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Deciding If Your Children Should See The Passion of the Christ

Countless times I’ve attended film screenings of movies I wouldn’t choose to see for myself, let alone my children. Yet just as often, after finding my seat, the empty chair beside me will be occupied by a child—accompanied by an adult whom I assume is their father or mother.

During intense scenes of violence or suspense, I’ll hear a small voice say, “Daddy, I’m scared.” “SHHHH!” is often the response. Or, “Don’t worry, it’ll be over soon.” Perhaps it’s the over protective parent in me, but I have everything I can do to not drop my notepad and usher the poor child out to the lobby where they can get away from the horrors on screen.

Or there’s the other scenario, which is possibly even more disturbing. While sitting through a film with multiple scenes of explicit gore and sexuality, I’ll glance over at my small seatmate and find his or her eyes as wide as saucers. Transfixed to the image on the screen, the child doesn’t flinch or make a sound. I can’t help wondering how they are interpreting what they’re seeing.

With the recent opening of The Passion of the Christ, many parents may be feeling their children should follow them to the theater. Often ecclesiastical leaders encourage this notion. Other moms and dads may be fretting about whether this R-rated movie, which many mainstream critics, including Roger Ebert, have declared to be the most violent film they’ve ever seen, is suitable for their family.

These decisions are very personal, and ultimately each parent knows their children and teens far better than any psychologist, ratings board member, or family film reviewer. However, never underestimate the importance of choosing what media your children will consume. Every movie and each television show becomes the accumulation of a child’s life experience. For youngsters still developing the skills to separate fact from fiction, these dramatized events may become mixed with reality.

For parents, the crux of the debate likely centers on whether the movie’s content is justified in light of the positive elements contained in the theme. In the case of The Passion of the Christ, will the violence be so overwhelming for young viewers (or even some adults) that the spiritual message may be lost?

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve certainly seen children at violent movies that don’t come close to offering the positive and eternal themes of sacrifice and forgiveness that this one does. Still, for Christians looking to have their children better understand Jesus, is this explicit lesson the best teacher?

Because of the intensity of this particular film, a child may be confused or unable to emotionally cope with the experience. Also, the movie requires the audience to read English subtitles. That puts many young viewers at risk of missing the very spiritual and doctrinal messages that persuaded you to bring them to the theater in the first place.

If you have any qualms about their readiness for The Passion (or any other film for that matter), it may be a wise investment to see the movie first by yourself. An even smarter choice may be to wait for the video. Not only will it save you money, but you will have much more control over the way it affects your kids as well. The smaller screen may lessen the impact, while the ability to pause the action will allow you to discuss their feelings in a controlled environment where you won’t have to worry about disturbing others.

Artistically, I feel The Passion of the Christ is a finely crafted work. It moved me deeply as a believer, and considering I’m not one to enjoy violent films, I was still able to personally connect with Mel Gibson’s main character. However, many adults (including my wife, who also has a firm belief in Jesus Christ) may choose to forgo this experience—and that’s perfectly acceptable too. There is nothing that requires anyone, adult or child, to view a film in order to have a personal relationship with their God.

Often, the best plan when considering the appropriateness of a movie is to read the book it’s based on instead. In this case, I can’t stress that enough.

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