The Passion of the Mel Gibson: When Christians Trust too Much in Mere Men

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The Passion of the Mel Gibson: When Christians Trust too Much in Mere Men

It’s been hard to watch the public meltdown, to listen to the profane rants and eavesdrop on the vile death threats. Mel’s struggle with alcoholism has been public since early in his career. It’s also common knowledge that he was raised by a holocaust denier who most likely didn’t harbor a favorable attitude towards the offspring of Abraham. This may explain Mel’s anti semitic insults, but it can never excuse them. When you turn on the mainstream evening news and actually hear what it sounds like when unbridled rage comes out of someone you’ve admired over the years, it’s hard to believe this is the same William Wallace who rallied Scotland against King Edward I (aka Longshanks) in Braveheart, or Benjamin Martin who terrorized King George III’s troops in The Patriot, or Lt. Col. Hal Moore who inspired the men of the 7th Cavalry in We Were Soldiers. But then again, Mel Gibson wasn’t any of those men. He just played them in a movie. But because he played this type of character so much, it was easy for many of his fans to think they reflected some consistent set of values in his heart. Enter The Passion of the Christ. Mel wasn’t playing the producer or director of this movie. He was the producer and director. As such, he had to sell the idea to Hollywood investors. He couldn’t find any takers. They figured a religious movie, especially one about Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of the world, didn’t stand a box office chance. So he decided to bankroll the movie out of his own pocket and sell it, instead, to the only audience who could make it a success. That’s where the evangelical community came into the picture. Incidentally, I don’t fault him for going this route. As a business man, I give him a standing ovation. It made perfect sense. Mel approached nationally recognized pastors and ministry leaders humbly. He shared his heart about the story. He asked if he could preview it at their church and to their ministry friends and then personally hung around afterwards to take questions from the audience. How often do rank and file Christian movie goers get to spend an evening with the star of Lethal Weapon? And then, to hear the deep longings of his heart about how much he wanted to show the world the greatest sacrifice in all of history and the greatest love story of all time, well, how could they not be impressed? You can see how average Christians would connect the message to the messenger in such a way that they’d assume he had the inner qualities of a seasoned minister of the gospel. But he wasn’t a seasoned minister of the gospel. He was a great producer/director/actor with a powerful message the world needed to hear. And, boy, did it hear it. The success of The Passion of the Christ defied all conventional wisdom within the movie industry. Mel Gibson was ultimately applauded by the financial naysayers and embraced by the Christian community as one of their own. To many, he became St. Mel. It’s normal, I’d even say, almost unavoidable to attach a tender heart connection to an effective messenger of the gospel, so much so, that Christians assume his or her momentary message is a seamless extension of their core beliefs and practiced values. Yet this is a mistake. A huge one. It’s unfair to the gospel and unkind to the messenger. It places enormous expectations on them that they can’t possibly fulfill and then sets them up for caustic rejection by the immature members of the Christian community when that same messenger ultimately lets them down. Unfortunately, the Christian community does this all the time. Miss California, Carrie Prejean, made a bold statement in the Miss USA contests that aligned with many evangelicals’ core moral values and Christian publishers suddenly lined up with huge advance checks to see who could land a book deal with her. Christian bookstores wanted to arrange autograph parties at their stores so church-going moms could bring their young pageant-winners-in-training daughters to have a picture signed by the brave beauty queen. She was brave. She paid a huge price for her bravery. But she wasn’t ready to be the standard bearer of the values evangelicals unfairly place on high-visibility celebrities who momentarily say the right things. She was a young, pretty, but untested voice who found herself the darling of conservatives and Christians because she bravely answered a loaded question with moral clarity. But she, like Mel, wasn’t ready for the spiritual spotlight that evangelicals unfairly shine down on celebrities who suddenly sound like they get the big picture. The evangelical spotlight is ultimately an x-ray. Before long, it exposes what’s really there. Once the questionable pictures and videos surfaced, evangelicals couldn’t distance themselves fast enough from Carrie. What a shame … on the evangelicals who go from hot to cold as fast as can post and for people like Mel and Carrie who suddenly find themselves on the outside looking in. Over the years I’ve seen the evangelical community quickly latch on to phenomenal sports figures, musicians, “secular” song writers, actors, and titans of industry who happen to sound bite the right spiritual message. Over night they’re turned into evangelical poster children and are assumed to be ready to consistently stand for inspection. It’s one thing if they are someone who has been a follower of Jesus for a long time and have a tested faith that‘s strengthened by years of in-depth time in God’s Word. A person like Tim Tebow comes to mind. It’s another thing to have one of these bigger-than-life celebrities strike the right cord and the next thing they’re being asked to give their testimony behind the pulpit of some mega-church. These places of spiritual instruction should be reserved for those voices whose faith has had time to send down roots, who have been tested over many years and found dependable and are pursuing the serious, sweaty study of God’s Word. Mel Gibson doesn’t need to hear how he let us down; he needs to hear how genuine faith can lift him up. Although his actions have been inexcusable, he doesn’t need our condemnation, he needs our prayers. We could show a little grace to Carrie as she is trying to move on from her “answer heard round the world” to the normal (and hopefully predictable) life of a newlywed. People like Mel and Carrie are mortals just like us. They have their mistakes and regrets that taunt them. And, like Mel, have their demons that haunt them. Applaud them as professionals, appreciate them when they serve as God’s mouthpiece, but when it comes to pedestals, don’t put them on one. Pedestals only provide a higher platform from which to fall. Pedestals are designed to make it easy to look up to someone and when it comes to a spiritual pedestal, there’s only one person who can maintain his balance. His name is Jesus. Give him the glory and let mere men and women simply be his messengers.

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