I won’t rehash Mel Gibson’s most recent hurtful words here. Most of us have heard about his barbs directed toward women, blacks, Latinos, and Jews.
And although it’s a petty form of satisfaction, I was glad when his most recent vehicle, Edge of Darkness, performed poorly with audiences and critics after his six year absence from the big screen.
I was a bit startled when so many critics defended or dismissed Gibson’s baggage. Roger Ebert, whom I respect, stated:
Can we think of Mel Gibson simply as an action hero? A star whose personal baggage doesn’t upstage his performances? I find that I can. He has made deplorable statements in recent years, which may be attributed to a kind of fanatic lunacy that can perhaps be diagnosed as a disease. The fact remains that in “Edge of Darkness” he remains a likable man with a natural screen presence.
If Gibson were talking about them, would critics have been so forgiving?
My Mel Gibson story has to do with my church, The Passion of the Christ, and the difficulties of reconciling celebrity and character.
“When The Passion of the Christ was released, Protestant evangelical churches were recruited to sponsor screenings. My church bought out a theater and provided a sold out house for the film. At the time, I was pissed. Our church’s finances were not in the best of shape. If we were helping a small, breakout Christian film, that would have been one thing. Passion was made for $30 million. Prints and advertising probably brought the total cost close of the movie to $60-70 million. The film went on to gross over $600 million at the box office. I cringed when our pastor bragged about “me and Mel.” I was confused by the overflowing response to the film, which in many ways represents the extreme violence of Gibson’s body of work much more accurately than the restraint of the passion narratives.
What I thought was really crazy is that Gibson’s religious views are so incredibly divergent from mainstream Christian views. Here’s a quote from Christopher Noxon’s 2003 New York Times article, “Is the Pope Catholic…Enough?”:
“When I called the church elder who was Holy Family’s representative at the county meetings, he agreed to an interview and accepted my request to attend a service, on the conditions that I not identify him or any member of the congregation beyond Mel Gibson, and that I withhold details that might invite the interest of fans or paparazzi. He also asked that I refrain from speaking to the priest, the congregants or anyone else during my visit. He told me that anyone seen speaking to me ”will not be welcome back at our church again.”
After all the warnings, I was a little surprised to find Sunday Mass at Holy Family an almost entirely ordinary experience. The service itself was remarkably similar to what I remember from parochial school — that is, until a homily delivered near the end of the two-hour Mass. The priest read a parable from St. Matthew about a farmer whose fields are raided in the night by an enemy who spreads a noxious weed in his wheat. The evil in the story, the priest said, is ”the modern church,” whose wickedness will be dealt with on Judgment Day.
”The wiping out of our opposition must wait until harvest time,” he concluded. It suddenly became clear why Gibson isn’t worshiping with his fellow Catholic Martin Sheen down at Our Lady of Malibu.”
While many traditionalists can’t abide some of Gibson’s career choices — the onscreen baring of his bottom is a particular source of concern — most are content to overlook his occasional wild streak.”
It would be telling to see what those traditionalists think of Gibson’s diatribe.
The real story for me is that after Gibson’s words, no one at my church said a word. Mel and Passion clips simply disappeared from view. No one ever inquired about his theology. The bottomless pleasure of hanging with Mel, even if Mel isn’t really hanging with you.