Caution urged for children viewing 'Passion'
This certainly isn't "Jesus Christ Superstar."
While the debate continues on whether Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" is anti-Semitic, local church leaders are concentrating on different question: Should children see this movie?
The R-rated film, which opens on Wednesday, focuses on the final 12 hours of Jesus' life. Many local churches are utilizing Gibson's film as a modern tool for teaching Christianity, but they are also expressing caution for moviegoers younger than age 12.
Parents shouldn't take the movie rating lightly, said Stone Ridge Church senior Pastor Sam Norris.
"It's rated R for a reason," he said. "Crucifixion is an extremely violent death. It's violent because that's the way it was."
Norris, who has already seen the film, was particular affected by the 45-minute segment where Jesus is beaten by Roman soldiers.
"On one hand, you want to turn your head, but you can't help but watch what he did and remember that he did that for me," Norris said. "It's the most realistic film I've ever seen. It takes you back to witness that moment."
The violence doesn't end with the beatings. There are plenty of graphic scenes detailing the brutality involved with crucifixion, according to a USA TODAY article:
--Roman guards employ a cat-o'-nine-tails that rip the flesh from Jesus' back.
--As Jesus is being crucified, a supervisor scolds one man for not nailing his hands properly. He yanks Jesus' other hand, pulling the arm out of the socket.
--To see whether Jesus is dead, a Roman soldier pierces his side with a lance. Blood showers down on the soldier.
This intensity should be a consideration for anyone, Norris said.
"If someone is squeamish about blood, I wouldn't go to it," he said. "At one point, he is covered from head to foot, both front and back in blood."
For this reason, church leaders are worried that showing the film to children may cause more long-term trauma than spiritual enlightenment. Many have recommended parents preview "The Passion" before watching it with their children.
"It's up to the family," Norris said. "But I wouldn't take anyone younger than 12 years old. But then again, these kids are used to seeing things like 'Freddy vs. Jason.''
National studies have reported the typical child will see 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence on television. Parents need to take the rating system seriously, said Yuma County Family and Consumer Sciences Agent Victoria Steinfelt.
"The R-rated is the parents' best guide," she said. "But they can make their own decision based on their family values."
Generations Church pastor Rich Whitmer, who has also seen the movie, said he hasn't decided when he will let his 9-year-old daughter watch "The Passion."
"I think we are going to wait until she is older and can watch it at home, so we can discuss it with her," he said.
Whitmer said he wasn't shocked by the movie. But after years of studying how crucifixions were conducted, he was still overwhelmed by it.
"In an interview with Mel Gibson, he said that it was as close to real where people would still be able to stand it," Whitmer said. "Seeing those images affected me, but it's tastefully done. It's showing the purpose and that's why it is so powerful."
Whether or not to view an R-rated movie can be a difficult decision for any moviegoer, Christian or otherwise.
But in this case, the bloody scenes are there for a reason, said Greg Myers, general manager of KCFY 88.1 FM, the Christian radio station.
"It's gruesome," he said. "But that's what it was. It wasn't glamorous and people need to see that. It's definitely a movie that will stir people's emotions."
The accuracy of Gibson's film is incredible, Whitmer said.
"It's also good from a historical standpoint," he said. "Not that the other movies about Jesus were bad, but they all pale in comparison and that's why it will have an impact to those that watch it."
As usual, Main St. Cinemas isn't giving any particular guidance for parents concerned with "The Passion," said Cassandra Salapatas-Metz, who co-owns the theater with the Quechan Tribe. Moviegoers under 17 must have a parent or an adult guardian accompanying them to attend.
"We never encourage or discourage any movie," Salapatas-Metz said. "It is graphic. But every individual knows their own family members and what's appropriate for them."
Michelle Kann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6855.