VALDOSTA -- Panel members of a Valdosta State University symposium discussed different aspects of Mel Gibson's new movie on Christ Wednesday night.

All agreed, however, that "The Passion of the Christ" merits attention -- for what's in the film and for what's left to audiences to think about when they leave the theater.

"The Passion," which is No. 18 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters," earned $296 million the weekend of March 19-21. The film is on course to earn about $375 million, according to one report.

The group that gathered at VSU for the symposium were concerned about the controversies surrounding the film Academy Award winner Gibson directed and produced with his own money. For example, how faithful is "The Passion" to the Gospels?

Not very, said Dr. Mike Stoltzfus, professor of philosophy and religious studies in VSU's philosophy department.

Roman governor Pontius Pilate had complete political control over what happened in first-century Jerusalem. Only the Roman government had the power to crucify Jesus Christ for sedition. "Gibson uses Gospels selectively to cast blame on Jews," Stoltzfus said.

In questioning Gibson's adherence to the Bible, Stoltzfus also wished "The Passion" had focused more on Jesus' life and message.

Each panel member spoke for 10 minutes, using their time to discuss the film or an issue related to Judeo-Christian relations.

Dr. Richard Amesbury, also a professor of philosophy and religious studies, provided an overview of how Christendom had persecuted Jews. The Holocaust wouldn't have been possible, Amesbury argued, without thousands of years of anti-Semitism fueled by misuses of Gospel narratives.

Dr. Brian Adler, who teaches on Judaism in the philosophy department, said the challenge "The Passion" offers is for Christians and Jews to unite in brotherhood.

Adler, who is Jewish, views the excitement generated by "The Passion" as a response to larger societal issues, such as Sept. 11. "We are a traumatized society," the professor said.

Will a movie that graphically depicts Christ's death ignite hatred toward Jews?

Probably not in the United States, Adler said. "The United States is unique in resistance to that."

Rabbi Moshe Elbaz of Temple Israel discussed the historic backdrop in which Christ emerged and described the requirements that Jews believe are necessary for the coming Messiah.

Gibson is a Christian but not a minister, said Mary Hemmer, a priest at Christ Episcopal Church. While she supports the director's artistic license, Hemmer said "The Passion" falls flat as an evangelical tool because it shortchanges the Gospel. The film isn't impacting social change, she said. Audiences aren't leaving the theater and working in homeless shelters, for example.

The Rev. Stan White of Christ the King Episcopal Church is glad so many Christians find meaning in "The Passion."

White chose not to see it.

"I don't care a lot about violent movies," he said.

White said many of his friends feared the film would stir up divisions among groups of believers. As a Christian, White said he stood with them.

The Rev. Floyd Rose of the Church of Christ said the most powerful moment in the film was when a suffering Jesus told the crowd gathered to watch him die, "Don't weep for me, but for yourselves."

Our weeping today, Rose said, should be for the suffering we see all around us.

To contact City Editor Heath Griner, call 244-3400, ext. 274.

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