By CARL E. FEATHER
While some Christian leaders, particularly those in the Roman Catholic Church, have called for a boycott of "The DaVinci Code" movie, many local pastors are encouraging their parishioners to see the film and use it as a tool for evangelism.
The motion picture opened across the nation Friday. Distributed by Sony Pictures and based upon Dan Brown’s best-selling novel of the same name, "The DaVinci Code" is written as a mystery that exposes Christi-anity as a monumental fraud. It alleges that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a daughter, a "holy grail," who went underground with the religion Jesus really founded - an occult group that worshipped the "Sacred Feminine."
Last month, Archbishop Angelo Amato, said Catholics should boycott the film and "reject its lies against the church." Amato is the second-ranking official in the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Ted Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film and Tele-vision Commission, also urges Christians to boycott the movie. Focus on the Family doesn’t recommend Christians see the film, however the evangelical ministry does suggest the high-profile movie presents opportunities for believers to discuss the truths of their faith.
Locally, some clergy, like the Rev. Bob Gears of Andover Christian Church, are ignoring the whole thing, as are many of the people in their congregations.
"Myself, I don’t want to draw attention to something that I don’t think is worthy of attention," says Gears, who doesn’t plan to see the film or read the book.
The Rev. Doug Wright, pastor of Ashtabula’s First Baptist Church, says he read "The DaVinci Code" as well as books refuting its claims, but doesn’t plan to place the issue before his congregation.
"It’s not a big issue," he says.
The Rev. Bill McMinn of Eagleville Bible Church says he was challenged to delve into the book just this week after a young man who’d read the book came to him for an explanation.
"He said it was a very interesting book, but he was confused about what is fact and fiction. Because of that, I decided we need to address this," says McMinn, whose church meets at the Jeffer-son Fairgrounds.
His approach is to give members and himself time to see the movie, then deliver three sermons in June and July dealing with the issues presented.
He’s not telling his members to boycott the film.
"It’s fiction," he says. "It’s a great opportunity to discuss what is true as opposed to what is fact."
Although the book is clearly a work of fiction, some pastors worry that people will accept it as fact without doing further research. To make sure members of their congregations are grounded in truth, some local churches are offering special classes and their pastors giving sermons addressing the controversy.
Throughout May, First United Methodist Church of Ashtabula has hosted the "Discussing the DaVinci Code" DVD series by Lee Strobel. Held on Wednesday evenings, the series presents scholarly insight into the book’s twisting of historical fact.
The Rev. John Germaine, pastor of the church, says he’s very concerned about the way the book strips Christ of his divinity. It asserts that Christ’s divinity was not established until 325 A.D., when the Council of Nicaea met.
"Which is just not true," says Germaine. "Christ’s divinity was established from the beginning. At Nicaea, they were just deciding what was the nature of that divinity with respect to the Father."
Germaine, who read the book, also has an issue with the way it undermines the authority of Scripture. He’s concerned it will provide an affirmation to people who are already hostile to Christianity while further misleading those who are indifferent.
"I think the basic underlying problem with it is that people might be lead to mistrust the authority of the Bible and authority of the Scripture. I think that is the basic issue," he says.
Only four or five persons have come out for the video series each Wednesday, but those who attended agreed that it has challenged them to examine basic, often long-held beliefs about Christ and seek the historical basis for them.
Tim Kraus, minister of the Conneaut Church of Christ, is helping his congregation do the same through a series of sermons. On May 7, Kraus examined historical evidence for the accuracy of the New Testament text; the following week, he focused on the formation of the New Testament Canon. Sunday, he will tackle the Mary Magdalene issue, and on May 28, the rise of Gnosticism.
"I’ve been getting very positive feedback (from the sermon series), although at times it’s felt like a college lecture rather than a sermon," he says.
Kraus is encouraging church members to see the movie with someone who is not a believer. He feels the film can open the door to discussions between Christians and nonbelievers about the historical evidence for the life of Jesus Christ and formation of the faith.
"We have nothing to fear on this stuff," Kraus says. "We have some good evidence."
He also sees the high-profile film as a wake-up call for all Christians to seriously examine the evidence for and foundation of their faith.
"Too many Christians have just believed what they believe about Jesus because Grandma did and Mom did," says Kraus. "They are the ones who are really shaken by this. Christianity is based on historic events, and if they aren’t true, we got nothing. We all ought to be apologists of the faith."
The movie’s opening comes on the heels of another Gnostic bomb, the "discovery" of the Gospel of Judas, which received much media coverage. Indeed, Gnosticism seems to be enjoying a revival on the world stage as the ancient religion that claims secret knowledge is being blended with New Age elements to appease a new following. Germaine finds the timing of these "discoveries" as quite interesting.
"I don’t know if it is coincidental, but it’s odd that it would come at the same time," Germaine says.
Kraus says he’s read "The DaVinci Code" and plans to see the movie; indeed, he and members of the church’s youth group planned to attend a showing Friday night. After viewing the film, the teen-agers were going to do man-on-the-street interviews with other filmgoers and present their comments in a video production to the congregation Sunday.
He hopes the movie will send the nation’s Christians back to their Bibles and a study of the faith’s foundational beliefs and early history.
"This says all the more why we need to get back to basics," says Kraus. "If we can get our hearts and doctrine back to more innocent times, we will be a lot better off."
By CARL E. FEATHER