Warning: Don't ever take an email you wrote to a small group of friends and turn it into a printed article, unless you first edit it very carefully, or ask someone else to.
I made that mistake in the last Eternal Perspectives when I included "Reflections the Day After Seeing The Passion of the Christ."
I praised the movie, despite its minor inaccuracies, saying, "The essentials of the Gospel were preserved" and "There is no doubt in my mind that seeking hearts could come (and are coming) to a genuine faith in Christ through this movie." As I stated, "To say that of a popular box-office mainstream movie in this culture is nothing short of astounding."
I then expressed my sincere appreciation for Mel Gibson's labors, but offered a caution about putting him on a pedestal. I said, "Let's align ourselves wholeheartedly with the central truths this movie powerfully portrays—precisely because they are true to Jesus and God's Word—but let's be very careful and cautious when it comes to joining the Mel Gibson fan club. If Mel Gibson is discredited, and we have failed to maintain a separation between him and the biblical content of the movie, then the gospel will be discredited. (And even if this doesn't happen—and I pray it won't—elevating celebrities still isn't healthy, for us or them.)"
I also said, "I think Mel Gibson is genuine, and I'm certain that God has used him with this film. But celebrity-worship is idolatry and is a dangerous game, already too rampant with our own evangelical celebrities. It is unworthy of the bride of Christ, who should have eyes only for Jesus."
All this I believed and still believe. Unfortunately, I clouded this by including one line that began, "We could find out tomorrow he is..." and gave three examples of sins that are very common in our society, and particularly common in Hollywood. I emphatically stated, "I have no reason to believe any of these things." I didn't and I don't. By asking "What would happen if?" I was trying to alert us to how important it was to separate the movie's message from the director. Many celebrities exalted by Christians have in fact fallen, and the gospel has been maligned as a result.
Though particularities are usually more helpful than generalities, in this case it was the opposite. In retrospect, I should not have given examples of the kind of sins that could result in scandal, even though I stated I had no reason to believe they would happen. I received a half dozen letters from people who were offended, and likely their letters represented many more who didn't write. It's common for me to offend people because of stating the truth, but in this case, I unwisely included a sentence that was unnecessary and which undercut an important point I was trying to make. I sincerely apologize.
My positive words about Mel Gibson's work on this movie were completely eclipsed by that single sentence, so much so that the disclaimer was overshadowed. An editor would probably have caught this. I should have asked someone to read it over before printing it, but I didn't.
One writer said, "Adding a disclaimer in parenthesis didn't make it OK! Warning people not to elevate Mr. Gibson and to focus on Jesus was great advice, but you should have stopped there." I agree. She was absolutely right.
Another said, "I don't find either grace or truth in this section of your review." This response illustrated how I managed to bury my comments, which were 95% positive, under my unwise statement.
Having sincerely apologized, I will now quote from the letters of two readers whose words, I fear, illustrate exactly the concern I was raising:
"You can never make me think like you do, that Mel Gibson will someday cause a scandal...I see nothing but goodness coming from this man. Please do not write about people you do not know and think they are just like anybody else."
Personally, I think Mel Gibson would say that he is like anybody else, and that he would never say of himself—any more than I would say of myself—"I see nothing but goodness coming from me." I saw Mel Gibson interviewed and heard him freely acknowledge that he's an unworthy sinner. So am I.
Another woman wrote, "When I read your article, I was very upset...Mel Gibson is a great man who truly the dear Lord Jesus has chosen as his instrument to spread His message. Mel is very humble and more mature than almost anyone in recent years...You must want him to fall...Mr. Gibson is following Jesus in the way Jesus wants all of us to follow Him. Instead of tearing him down, we should (if we're truly Christian) support him. I would suggest you look into your own motives for writing the article. I read envy and jealousy into it."
In reality, I did not tear down Mel Gibson. My article expressed strong support and respect for him for this undertaking. And I certainly don't want him to fall. On the contrary, I've prayed that he would not fall, but would grow in grace and enjoy a closer walk with Christ. I wish you would pray the same for me. I will be delighted if Mel Gibson continues to grow and becomes a powerful long-term ambassador for Christ, as, for instance, Chuck Colson has. (Colson is a celebrity convert who has stayed true to Jesus.)
As for envy and jealousy, I'm fully capable of either. But the truth is, I wouldn't trade places with Mel Gibson for all the money and fame in the world—indeed, those are crosses I would not want to bear. I pray God will give him the grace and strength to stand true.
So, I ask for two things: first, please forgive me for including that ill-advised sentence. Second, please treat Mel Gibson as he wants to be treated, and should be treated even if he didn't want to—a sinner saved by Christ's unfathomable grace, demonstrated on the cross.
I repeat what I said in the article: "Pray for him, absolutely, selectively agree with and support him, yes, but don't make him—or anyone else—Christianity's poster boy or spokesperson...Every time Christians get mesmerized by and try to capitalize on fame and celebrity, it ends up hurting them, biting us and undermines rather than elevates our Lord."
I end by repeating my summary concerning The Passion of Jesus Christ: "Because the central and dominant message of the movie is true to Scripture—to the most vital core of the gospel—we are right to respond in profound gratitude to God for bringing the person and work of Christ to theaters and secular talk shows across the nation, and around the world."