to see it is equally crazy (really it is! It’s called Opositional Defiance disorder).

  • http://www.therevealer.org Jeff Sharlet @ The Revealer

    Come on, folks! I am completely sympathetic with your critique of the secular press. I slam it all the time on The Revealer. But this strikes me as paranoid. Genevieve Abdo is no dummy, and sometimes, maybe just once in a blue moon, one — possibly two! — evangelical Christians might do something foolish. You seem to deny the possibility at every turn, and see in EVERY report of evangelical doings a wicked conspiracy to ridicule evangelicals. That is most certainly not the intention of Abdo.

    I work on a college campus, and I am familiar with the pressure some students put on others to see the movie. Look, it happens — even those with good intentions can bully their friends. This in no way reflects on Christianity or evangelical America — it’s just something that sometimes happens, and is maybe worth reporting on. Like my friend’s church in Brooklyn, where the pastor decided that every member of the congregation was required to see the movie.

    Is this the whole story of the Passion? No, of course not. It’s just a small part of the story. Isn’t that worth telling, too?

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    Dear Jeff,

    I do not believe that Geneive Abdo is a dummy, and I happily leave conspiracy theories to kooks.

    If you think I believe evangelicals never do anything foolish, I think you’ve forgotten my posts “Jaci Velasquez to the rescue,” “Bad craziness at Wheaton College” and “Shut up & fly the plane.”

    My post grants that people could indeed be guilty of offering busybody advice, or of measuring other people’s piety by whether they’ve seen the film. (I linked to three examples of this habit because I consider the examples real, not imaginary.)

    Few of the people I know — whether as Christians or as Americans — are so docile and unimaginative that they’ll attend The Passion or any other film simply because their pastor orders it or a friend grows pushy about it.

  • Tony Dunlop

    The pressure is real; I’ve experienced some mild versions of it myself, from family members. I personally don’t like violent movies (and as an Orthodox catechumen I’ve heard some compelling theological objections to dwelling on the graphic details of Christ’s suffering).

    The implication is that I must not be fully devoted to my faith if I can’t sit through the gore. I find that implication rather offensive.

    (BTW, great ‘blog, Terry and Doug.)

  • Lou Carlozo

    Doug: As both a journalist and–surprise!–a practicing Christian who was born again at a Billy Graham crusade, I was disappointed by your commentary on my Chicago Tribune story on Mel Gibson’s “The Passion.”

    You know nothing about me–ranging from whether I had “another 1,300 words to write,” to how I got assigned the story, or what my reasons were. Truth is, I’ve been following this movie very closely for professional and personal reasons. My wife is an Presbyterian minister, a hospital chaplain (and, I might add, among the numbers who will not see this movie, though not for the reasons I write about. I have seen the film and will likely see it again.)

    I believe Jesus speaks very forcefully throughout scripture in defense of those who otherwise would not have a voice. That, Douglas, is quite the opposite of a “trend” story.

    It was, for me, a call to do a story about something that really mattered, to give voice to those who have otherwise been ignored, supressed, badgered or have not had the courage to speak up.

    I spoke to one evangelical church leader, not included in the piece, who dismissed with a roll of the eyes any notion that there was pressure in his congregation. It took me less than a day of reporting to find a member of his flock who went to see the film, distressed and much against her wishes. Bottom line: She went because she did not want to be “branded” by her peers. Unfortunately, for that very reason, she did not want to go on the record for the story, either.

    In an age of media apathy and distrust, I appreciate your instincts. And I am always grateful for the opportunity for “iron to sharpen iron.” What I take exception to, Douglas, is your off-key tone and off-putting analysis, which–aside from the fact that there’s no reporting to back it up–got it all wrong.

    Lou Carlozo

    Chicago Tribune

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    Lou,

    Please forgive me for my crack about your having “another 1,300 words to write.” It was a cheap shot, and I thank you for calling me on it.

  • http://god-of-small-things.blogspot.com bob smietana

    Thanks Doug (for apologizing) and Lou (for being so self-revealing. The underlying story to this Passion pressure may be that it’s difficult in churches,like any human institution, to say what you really think, when it dissents from group consensus.

    I’ve not seen much presssure but have seen a real reluctance to critize the film out of fear of undermining it’s evangelistic potential. And criticism of those who criticize the film for somehow betraying the cause.

    I had some friends who wanted to see the Passion on Good Friday out of a religious obligation but once was enough for me so we all went to see Hellboy instead. (Now there’s a religion story)

  • http://www.neepeople.com Jim N

    Wow… all this over a movie. Good thing the Shroud is hidden in a monastery overseas.

    BTW, I met Father G in October and was Chrismated by him Holy Saturday. I hear you’re coming to town in the summer. Hope to meet you.

    Many years.

  • http://www.neepeople.com Jim N

    My mistake, that last comment was for Terry

  • http://homepage.mac.com/gthurman/iblog/index.html Glen Tikhon Thurman

    Hey! I’m guessing Doug put that little comment about Education for Ministry because he never completed EFM like I did? :-)

    Seriously, I had to chuckle a little because I think you are right–some people do tend to pick up on trends like The Passion (or EFM, or whatever else) which may have an impact on one’s life, then get carried away in their enthusiasm to question others who have not reached the same conclusion.

    For a myriad of reason, I was moved by The Passion, but I don’t see the need to judge others based on this experience. Movies can be important, but it is just a movie.

  • Barb N

    The Chicago Trib people contacted me too and we went back and forth in emails. I told them I had heard no one being “pressured” to see The Passion. Instead, I pointed out that there was a strong movement in liberal Christianity to not see the movie. I met just as many people who were ready to hate the film before it came out as those who were anxious to see it.

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