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April 2004
An Outlook on The Passion of the Christ An Interview with Reverend Clinton M. Miller

By Jennifer Toole

An Outlook on The Passion of the Christ: An Interview with Reverend Clinton M. Miller

It is impossible to be unaware of the media attention that has been devoted to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. It is perhaps the most debated and most controversial film in the history of cinema. After seven weeks at the box office, holding the #1 spot for (5) of its 7 weeks and earning close to $355 million dollars, The Passion, is still receiving media attention and prompting the re-airing of some television specials surrounding the last hours of Jesus' life. DATELINE recently an encore presentation of its special 'The Last Days of Jesus' on Friday, April 2nd.

Upon its release, The Passion of the Christ was featured in every major metropolitan newspaper, in every weekly magazine, every Hollywood/film/television trade publication, and discussed with several well known clergy from Billy Graham to the Pope. Even on a trip to Rome, lead actor Jim Cavaziel was embraced by the Pope.

Blackfilm.com sat down with Reverend Clinton M. Miller, 36, pastor of Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Brooklyn, NY to hear his views on Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

Overall what did you think of the film?

RCM: Good movie. It's an opportunity for people to become familiar with the story the last 12 hours of Jesus' life. This movie is a testimony. It represents Gibson as a progressively serious artist whose work is meant to probe the conscious of his viewers.

Do you believe the movie's characterization of the Jewish leaders of Jesus' day and its depiction of the angry mob calling for His crucifixion could lead viewers to the conclusion that the Jews were exclusively responsible for killing Christ and therefore be a catalyst of anti-Jewish sentiment around the world?

RCM: No. I did not think it was anti-Semitic. I did not see anti-Semitism. Caiphas was the character that was rigid. The Romans were the portrayed as brutal and actually they were the ones who literally killed Jesus.

Columnist James Carroll of The Boston Globe said that 'Even a faithful repetition of the sacred text themselves carry the virus of Jew hatred.' And Frank Rick of The New York Times has called Mel Gibson a 'Jew-baiter.' What do you think about that statement? Jews, wrote the Gospels, and the Gospels are about a Jewish Messiah and His Jewish disciples ' how could this be anti-Semitic?

RCM: Those comments are testimonies to the fact there are going to be disagreements among ethnic and racial groups. In addition, to everyone having their own opinion, both the scriptures and the movie are meant for the viewing and reading public to distinguish between the primary meaning and the details.

Do you think the portrayal was accurate?

RCM: The portrayal was accurate as far as the main events of Christ's final moments. Some of the nuances could be debatable as far as the features of the characters and how they interacted with each other. Nevertheless, for the most part, it was accurate.

What about the portrayal? Do you think He was portrayed as an historical figure? Or was he portrayed as the Savior of mankind?

RCM: I thought the portrayal of Jesus almost exclusively as the Savior of mankind. There was only a small portrayal of him as a historical figure. That was depicted in the scene when He shared tender moments with his mother. Part of what I believe can draw people to Jesus is not only his status as a Savior, but his condition as human and historical.

Do you think Mel Gibson will be able to use his movie as a vehicle for evangelism as he hopes?

RCM: I believe his film will serve as a vehicle for introducing the story of Jesus to people. I also believe that in the near future, The Passion will be a part of many churches and Sunday schools, Christian education curriculum.

Are you surprised by the controversy surrounding the film? Do you believe this is a controversial film?

RCM: The controversy was anti-climatic. For those of us who saw the film, there was more controversy before we saw it then when we saw it.

Mel describes the controversy over his movie as evidence of 'big realms that are warring and battling.' What do you think?

RCM: I would agree, considering the timing of the movie and the current world events that surround its release. More and more, issues of morality, ethics, and spirituality are becoming obvious to those who exercise a religious or spiritual consciousness.

Do you think the film is too violent in it's depiction of Jesus' scourging and crucifixion? Would you not recommend this movie because of its violent content or do you think the violence is intended for entertainment or to emphasize the reality of the unspeakable suffering that Jesus endured on the world's behalf? Do you think the depiction of violence was accurate to the text?

RCM: It was not too violent, though it was graphic. There is a lot of response [to the violence] because what he encountered. There is a theory called suspension of disbelief which contends that we can accept fictitious violence in the media, but we reject and avoid violence that we know really happened. I would recommend this film. The criticism which maintains that it is too violent represents a double standard. We celebrate and promote graphic violence in secular movies and avoid spiritual movies.

Do you think the scene where the thief lost his eye was vindictive?

RCM: Yes it was. In addition it was not recorded in the Bible.

Do you think he was influenced by Catholic doctrine for his re-telling of the Gospel?

RCM: Yes very much so. The music was reflective of what you might hear in a Catholic mass. Again the fact that he did not portray Jesus as an historical figure, added Catholic overtones.

What do you think of how the characters looked, physically ' Simon of Cyrene, Jesus?

RCM: The only inaccuracies were physical. By virtue of the location, the people were of a darker hue. Simon of Cyrene is described in the Bible as a black person. I believe Mel Gibson may have downplayed his possible dark-skin complexion out of fear of negative feedback.

Did you feel there was a language barrier because of the subtitles? Mel Gibson was originally not going to include subtitles.

RCM: No. Just a reflection of the fact we don't like to read as much as we should.


Brown Memorial Baptist church is located at 484 Washington Avenue in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn, NY.

Services are held on Sundays at 8:00am and 11:00am.

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