Christians ready to refute 'Da Vinci Code' movie
Rather than organize protests or boycotts, Evangelicals and Catholics are mobilizing 'truth squads.'
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Yet people agree, too, that the novel appeals because it offers a different way of seeing Christian tradition, particularly issues of patriarchy and women in the early church. This appeal has helped spur new subcategories in the publishing business, Ms. Garrett says, with each season bringing new books on Mary Magdalene and on what's now called "alternative Christianity."Skip to next paragraph
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For Catholics, the primary concern is countering the historical charges as well as the representation of the church and the lay Catholic group, Opus Dei. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is mounting a campaign tied to the film, with an extensive website launched this month and a TV documentary. "Jesus Decoded," presenting Catholic teaching on Christ, will be offered to NBC-TV affiliates for broadcast the week the movie opens. In addition, Opus Dei, which is controversial even among Catholics for its secrecy, has begun a PR campaign.
William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, has pressed Sony Pictures and director Ron Howard to put a disclaimer at the start of the film saying it is fiction. "We have a deceitful writer who has said it's based on historical facts, and a co-producer who has called the movie 'conservatively anti-Catholic,' " says Mr. Donohue.
The filmmakers have not responded to his request. Instead, they've encouraged Christians to discuss the issues on a Sony-sponsored website: www.thedavincidialogue.com. A number of prominent Evangelicals are providing essays, while others suggest they're being co-opted.
The concern is global: The Russian Orthodox Church has complained about the film, and Evangelicals in South Korea are even trying to keep it out of theaters. One Christian leader, according to Yonghap News Agency, has compared it to the Danish cartoons denigrating Islam.
Evangelicals in the US plan to launch their own website in late April. Backed by an anonymous philanthropist and hosted by Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) in Philadelphia, the project also involves people close to Billy Graham.
"While we recognize the right to present a good yarn, we're concerned the mix of fact and fiction is sure to lead many to question the Bible's integrity, its message, and Christianity's impact on history," says William Edgar, a professor of apologetics at WTS. "We want to help the curious viewer ... set the record straight, or at least put some doubt into the doubting."
Some church leaders aim to equip their congregations to handle the claims. Wheatland Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, Pa., plans a seven-week Sunday School class beginning in April to cover key issues raised by the novel. "We also hope to have an evening event for the community ... and encourage our members to invite neighbors to home-group discussions," says the Rev. Bruce Mawhinney, senior pastor.
Others, particularly leaders who have written debunking books, are more ambitious - packaging books, DVDs, and outreach materials. Dr. Garlow, author of "The Da Vinci Codebreaker," hopes his strategy for churches will lead people to throw Da Vinci parties, or gatherings at work to discuss the film with "unbelievers."
Yet some say Evangelicals are less likely than others to have even read the novel. Moviegoers who have read it may have other interests in mind.
"In our sort of postsecular society, there is a question out there among many: 'Is this all there is?' " Case Western's Beal says. "Given the socioeconomic realities and the established institutions, there's a desire to discover something more that's been there, but that we didn't know. A longing for something spiritual that is not possessed or controlled by established institutional religion."