Christian Foes of 'Da Vinci Code' Mull Tactics
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
Published: May 11, 2006
Many Christian leaders across the country are girding themselves for battle with "The Da Vinci Code," the movie based on the blockbuster novel by Dan Brown that opens on May 19. Whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, Orthodox or evangelical, they agree that the book attacks the pillars of Christianity by raising doubts about the divinity of Jesus and the origins of the Bible.
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Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press
In Rome, a poster promoting "The Da Vinci Code" was displayed on scaffolding painted to resemble the church behind it.
Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press
It was replaced by a black cloth after complaints from Catholic officials.
But they are not at all in agreement on how to best respond to a movie that one leader called "blasphemy on steroids." Some will boycott it. Others will use it as a "teaching moment." Still others will lodge a protest by seeing another movie.
Until recently, the prevailing strategy was to hitch on to the Da Vinci steamroller and use it as an opportunity for evangelism. For months, clergy have been giving their flocks books and DVD's debunking the novel, and some have even encouraged their congregants to see the movie with a nonbeliever.
"I think we really have to see it, at least some of us," said Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, a prominent evangelical school. "It's very important for some Christians at least to be able to engage in an intelligent discussion."
But in recent weeks, calls for boycotts and protests have grown louder, from the Vatican to conservative Christian groups in the United States. They acknowledge that a boycott is not likely to make a dent at the box office, but say the co-optation strategy promoted by others will not adequately convey how offensive "The Da Vinci Code" is to their faith.
"Christians are under no obligation to pay for what Hollywood dishes out, especially a movie that slanders Jesus Christ and the church," said Robert H. Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, an affiliate of Concerned Women for America, a conservative Christian group based in Washington.
"I don't have to see 'The Devil in Miss Jones' to know it's pornography, and I don't have to see 'The Da Vinci Code' to know that it's blasphemous," said Mr. Knight, who plans to join religious leaders from groups like Human Life International and Movieguide in Washington on May 17 to announce boycott plans.
A third strategy now gaining currency is being called an "othercott" — urging people to see a different movie on the day "The Da Vinci Code" opens, like "Over the Hedge," an animated family feature. The idea was dreamed up by Barbara Nicolosi, a former nun who now directs Act One, a program in Los Angeles that coaches Christian screenwriters.
Talk of "the movie being an opportunity for evangelism is a line completely concocted by the Sony Pictures marketing machine," said Ms. Nicolosi. "All they care about is getting the box office, and if they don't get the red states to turn out, the movie tanks."
Christians have not been this worked up about a movie since Martin Scorsese's Jesus stepped down off the crucifix in "The Last Temptation of Christ" in 1988.
In "The Da Vinci Code," two sleuths uncover a conspiracy by the Catholic Church to conceal that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and that the myth of his divinity was written into the Bible at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. by the Roman emperor Constantine. "The Da Vinci Code" was marketed as fiction, but Mr. Brown said in a preface page that his descriptions of artwork, documents and rituals "are accurate."
To be sure, there are many Christians who do not regard the book or the movie as a threat. But the outrage is widespread, and the divisions on strategy do not run along denominational lines. Some evangelicals are calling for a boycott, while others are telling their flocks to see the film. Roman Catholic officials are not on the same page either.
The debate has been colored by the Muslim riots over Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Most American media outlets refrained from showing the cartoons, and now some Christian leaders are asking why Christians should be expected to sit by while the media promotes a movie that insults their savior.
In Rome recently, Archbishop Angelo Amato, the No. 2 official in the Vatican's doctrinal office, told Catholic communications officials: "If such slanders, offenses and errors had been directed at the Koran or the Holocaust, they would have justly provoked a world uprising. Instead, directed at the Church and Christians, they remain unpunished. I hope you will all boycott the movie."
Cardinal Francis Arinze, a prominent Vatican official from Nigeria, said in a recently released documentary made by a Catholic film agency that Christians should take "legal means" against "The Da Vinci Code," though he did not explain how.
But in the United States, Catholic bishops have opted to take an "educational" approach, said Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, a spokesman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. They have produced a Web site, pamphlets and a documentary, "Jesus Decoded," that will air on NBC affiliates.
"We believe we can fight the Da Vinci Code's position from the point of view of scholarship, and we don't have to shut them down," Monsignor Maniscalco said.
Opus Dei, a Catholic group with a starring role in "The Da Vinci Code" as the evil guardian of the conspiracy, has consistently asked Sony Pictures to add a disclaimer to the movie. But the film's director, Ron Howard, told The Los Angeles Times last week, "Spy thrillers don't start off with disclaimers."
The prevailing evangelism strategy will affect thousands of churches. Focus on the Family, the conservative media ministry founded by Dr. James Dobson, has enlisted 3,000 churches to show a simulcast on the issue the weekend the movie opens.
The Rev. Jim Garlow, pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, has trained more than 200 pastors in how to encourage their congregations to use the movie to share their faith by throwing "Da Vinci Code parties" in their homes.
"It's the task of the missionary to learn the language of the indigenous people," he said, "and Dan Brown's book has become a universal language. It simply opens doors."
Get your Rapture hats ready, kiddies! The sky is falling, and our wise gift of nuclear winter will propel us all into the loving arms of the all-knowing and all-everywhere G-d.
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