Via Media

via the Martin Marty Center

I’m intrigued by another possibility of response. Based on the excerpts that I have seen, I think the movie will offend many mainstream white religious audiences and resonate deeply with most blacks. The icons, art, and passion plays in most white churches present Jesus as the subject of a radical makeover. The rugged, sun-baked Palestinian Jew of the Bible gets morphed into a manicured, middle-class model citizen. Almost like one the neighbors. The theology that underwrites this sanitized Jesus avoids the brutal manifestations of oppression and violence he experienced. Even when crucifixion scenes appear in Anglo-American religious art, you may see a little blood and a wound or two, but almost never the dirty and broken body that endured torture for several hours. This film’s lingering gaze upon the grotesque will be difficult for viewers accustomed to such art.

But most black audiences will see things differently. Since the slave period, blacks have understood and portrayed Jesus as a Suffering Savior and a grassroots leader who was the victim of state-sponsored terror. Black theology has focused on the humanity and socially marginal status of Jesus. More than that, blacks have been attracted to the Jesus who experienced unjust victimization by the authorities and the community, but found empowering comfort in the conviction that a just God would someday even the score. This spirituality and faith generated Negro Spirituals, gospel music, prayers, sermons, and religious art that embraced the graphic reality of political death and dying.

hat tip to reader EP

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