LATEST: Mel Gibson's controversial movie The Passion Of The Christ will be greeted by a campaign of sermons and lectures when it opens in America later this month (FEB04).

The AMERICAN JEWISH COMMITTEE and the ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE are concerned the film - about the final hours of Jesus Christ's life - will setback relations between Jews and Christians.

Senior Jewish leaders are worried audiences might leave the cinema thinking the Jews were responsible for Christ's death.

Representatives for both groups have seen Gibson's movie and, while they will not be picketing cinemas, they plan to distract audiences with a series of talks which aim to raise the profile of American churches.

RABBI DAVID ELCOTT, of the American Jewish Committee, says, "Do I think there will be pogroms (massacres) as a result of this movie? No.

"It's part of something larger, which is a hardening of religious conversation. It is such an absolutist movie. It undermines the progress that we've made in this country toward mutual respect and religious pluralism."

The committee's adviser RABBI JAMES RUDIN says, "Artists have every right to create any kind of movie they want, but an audience has the absolute right to pass judgment on that."

02/02/2004 17:23