Interfaith Groups Face Mel's 'Passion'

02/02/2004 AT 03:06 AM EST

Jews and Christians who fear Mel Gibson's upcoming film "The Passion of the Christ" will fuel anti-Semitism are planning lecture series, interfaith talks and other programs in an effort to mute the film's impact, reports the Associated Press.

But opponents do not plan boycotts or protests outside theaters, says the news service.

Gibson has insisted his film, set to be open on more than 2,000 screens on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25, does not malign Jews, though, until last week, he adamantly refused to screen to Jewish groups.

Now that representatives from the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee have seen the film, they say it contains destructive stereotypes about the Jewish role in Christ's death.

"Do I think there will be pogroms (massacres) as a result of this movie? No," Rabbi David Elcott, the American Jewish Committee's interfaith director, tells AP.

"It's part of something larger, which is a hardening of religious conversation. It is such an absolutist movie. It undermines the progress that we've made in this country toward mutual respect and religious pluralism," he said.

To deal with the film's arrival, the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College has posted a study guide for viewers explaining Gospel accounts of the crucifixion and how Christian churches came to reject Jewish blame for Christ's death. The center is also scheduling a series of talks to address that issue, reports AP.

In addition, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, through its panel on Lutheran-Jewish relations, is urging pastors to "teach boldly" that the mainline Protestant denomination does not "demean, malign or harm the Jewish people" when preaching the Gospel.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has not commented on the movie, plans to reissue its criteria for dramatizing the crucifixion along with papal and church statements on Catholic-Jewish relations.

Separately, the church communications director, the Rev. Eric Shafer, reviewed the movie and, while he did not find it anti-Jewish, does believe it was "part Gospel story and part myth" -- and expressed the worry that viewers would assume it was based entirely on the Bible.

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