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By EW Staff
March 12, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

Not surprisingly, readers reacted strongly to our cover on The Passion of the Christ, sending in more than 200 letters about our illustration and story questioning the fate of Mel Gibson’s career (#752, Feb. 20). ”Your cover of Mel Gibson was in extremely poor taste,” writes Lindsey Johnson of New Lenox, Ill. ”For the first time, I am ashamed of something EW has published.” Others directed their anger at the film’s critics: ”It’s a shame that a story about the last hours of Christ’s life can elicit such controversy,” laments Jim Rana of Wantagh, N.Y. ”The anti-Semitic complaint is akin to saying Schindler’s List was anti-German or The Ten Commandments was anti-Egyptian. Why is a film about the ultimate sacrifice such a threat?” Still others found fault not with the film but with its director: ”One thing surpasses Gibson’s hype of his film — his ‘passion’ for the money!” says Herbert W. Stark of Massapequa, N.Y. ”I’ll no longer patronize his movies and I hope others will join me in protest.”

Heat of ‘Passion’

The Mel Gibson cover is an equal-opportunity offender to Christians and Jews alike. Gibson is not Jesus-like in any way. This campaign of divisiveness is no accident; it makes for great PR, at an appalling cost. While the bonds forged across faiths in this country won’t suddenly rupture, we should be concerned about the film’s impact abroad. Is it far-fetched to believe that The Passion of the Christ, when released in the Middle East and Europe, while inspiring some toward a spiritual path, might also become a recruitment tool for bigots? History suggests it is not. MICHAEL PRYWES prywes@2lifemedia.com Forest Hills, N.Y.

I have to give major recognition to Jeff Jensen for his article about The Passion of the Christ. He presented both sides of the issue while remaining impartial, and that’s hard to do. But as a Christian, I was offended by the cover. A roll of film subbing for a crown of thorns? Please be more sensitive in the future. MICHAEL HOUCHENS Winchester, Ky.

The concept of media bias is largely overdone. However, your cover questioning whether Mel Gibson can survive The Passion of the Christ does give one pause. Entertainment figures have survived charges of substance abuse, child molestation, adultery, and other improprieties, but you ask whether Gibson can survive a movie he made based on his faith in God? ROGER W. PECK rwp7263@aol.com Long Grove, Ill.

The second-to-last paragraph of your article on The Passion of the Christ says it all. A pastor at one of Gibson’s private screenings said that some people won’t like the film because they think ”it’s a bad film. That doesn’t make them evil.” That he even needed to raise that point is a startling glimpse into the mindset of modern evangelicals. And by the way, if Gibson is in search of spiritual enlightenment, he might consider emulating Paul Newman’s work on behalf of sick kids, instead of marketing films to Jerry Falwell’s crowd. MARK GREENE mrkgreene2000@yahoo.com Kingston, N.Y.