PROVO As an LDS stake president, William Nelson was disturbed earlier this year by discussions with some members of his flock about Mel Gibson's hit movie "The Passion of the Christ."
Nelson took issue Monday with Gibson's film during a lecture on the first day of Brigham Young University's Campus Education Week. His portrayal of the LDS view of the Passion drew a large crowd, in part because he is the retired director of the evaluation division of the LDS Church's Correlation Department which reviews all church-produced materials for doctrinal soundness and because he grew up a Lutheran.
"I haven't seen the film," Nelson admitted up front, "but I do applaud Mel Gibson for putting his money where his faith is."
He's heard enough about the movie to have two major reservations about Gibson's portrayal of the end of Jesus Christ's mortal ministry.
"The focus on the brutality really minimizes the real purpose for which the Gospel witnesses wrote their testimonies to provide testimony of this supernal event," which includes the resurrection, Nelson said.
Second, too many young members of his stake seemed to subscribe to the same view as Gibson, that the atonement of Jesus Christ took place solely on the cross.
"If that was the culmination of the so-called passion of Jesus Christ, Jesus would have been a footnote in history," Nelson said. "But Jesus Christ who was crucified came out of the tomb alive. Jesus was resurrected with his body."
Nelson said a major theme of John's Gospel was to refute the Greek teaching, which was contaminating the early church, that flesh is evil.
Despite John's efforts, Nelson said, the early church, within a few hundred years, declared a definition of the Trinity that precluded the possibility that Christ was resurrected with a body of flesh and bone, as John had testified.
"Jesus was no apparition," Nelson said. "He had a real, fleshly body. John said that."
While Latter-day Saints rarely use the term "the Passion of Jesus Christ," LDS theology holds that his atonement consists of the suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross, and his resurrection, Nelson said.
"So with due respect to Mel Gibson and his film, the representation is incomplete because it focuses almost solely on the physical suffering of Jesus Christ."
Elaine Owens of Hayward, Calif., attended the lecture and said she had seen the film. She initially was disappointed that Nelson hadn't seen it and that the presentation wouldn't be more specific. That didn't last long.
"Boy, his talk was good, really meaty," she said. "It was very inspiring.
Deanna Pond of Meridian, Idaho, agreed with Nelson.
E-mail: [email protected]