29 February 2004

Co-opting Protestants?

From the National Catholic Register:

When the largest private screening to
date of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ ended Jan. 16 in Denver,
more than 1,300 college students sat speechless for 10 minutes. The
only sounds in the room, filled with members of the Fellowship of
Catholic University Students, were the sniffles of those brought to
tears by the experience.

The reaction wasn’t unusual. Kimberly Hahn, chairman
of the board of the National Association of Catholic Home Educators,
witnessed a nearly identical scene with a slight twist at a private
screening of the film in California.

“It was two to three minutes of pure
silence,” Hahn says. “It was broken only by the words of a Protestant
man who stood up to say that, from that moment on, he would never
experience communion in the same way.”

For a Protestant, that’s massive.  That imbues the
symbolic Communion most Protestants, and virtually all evangelicals,
believe in with a sense of real sacrifice and Real Presence that opposes their
communion theology in a very significant, perhaps even irreconcilable,

I think that evangelical Protestants may not be fully
recognizing how far apart they are from Gibson on this issue. 
Gibson has a different view of the Eucharist/Communion than most of his
Protestant allies, and that affects the way his movie was made. 
The question to ask is how that view of the central act of Christian
unity (whether it’s endowed with Christ’s Presence in a very real way
[Gibson] or whether it is a solely symbolic act [evangelical
Protestants]) affects the effectiveness of the motivations for which
each group wants to use the movie.   I think it might be hard
to be an evangelical Protestant and buy into a film with an extreme
hyperdylia of Mary and a transubstantiationist view of the
Eucharist.  From what I have heard (I won’t see the film until
tomorrow when I go to see it with Br. Rufus), the film’s depiction of
the Passion relies upon this worldview, and separating that out (which
an evangelical will have to do) is not a simple, perhaps even possible, task.

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2 Responses to “Co-opting Protestants?”

  1. Zaak Says:

    Hi, read your blog on co-opting protestants.

    I would have to disagree with you in your statement about protestantism’s theology being irreconcilable with a sense of real sacrifice and Real Presence. I understand the Catholic belief of transubstantiation and I do disagree with it. However, when I partake in communion (between 3 and 6 times a year), I am in communion with a Real Presence and conscious of a real sacrifice. For me it is akin to remembering the forgiveness someone has extended to me or sacrifice that has been made on my behalf. The bread and wine are, yes, simply symbols, but they are powerful symbols for me and millions of protestant and Catholic Christians. Forgiveness, love and grace are the most powerful agents for change in people’s lives, we see the lack thereof in abuse victims and their healing journey always incorporates some form of these virtues.

    I read some of your blurbs on the Gibson film as well. I appreciate your honesty. In what I have witnessed, you reaction is similar to most of the media reviews on the film. Critics feel detached from the film and the film becomes a bloodfest with little or no meaning for the viewer. I was not expecting different. I don’t believe people have taken the time to really understand the significance of Jesus as a spiritual leader, let alone as a spiritual saviour.

    Just some thoughts of mine, thanks for yours, I enjoyed them,

  2. Nate Says:


    Thanks for your thoughts. Please do come back to my site.

    For those of us who are Catholic (whether Roman or Anglican), the Eucharist is not solely symbolic. We don’t believe that the bread and wine are “simply symbols” (and Mel Gibson most certainly does not see them that way). They are not even the most powerful symbols there are. Catholic Christians believe that God, through Christ, is literally present in the bread and wine. For Romans, this officially means transubstantiation; for Anglicans, we usually say that we believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist and we leave the “how” as a Mystery. Eucharist, for a Catholic Christian, is not just communion with a Real Presence — God is truly present in the Eucharist in some way.

    My Gibson film reaction is just that: honesty. What distresses me is that this story means so much to me — it is part of the central fact of my faith — and yet I fell nothing in regard to this depiction of it. I come to tears most years on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, listening to the chanting of the Passion narrative from the Synoptic Gospels and John, but Gibson’s movie doesn’t move me, doesn’t add to my understanding of Christ’s sacrifice, and doesn’t help me to understand God’s love. For me, as a non-critic, a believer in the story that Gibson has based his upon, it’s discouraging to watch a film that seems more like an action film in conceit than one of the essential (but not sole) elements of the central story of our (since we share it, even if we’re Anglican and Protestant) faith.

    Glad you stopped by. Drop a comment again soon.