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The public s fascination with The Passion of the Christ continued to grow over the weekend as ministers preached about Mel Gibson s controversial film, a Sylvania synagogue held an informational session, and local theatergoers turned out by the thousands.
At CedarCreek Church in Perrysburg Township, the four weekend services began with a video montage of local TV news segments on the film.
“You know what s more shocking than the movie? The coverage!” said the Rev. Lee Powell, senior pastor. He had planned to preach about the Good Samaritan but changed gears because of the tremendous interest in the film that focuses on Jesus final 12 hours.
At Saturday evening s service, Mr. Powell asked the 1,400 people in attendance to raise their hands if they recently had talked about Jesus or The Passion with someone with whom they normally do not discuss religious issues.
About 90 percent of the audience raised their hands.
“It s like it s legal to talk about Jesus!” Mr. Powell said with a wry smile.
The movie is controversial, he said, “because Jesus is controversial. He always has been.”
The source of controversy, Mr. Powell said, “is the unseen enemy” that Apostle Paul wrote about in Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against ... spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
“You can call it a satanic conspiracy and you would be right,” Mr. Powell said. “The enemy doesn t like it.”
The Rev. Tony Scott, pastor of Cathedral of Praise in Sylvania, also said yesterday that Mr. Gibson s movie is part of a spiritual battle.
Saying there has been a proliferation of evils over the last 50 years, Mr. Scott said The Passion of the Christ is a wakeup call for America.
“We need to wake up, folks, and we need to understand that this is God against the devil, this is good against evil, this is righteousness against unrighteousness,” he said to rousing applause.
The same newspapers with front-page stories on the popularity of The Passion also contain articles on homosexual marriages in San Francisco, Mr. Scott said.
“You want to know why this movie is coming out right now? It s because America is at the crossroads,” he said.
Cathedral of Praise rented four showings of The Passion and at the two screenings held before yesterday morning s service, more than 150 people had made spiritual commitments to Jesus, Mr. Scott said.
The $30 million movie Mr. Gibson co-wrote, directed, and financed opened on Ash Wednesday and is being shown locally on four screens at the Showcase Cinemas Maumee and two at the Franklin Mall 6.
Every Saturday showing in Maumee was sold out and sales at both local theaters were brisk yesterday, spokesmen said.
The movie, which has dialogue in Aramaic and Latin with English subtitles, presents a graphic and bloody view of Jesus scourging and execution and has earned an R rating. Mr. Gibson warns that it is not suitable for children under 13 and that some adults will be troubled by the cinematic violence.
One woman passed out during the movie s crucifixion scene and required emergency medical help Friday in Maumee, a witness said, but she appeared to have recovered by the end of the film.
The Rev. Dr. J.E. Roberts, pastor of Indiana Avenue Baptist Church, said yesterday that he has not seen the movie “because I can t stand a lot of blood,” but he said from the pulpit that “we are familiar with the story because we have been preaching Christ and the crucifixion down through the years and dealing with it in light of the suffering he went through.”
The Rev. J. Paul Board, rector of St. Paul s Episcopal Church, Maumee, made a passing reference to the movie in a sermon yesterday about the importance of Lent in the life of Christians.
Although he has not seen the movie, he said that comments from critics suggest it diverts attention away from the core beliefs of Christianity and devotes too much time to the guilt and responsibility for Christ s death.
“My ministry is about pronouncing the love of God more than it is about the judgment of God,” he said. “We are saved because God loves us - not merely because Jesus died for us.”
Rabbi Sam Weinstein of The Temple-Congregation Shomer Emunim in Sylvania held an informational session yesterday morning that was attended by several hundred people.
The rabbi, who saw The Passion of the Christ on opening day, said he called the meeting to offer a quick response to questions and concerns he has received from members of the Reform Jewish synagogue.
“Some students have said they heard the movie portrays Jews as Christ-killers,” Rabbi Weinstein said.
Mr. Powell said he believes the film places the blame for the crucifixion on all humanity.
“Who killed Jesus?” Mr. Powell asked in his sermon.
Quoting Jesus words in the Gospel of John 10:18, “No one can take my life from me. I lay down my life voluntarily,” he said Jesus death was “premeditated” and “motivated by love - God s love for you and me.”
The answer to the question of who killed Jesus, Mr. Powell said, is “all of us.”